In this article I will discuss the fundamentals of song lyrics critique, and the benefit of critique to the reviewer.
Critique is the examination and judgment of a creative work against some specified criteria. It is the most under used skill/tool available to lyricists and songwriters. It touches on many of the facets of lyric writing, and it requires the development and use of a skill that pulls them all together - analysis.
For many aspiring lyricists analysis is not done formally, which means it is not analysis. If you read the responses to lyrics posted for review on lyrics writing forums you will see that critique is misunderstood and certainly undervalued. Most seem to want a pat on the back, and reviewers often focus on criticizing, instead of critique. Critique is often lacking thought and explanation, and often done purely as a review trade for their own posted lyric. This completely misses the main benefits of critique - understanding the viewpoint of others, and learning what works, or doesn't work. Let me explain.
When you write a lyric, how do you know if it is any good? If it isn't, how do you improve it? Somehow we learn to measure how good something is. A general feeling, or a specific detail, we still know if we like something or not. The trick is to know why. Explaining our opinion to others is enlightening to ourselves too. In seeking to make someone else understand it we clarify our own understanding.
Knowing the answer you can be constructive with that knowledge. You could repeat the appealing elements or avoiding the less appealing elements. Using formal techniques accelerates our understanding and allows that understanding to be broader and deeper.
To improve examine your own lyrics, judge them, and apply what you learn. Developing these skills purely on your own lyrics can be problematic - we develop attachments to our lyrics that colors our perspective and our editing. To develop our critiquing skills we are better served by critiquing the work of others. We can develop our skills in isolation from our personal attachment to our own writings.
Critiquing the work of others has many other benefits. For example: exposing us to concepts, ideas, themes, techniques etc. that we would otherwise not have encountered. The more critique we do, the better we get at critiquing our own work.
The term critique is not the same as criticism. Critique is constructive criticism. Comments are based on observations, opinions and suggestions that aim to help the author. In this way they are positive. It means not only expressing your feelings, but also offering the author a way to address it.
Crtique is not a one way comment, it is a conversation between the writer and the person offering critique. Don't simply offer, accept or ignore comment. Consider it and discuss.
To improve we have to be aware of what works and what doesn't, learn how to spot the same, and have realistic options of how to fix what is broken.
Analysis and Vocabulary
Analysis is primarily focused on how to de-construct, or pick apart, a song, and it is a skill that directly benefits our ability to fix problems or replicate successes.
To analyze we have to be able to refer to what we see during that analysis. You will already be familiar with many terms in this vocabulary.
- song form
- rhyming scheme
- internal rhyme
- full rhyme
- half rhyme
- double rhyme
- triple rhyme
- meter / lyrical rhythm
- plot / theme
The list is not complete, but the terms above allow you to express some basic concepts. If your understanding of terms, such as hook, is vague, for definitions of individual terms, please refer to our glossary. Many lyrical terms and concepts are shared with poetry and standard grammar.
To improve our analysis skills we have to expand our vocabulary and understand how each term applies to lyrics, or the song, or it's production.
Each time we critique we increase our understanding. The more effort we put into critique, the more potential benefit we, and the writer of the lyric under review, stand to gain.
Questions and Measurements
There are many aspects of song writing that we need to pay attention to, and most are modified by the context of the whole song. A bit like the meaning of one line versus the meaning of the whole verse.
To help organize all this information and make the most of it, approach critique formally. No matter the stated purpose of a critique the same type of questions should be asked and the same basic measures be applied to the responses.
In this context a question is a test that you wish to ask of or apply to a lyric, and a measurement is the pass value. By framing your questions correctly the measurement will normally be yes.
Question: Is the title consistent with the lyrical message?
Use a common set of questions and supplement them with song or style specific questions and measurements. Being realistic, writing measurements down tends to neglected. Particularly when you gain more experience. Write your measurements down. It makes them less negotiable!
The order of questions you ask of a lyric being reviewed can be enlightening, so using an established process makes sense.
Follow the link below for an example set of questions:
As you learn add, alter or remove questions.
One of the great benefits of having a formal set of questions that you apply to a song is that you can use those same questions to help you plan a lyric. By planning you can avoid pitfalls and go through less drafts before your lyrics are finished. As you improve your critiquing skills, your lyric writing skills will also improve. Simple! More on planning your lyric in another article.
Explanations and Advice
Now you have a set of common questions to help you frame a review. Making observations is useful, but not as helpful to the author or the reviewer as explaining those observations and then offering advice.
Think what you would do to address any issues you highlight, then propose that and any other possible solutions you can offer.
Remember that you are offering an opinion, not pronouncing judgment.
Be honest. Express an opinion, but do it nicely. Avoid derogatory or inflammatory language. Remember you are trying to be constructive! The writer may have poured a lot of emotion into their work, and not everyone is as receptive to critique as they would like to think. You want the writer to take the point on board, not discount it because of the way it has been put across.
Lyrical critique has an obvious value to the author whose work is being reviewed, but hopefully this article has illustrated how much the reviewer can get from practice and the process.
This article has presented the need for developing your analytical skills and the idea of using sets of questions to aid both critique and planning new lyrics.
Explain your conclusions and try to put across comments neutrally, and suggestions positively.
Discuss this article in our Music Forum.
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