Music or Lyrics?

edited May 2008 in Forum Games
Okay - New Game. What draws you to songs first? The music or the lyrics?

MUSIC - no question about it. The music HAS to work for me. Good lyrics are a bonus but not necessary for me to be attracted to a song . . . of course a super fantastic voice (like our fearless? leader's) is part of, or an extension of, the instrumentation.


  • definately the music. good lyrics are a bonus to be found after the music has drawn me in.
  • I can be quite amused by a song that does nothing more than alternate between two chords, so long as as the lyrics are good. I even have such a song in mind. Conversely, I'm generally disappointed in music that lacks decent lyrics. The lyrics can be nigh nonsensical if need be, so long as they don't just repeat some boring catch phrase ad nauseam as is all too often the case in many pop tunes. I often cut Philip Glass quite a bit of slack, though. Einstein on the Beach isn't exactly known for its inventive lyrics, but I understand that to be part of the point and not just catchy pop tune sloth.
  • Lyrics. Music without lyrics, such as classical music is fine, but a song needs the solid meat of good lyrics to hold up to the music gravy that covers it.
    Gah, can you tell it is lunchtime for me...
  • Both both both.
    Which is why I have issues finding music I like.
  • BryBry
    edited May 2008
    To create a poll, first of all you need to start a thread. After you start the thread, there's an option in the panel on the left saying "Add Poll to this discussion". FAQ #3 has a little more, but not much -- mostly just remember this: Once you have started a poll, DO NOT go back and edit the options -- it will cause problems. If you want to make changes, you'll have to delete the poll and start over.

    Good lyrics attract me; good music keeps me listening.

    ETA: Both need to be at least competent. I will turn off a song with good lyrics but bad music; ditto good music / bad lyrics. Obvious, but I might as well say it.
  • Music can attract me.
    But, it takes lyrics to develop a relationship.
    Of course, sometimes, plain beats are so good, that I fall back on them like a mistress.
    In the same way, great lyrics, alone, can make for wonderful friendships.

    Someone wiser than me said, "The Beatles are for above the waist, and The Rolling Stones are for below the waist."

    This is pretty much my philosophy on why/how/when I enjoy music.
  • Thanks Bry but you lost me at "starting a thread." If there is any interest in this topic, I will leave that to someone else. Just started reading the FAQ page and will try to learn more in time. Must get on with my day . .(piano students coming soon) . . . I hope that this topic generates a lively discussion. It is one that I often have with a good friend who is in your camp. My music head and heart seem hard-wired at this point in my life: Good writing - all of the elements of music - can stir both intellect and emotion but I do agree with mtgordan that repeating "some boring catch phrase" leaves me cold.
  • BryBry
    edited May 2008
    Sorry, I was writing in a rush. I've started the poll.

    I'll be more clear, but for your edification, I guess, I meant "starting a thread" to mean "starting a new discussion," which you'd already done. That is, first thing you do is open up a discussion you started, then add a poll. (Basically, LaDeDa, if you're reading this message, scroll all the way to the top and look to the left -- there should be a box in the left sidebar with an "Add poll" option.) Sorry I'm having trouble making myself clear today.
  • I'm attracted to both, but if I really fall in love with something lyrically, the music will grow on me.
  • A song can be good with bad lyrics, but a song is automatically horrible if it has bad music.

    Most of the time the first several times I hear a song, I don't really listen to the lyrics closely, and when I do, it makes the song even more incredible. An example that's a JoCo song: I had been listening to Not About You, and I liked the music. When I really listened to the lyrics, I said to myself "Holy bejesus, this is brilliant."

    And if I were to just read the lyrics for most song, they wouldn't really make much sense without the mood that the music sets.

    Point is, lyrics are important, but music must come first.
  • BryBry
    edited May 2008
    Dissenting opinion from that of Dr. Cox: One musical flaw won't break a song for me, though it'll make me wince whenever I know it's coming. (The way Tom Lehrer's voice cracks at the last note of "National Brotherhood Week", for instance. And Lehrer's middling as a vocalist as it is.) One lyrical flaw, however, will make me never want to listen to a song again. (The Beatles, "Old Brown Shoe" - wonderful music, clever use of juxtaposed opposites for most of the way through the lyrics, but George Harrison tries "I may appear to be imperfect / But love is something you can't REject", and just typing that in sends a chill down my spine. I can't listen to the song. I will walk out of a store if it's on the PA.)
  • Bry: Thank you for setting up the poll. I now see the place to do this (duh). Hmmm - You would really walk out? I didn't walk out of church last week during a particularly offensive hymn, but came close. I sang "watermelon" over and over again as my protest to the lyrics (my teenage son laughed his head off) Thank goodness for loud pipe organs.
  • Not watermelon canteloupe?
  • Bry: I do not mean one musical flaw, or one lyrical flaw. I'm talking about overall. Bad lyrics CAN ruin a song, but it doesn't necessarily. Bad music does, hands down. At least to me.
  • Yeah, I understood what you meant, but I was saying that however awesome the music, even just one lyrical flaw can break a song for me -- in the case of "Old Brown Shoe," to the point where I can't listen to the rest of the song because I know that one lyrical flaw exists. Yes, I'm a little obsessive.
  • I'm attracted to both, but if I really fall in love with something lyrically, the music will grow on me.
    That actually works for me both ways, I think.

    @Bry: Do lyrical flaws such as "Garfield was assassinated in 1882" - which are simply not factual - irk you like that? Because they kind of do me. I feel like I should be less pedantic, but I can't help it.
  • When I was younger, I was a fan of the band Everclear. I loved (and still love) their first two albums. Their third album included the song "I Will Buy You A New Life", in which lead singer Art Alexakis promises...
    I will buy you a new car
    Perfect, shiny, and new
    Hadn't he just said that the car would be new? It's a new car! Of course it's new!

    Somehow, that lyrical gaffe nearly killed my love for the entire band.
  • You're sure it was a gaffe, and not a "spacelab in space" sort of thing? That's interesting. What's the distinction? How does one tell whether it was intentional or not? Which matters more in that sort of situation, context or intent? Should the latter even matter, or does the end make irrelevant the (possibly accidental) means? Would the strength of the artist as a whole make you dismiss such things more or less easily? How important is a single phrase anyway?

    Uh, just some questions...
  • I can get really irritated by grammatical mistakes in songs. Particularly that one that says, 'I wanna lay with you forever'. If JoCo sang that, it would be about lesbian chickens in love, but from anyone else, it's annoying.
  • Oh, I know. There's this Capitol Steps song ... something something something "[the girl] who with the night you spent." Like, that makes exactly zero sense grammatically. How hard would it have been to say "with whom" instead of "who with"? I mean, it doesn't change anything rhythmically...
  • Apparently, I like music more than lyrics, although I appreciate great lyrics too. For instance, Moxy Fruvous songs are fun but sometimes don't make a heap of sense. Here's the chorus from "Boo Time:"

    It's something that you bury
    Way down the estuary
    Sharp and incendiary
    Locked in a box of lead
    I said.

    Kudos for working in the word "estuary" guys, but WTF does any of that even mean? Still, I love that song. Also, the one REM song I've found that I really enjoy is "Stand," the text of which is pretty inane. Actually the whole song is inane, but I guess I like "the beats" or something. It's just fun. I also feel like I'm the only JoCo fan who enjoys "So Far, So Good." Kinda fluffy, but it's pretty.
  • Lyrics are the dealbreaker for me. If I really love the music,but I can't understand the lyrics at all, even though I resent being unable to sing along to the song when I play it (e.g. "Sitting Still" by R.E.M.) it's really not a huge obstacle. Great lyrics with mediocre music (or sung very badly) will do just fine (e.g. "Why Can't a Woman" from My Fair Lady), but spectacularly bad lyrics with a really great melody? I'm like Bry -- I'll walk out of the room to avoid having to listen to the words. Biggest example of that I can think of is a pop song from the 70's called "Do You Wanna Make Love." Insanely good melody, but the lyrics are so jejune & illogical & sappy & sanctimonious it makes me want to scream. It's a song so bad you can't even find a version of it on YouTube to link to.
  • For me, as long as there is one aspect of the song that is interesting I'll let a flaw in the others slide, though I do have a harder time forgiving inane lyrics over beautiful music than crappy music with perfect poetry. Quite a few operas were ruined for me after translation. So I choose not to do that anymore.

    I like abstract imagery in music like the stuff David Lynch did with Julee Cruise. The Cocteau Twins is one of my favorite abstract bands. Just try to find a coherent sentence in any one of their songs.
  • @Colleenky - Oh, but that's so much better than lyrics that are perfectly intelligible, but just downright bad.
  • Within the context of a song, I think you can get away with lyrics that would be sinful in prose or poetry. That statements probably implies that music comes first for me. However, I don't think that many people, myself included, have the ability to be objective about one without the context of the other. It's easier to analyse lyrics alone, but doing that to music requires bright light, a cold shower and an utter lack of sense of humour. I mean, where do you start? Melody as an abstraction, without the context of a voice, instrument, and accompaniment? Form? Style? I dare say for most of us it can be summed up as "Groove", aka feel. Which in turn would imply that we are able to criticise the lyrics outside of the context of a particular performance, but generally having strong feelings about the music involves a specific recording or performance.
  • edited May 2008
    I've just been looking at athene's graph on graphJam, and I'd have to say, I like songs with good lyrics, and I like songs with good music, but I like songs with both a lot.

    ETA: I usually find that Moxy Fruvous songs have both, though I was confused by Boo Time and kept meaning to look up the lyrics.
  • Excellent discussion here. Since I am a "music first" person, I find that I require about 5 or so times through before I even hear the lyrics. If they are insipid, I can block them out and turn back to music-only-mode. If they are clever, relevant, touching, etc., - - what a thrill, as Angel says "I like both a lot."

    A new favorite JoCo line comes from "Drinking With You" -- "You would think that we've danced around each other long enough to know where to stand." Brilliant . . .
  • edited May 2008
    I found this interesting test. Do you hear shapes?, can you visualize music?
  • edited May 2008
    I dunno, it seemed a bit simplistic. I mean, okay, an up arrow represents the pitch getting higher; I don't think it really requires anything special to get that. A box with a squiggled edge means, you know, a slight variation in melody if a box with straight edges represented the first time through.

    Anyway, I ended up with an 80%:

    Pitch discrimination - 78.3
    Musical memory - 76.6
    Contour discrimination - 83.1
    Attention - 77.4
    Musical/visual abstraction - 79.2

    ETA: Shit, I only got a 69.4% on their "tonedeaf" test, which is barely normal...

    ETA,A: And I can only reliably differentiate tones 3.9 Hz apart. That is not good enough.
  • Cool Beans! I love stuff like this. It's about the only natural intelligence I have. I scored 95% on the visual (I see shapes all the time - but not dead people) Tone differential: 1.8 Hz, Rhythm: 80% (as I was taking this part, my son decided that he needed to dink around in the kitchen and made lots of noise) Tone Deaf: 86%
  • BTW Shruti - Don't feel bad. I have studied music my whole life and none of this matters at all. Some of these were very difficult!
  • I do tend to visualise music, but of course not exactly the way they do, so relying on my own intuitive musical-visual processor was ineffective. Soon enough I figured out what their symbols meant, and then it was just a case of listening and thinking logically, not really visualising anything any more than somebody who writes their music down in normal musical notation visualises it. I got the last 12 or so right, because by that time I knew what I was being asked to do. Maybe that's what's supposed to happen. Going by their explanation, I guess the 'abstraction' score is about how quickly you figure out their rules.

    Total score: 75%
    Pitch discrimination: 68.1%
    Musical memory: 76.0%
    Contour discrimination: 79.5%
    Attention: 75.3%
    Musical/visual abstraction: 72.9%
  • edited May 2008
    Holy crap, I got 88.9% Correct on the tone deaf test, and I always assumed I was bad at that.

    ETA: Does anyone have the URL of the rhythm test? All the links I can find go to By the way, the pitch test is at

    EATA: and my result was 1.2Hz. I noticed that I seem to recognise ascending pitches immediately, and whenever I needed to replay it several times, it was decreasing.
  • Wow, this was really interesting stuff. I really like the basic design of the musical fragments used, which stop you from consistently scoring high based on one particular strong skill you might have. Possibly AMVI ought to have had more explanation beforehand (or did I miss it?) since it takes a few questions before it's really clear what's being asked. Anyway, I got an 85 there, so LaDeDa wins the thread ;-) I am postponing the rhythm one, since I also have a child crawling around now.

    And the other two? Well, let's just say I took them with trepidation. I don't like the name "Tonedeaf test", since it sounds pretty damn judgmental, and in retrospect it was a memory test more than anything else. I am actually pretty insecure about my musical memory. See, I have some degree of perfect pitch (not as in the Mozartean "This violin is a quarter-tone sharper than it was yesterday", but the more pragmatic "Yeah, that's an F-sharp, give or take a few Hertz"), and that has always interfered with some other skills I should have developed. For instance, learning a performance from a recording is the easiest to do if I jot down the melody and chords as fast as I can write, whereas other people probably develop better memory, from where they can analyze at their leisure. Of course, having the "perfect pitch" label also made we very scared of finding out that my pitch discrimination skills aren't really that hot. Oh well. I got 91.7 on ToneDeaf and 0.975Hz on the other one, which only puts me in the 74th percentile for pitch. That pretty much confirms my assumption that my pitch is far from "perfect".
  • edited May 2008
    That test was surprisingly simple to me. Maybe their symbols just "clicked" with me straight away with the first one or something, or maybe it fell into the normal 3-choice trap that let me logically choose when I wasn't sure. Basically, the two wrong answers are each a variation on the right answer, so you look for the answer which is a meld of the other 2 and it's usually correct.

    I think part of the test *is* working out what their rules for the shapes are, since they have that abstraction score, which (looking at the description) is basically that.

    (oh yeah, got 100%, don't mean to brag >.>)
  • In that visualising one i got 60% and still don't have a clue what the symbols mean. some of them i just got a vibe for so went with them.
    And i got 58.3% in the tonedeaf one. I am not surprised with wither result.
  • edited May 2008
    BTW Shruti - Don't feel bad. I have studied music my whole life and none of this matters at all. Some of these were very difficult!
    Yeah, but I should be able to do this. I mean, I've been in band and played flute for eight years, and I took piano for three years before that. I ought to be able to hear pitch and tune adequately and all that stuff, and I can't. It's incredibly frustrating. And, I mean, it's all very well to sit at a piano and try to make oneself learn intervals (which I'm not at all good at either), but that doesn't really help with the less-than-3.9-Hz area to which I'm apparently oblivious. (How far apart is a half step, anyway?)
  • Adaptive pitch: 2.25 Hz
    Rhythm test: 80 %
    Tonedeaf test: 80.6 %

    Visual test:
    Pitch discrimination: 100 %
    Musical memory: 100 %
    Contour discrimination: 95.2 %
    Attention: 97.8 %
    Musical/visual abstraction: 100 %

    I wonder how they give you less than 100 % on everything if you answer everything correctly? Judging on the time it takes you to answer?
  • edited May 2008
    @dantes: I would have taken a wild guess that multiple "play again" requests could be measured and translated into a lower Attention score, but then again, it would make more sense to have that count againt Musical Memory. Even something like answering a question before the example was complete could be interpreted into scores. I don't know much about psychometric tests, but I do know there's an arsenal of techniques to measure you in ways you are not (supposed to be) aware of. It would be interesting to read the academic paper behind Jake Mandell's work, if/once it has been written, although I suspect I would glaze over as usual at the statistics bits!

    ETA: A few more observations: Although the electronic presentation of the tests allow for some interesting measurement techniques, there is a really big variable in terms of the playback equipment used by the subject. Pitch differentiation is especially susceptible to the frequencies used, and the only scientific absolute would be measurement using sine waves on equipment with no perceptible harmonic distortion and even frequency response. Imagine that your playback system has a really sharp (high-Q) resonance at 500.1 Hz that perceptibly tapers off at 500.2 Hz. You'd be reliably hearing the 0.1Hz pitch difference as an n dB amplitude difference. Now I do suspect that such a selective resonance is highly unlikely even on the crappiest of playback systems, but the point does hold theoretically.

    ETAA: Wow, I just found the link to relevant papers. There is some interesting stuff there.
  • Shruti:

    A half step on the piano is from one key to another without any other keys between them: C to C# or B to C. I have no idea what the difference is in Hz. In traditional Western Music, this is the smallest interval although Charles Ives did some nifty things with retuning the piano into Quarter tones (halving the half step) Most instruments beside the piano are fully capable of producing sounds between the half steps (strings in particular) Twentieth Century Composers who broke with tradition (Arnold Schoenberg around 1912 followed by many others) found that audiences couldn't "handle" the complete break from the major/minor key system and it is interesting to read about the reaction of audiences upon hearing premiers of works such as Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." Our ears have changed, collectively speaking, to tolerate more and more dissonance.

    My son and I conducted a fun experiment asking the question of why we react emotionally to certain sounds, music. Is it nature or nurture?

    More than you asked for, I know . . . .
  • I mean, yeah, I was just wondering what the difference in hertz was.
    Thankfully, I have never had to play anything involving quarter tones. I would likely be incapable of this.
  • @Borba: I didn't do any "play agains" during any of the tests. :\
  • Okay Shruti: I think this is right. The difference in Hz between half steps is 9.44.

    Dantes: Get thee to a microphone. You are a musical miracle.

    Borba: I wish I understood your post. I barely passed physics 101. But I liked it!
  • edited May 2008
    LaDeDa: I have a pc microphone... Been recording with it for years. Nothing very decent though, in my humble opinion. :\
  • I started taking the visualization test, but then it seemed to me that they weren't so much measuring my "visual musical intelligence" as measuring whether I could figure out their system of symbolically representing music, so I stopped.

    I agree with Borba that the "tone deaf" test is more about what I would call tonal memory than actually testing pitch discrimination. A note about the term "tone deaf." This is a phrase that gets bandied about pretty glibly. Very few folks are actually tone deaf, meaning that they are incapable of discriminating between pitches, unless they have some sort of auditory processing problem. Not being able to carry a tune is an entirely different matter and can actually be corrected with directed practice.
    * BorbaSpinotti
    * CommentTime12 hours ago
    See, I have some degree of perfect pitch (not as in the Mozartean "This violin is a quarter-tone sharper than it was yesterday", but the more pragmatic "Yeah, that's an F-sharp, give or take a few Hertz")...
    In my experience, I find that relative pitch (what I think you're calling Mozartean) is more pragmatic and useful than perfect pitch. Just my two cents as someone who does not have perfect pitch but does have good relative pitch. To me, it seems more useful to know, say, whether the third of the chord is tune rather than whether it's an F#. (Strangely enough, I can pretty reliably sing a D out of thin air, but I couldn't necessarily name it if it were played. Why a D, you might ask. From performing Haydn's Kyrie from the Lord Nelson Mass, which opens with repeated octave Ds.)
  • Not being able to carry a tune is an entirely different matter and can actually be corrected with directed practice.
    Also, any advice on just how to go about getting better at hearing pitch'd really be appreciated...
  • Singing ain't nothing more than any other physical activity; it's just a matter of training the muscles involved. Sometimes it's simply vocal range, and when a melody is put into the correct range, a person can sing it. What I often find with my students is that they don't know how to use their singing voice, so it's a matter of getting them familiar with head voice and working on using their breath. With folks who are just completely unfamiliar with the concept, it means going back to basics and teaching them what "higher" and "lower" means in terms of pitch (I've found that, for some reason, a lot of folks associate those words with volume instead of pitch) and then giving them one-on-one feedback as they experiment matching pitch with their voice. It's muscle memory, teaching someone what it feels like to do it correctly. Especially with a person who didn't sing a lot since they were young, or with a guy who didn't sing through his voice change, it may take a lot of work, but it can definitely be done.

    As far as getting better at hearing pitch, there are plenty of ear-training software programs available for recognizing intervals and sight-singing and such. I'm running out the door right now, otherwise, I'd poke around the interwebz and post some. Also, performing in an ensemble and having to tune with other human beings on the fly is invaluable.
  • I've been singing about every day since I was young, and I have something to show for it I think. I also agree it's a matter of training.
    My vocal range is not very good though. ;(
    And I also don't think I know how to use my singing voice perfectly. :(
    Colleenky, can you teach me please? :D
  • edited May 2008
    Bwahahaha, if you're giving out online vocal lessons, sign me up.
    Also, performing in an ensemble and having to tune with other human beings on the fly is invaluable.
    And impossible! I mean, if it's me on flute, and another person or two on flute, then okay. But throw other instruments into the mix and I'm a goner.
  • edited May 2008
    Since this is usual geeky bunch, somebody was bound to make this remark (Bry and Mark must be off today), so I'll beat the rest to the punch. Apologies to LaDeDa, (this ain't ad hominem), but since the maths started to get mentioned...

    The relationship between adjacent semitones in the equal-tempered scale is a geometric, not linear one, i.e. the difference in Hz grows as the frequency goes up. About the only absolute thing we've got in Western music is the octave, which is a simple relationship: If note x is n Hz, the octave above x is 2n Hz. In equal temperament, this octave is simply divided into twelve equal slices, which means that the relationship is a ratio of the 12th root of 2 (approx 1.059463094). Simply put, multiply a number by that twelve times and you've doubled your original number.

    I make a point of mentioning the number, since nothing in either the decimal representation or the description "12th root of 2" has the numerological significance that would have pleased theoreticians from Pythagoras onwards. It's bloody arbitrary, although some intervals are close to mathematically elegant relationships, e.g. the perfect 5th (7 semitones), which is not too far from the ideal of 3/2.

    This kind of links in with my take on absolute ("perfect") vs relative pitch. Sticking with the game of equal tempered tuning, there is no absolute except the 12th root of 2: specifically there is nothing magical about the point we decide to use as a tuning anchor, typically A440. Generally speaking, Western music is a game played with the numbers 1-12 (the number of notes in the scale) and the relationship between those numbers. Nice whole numbers, integers. Now if there is such a thing as perfect pitch, that would mean that you'd have to play the same game without the ability to move the A440 anchor, i.e. you might be dealing with 1.03, 3.09 etc. I surmise that it would drive one mad. Just listen to a couple of JoCo songs, and note how the tuning often drifts between songs. This isn't wrong per se: two consecutive songs in D major may well be a few Hz apart, but by convention we still agree that it's D.

    In that context, I'm really happy I don't have absolute pitch - I can tolerate those drifts and recalibrate without hassle, within reason. "Within reason" in my particular case could easily be a quarter tone. On a good day, and given enough time to adjust, I might allow a semitone drift without more than a feeling of discomfort. But beyond that it's just impossible to play the game, and I have to assign note names closer to the correct ones. When I sang in school choir, this used to play merry hell with me, since the conductor would often take things down a tone to rest our voices, which meant I had to do conscious transposition from sheet music (it's a bit easier from memory, when the melodic shapes have been internalised). Imagine being told to speak, but to substitute one letter higher for every word you want to say. Similarly, I've often found myself accompanying a singer on a digital piano and being asked to transpose the song lower/higher, which is trivially easy to do if it simply entails pressing the Transpose button. However, I am physically incapable of doing that, because the feedback loop between my fingers and my ears goes mad.

    This subtopic is touching on neurology now. Has anybody here read the Oliver Sacks book Musicophilia? I haven't yet, but I just put it on my wish list.
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