Swinging to the Music

Do you feel out of touch with your teens? Want to generate some conversation to stimulate language and narration? Song lyrics are the poetry of our generation. Songwriters pack so much power into a three minute song. Don’t miss the chance to explore the world of language, theme and message in today’s popular music.

Listen to a favorite song(s) and examine the lyrics with your teens.
Song lyrics are one of the easiest ways to gain access to your teen’s worldview. Suggest listening to one of their favorite songs together with the lyrics.

If you have a particularly reluctant teen writer and communicator, you might not be able to come to your child head-on asking to listen to a song and then to talk about it. Instead, suggest he or she bring a favorite CD in the car the next time you drive together. Ask to listen to one of the tracks and then ask a few questions about the lyrics:

  • Do you know why the songwriter wrote this song?
  • How does this song fit in with other songs on the CD?
  • How does this song address the main topic (love, death, relationships, sex, making a difference, celebrity, pain, depression)? What does it have to say about the main topic?
  • Why does the chorus say what it does? (The chorus is the repeated refrain of the song and usually contains the primary message of the song.)
  • How does the music (instruments) support the message of the song? Does it contrast the message or does it underscore it? (Sometimes a song will have tragic lyrics with an upbeat tune. The writer, in that case, may be trying to strike an ironic note rather than telling you the message sincerely…)
  • Do the lyrics ryhme? Do they work (whether or not they rhyme)?
  • Do the lyrics tell a story or reveal a viewpoint or deal in nonsense or proselytize an agenda? What is it?
  • Is the song effective?
  • What words stand out in the lyrics? Why do they stand out? What’s special about them? (unusual, interesting sound, surprising use, perfect fit with music…)
  • Does the song generate feelings in you? (Elation, depression, anger, rage, peace, joy, inspiration, empowerment…)
  • Do you like it? Can you say why?

Remember, your opinion is not that important right now. You don’t want to turn this into a moralizing moment or a long-winded explanation as to why this song is or isn’t a good match for your family’s religious faith. Rather, use this as a wool-gathering time. Discover what makes your teen tick. If your teen is reluctant to express much, listen together in silence. Share one thing you liked about the song’s lyrics. Then leave it be.

Try again next week. You might even look up other songs on the Internet by the same band, do a bit of research about how the band formed or why they are currently popular, and send an article to your teen via email showing that you are thinking of his or her band.

Music is one of the most personal parts of teen life. If you find a way to enter their musical world, you will enrich both your relationship with each other and their writing lives.

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