Composing Tip: Look at Lyrics

When I am arranging music I try to look at the lyrics and make the piano sound like them. Here are some examples.

From my version ofIf You Could Hie to Kolob“:

Measure 21-22, “Or see the grand beginning…” : These lyrics are the beginning of the second verse. The measures mentioned are the transition measures. I build here–make the sound get bigger since it is a “grand beginning.”

Measure 32, “Methinks the Spirit whispers…”: For this phrase I slow down and where the word “whispers” is I decrease the volume.

From my choir version ofBehold! A Royal Army“:

Measure 54, “They see his signal flashing…”: Flashing is the word I’m focusing on here. I wanted to make a sound of flashing. If you play it, you will see how the eighth notes in the right hand sound like the word “flashing.”

From my arrangement ofNearer, My God to Thee“:

Measure 24, “The sun gone down”: Right after this phrase is over I do a little trill-like phrase with descending noes, since the sun is going “down”.

Measure 28, “Thy rest a stone”: This measure ends with a half note while the right hand is holding out the whole note. I like that the notes are held out, “resting.” I also dropped the half note to be played really deep, that is the image I had in my mind of a stone.

Measure 29-32,”Yet in my dreams I’d be, nearer, my God to thee”: In contrast to the lyrics right before with a deep sounding “stone,” I felt like dreams lift us higher. So I raised the melody an octave higher and tried to make it sound dream-like, beautiful.

Measure 42-43, “Steps unto heaven”: I tried to make the piano sound like steps going upward so, in verse 43 you will see 3 chords getting higher each time.

Hope these examples give you some ideas of how to look at lyrics and make the piano sound like them!

Changing Number of Beats in a Single Measure

I have found that sometimes a measure just sounds natural if you add an extra beat, or even two extra beats. Like if you are in 4/4 timing, you change one measure to 5/4 then the very next measure you go right back to 4/4. I usually use this when I am trying to connect two phrases. It can be done whenever but I’ve found that is when it is most natural for me.

An exact example of what I mentioned above is in my arrangement of Nearer, My God to Thee in measure 8.

Maybe you’ve been writing your own song and you are just starting to write out your music, watch to see if you even do it naturally–it might trick you when you are trying to get it out on paper.

So, try out extra beats, they might add just the right touch you are looking for in your piece.

Photo: Pencil by Dave Rutt