Tell a story

Storytelling is an ancient art form that crosses all cultures. Before the written word, storytelling was the only way to preserve the accumulated knowledge of the tribe. (OK, there were cave drawings, but try putting your kids to sleep with a bedtime cave drawing.)

Despite the invention of the printing press, we still tell stories. Stories are a powerful way for parents to teach children their values. Even in this day of TiVo, DVD, the Internet and other mass media entertainment, we still tell stories. Perhaps that helps to explain the success of the Chicken Soup series.

I suspect the first song was simply somebody putting a melody to a story he or she was telling (maybe with a little prehistoric hip hop). And I contend the best songs are those that tell a story. A song that tells a story draws the listener in and communicates your message with subtlety and power.

Some songs don’t lend themselves to a story line however. In this case I would still advise, if not a plot, at least some movement, some change or transition. Another way to think of it is that the lyrics bring the listener to a new point of view by the end of the song, building a case as the song progresses from beginning to end.

Yet another way to create some movement in the ‘story’ is to think in terms of conflict and resolution. I’m not saying your song should consist of a conflict and a simple happy ending like a fifties sitcom (Father Knows Best comes to mind). I mean conflict and resolution in a more literary sense.

Finally, you don’t have to make up your own story. You can base a song on any story that moves you, whether you heard it from a friend or in the news, read it in a book or an email, found it on the web, or remember it from childhood, maybe told at bedtime or around a campfire…

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