The other night at dinner I was asked a question that I have never given much thought to but now that it’s been asked I have spent a lot of time thinking about it.
The question was about music and lyrics; Why do some people never pay attention to the lyrics while others spend all their time reading them, learning them, generating meaning and applying it to all facets of their life? Specifically, why do some people get offended when you don’t know the lyrics to their favourite songs? Or that you haven’t related or found some emotional connection to the song via the lyrics?

I couldn’t really answer it then and there effectively because I can do both. I was also slightly perplexed because their answer was not what I expected initially from them but we can get to that later on.

The person asking the questions implied they usually focus on the patterns in the music or the melodies, never the words. Most of the time they ignore the lyrics. It is not to say that they don’t know the lyrics to some of these songs, it’s just it would seem there is a sense of detachment and often upon investigating the lyrics they would discover they were of a different nature/subject to what he was identifying with melodically/emotionally.

Some songs that I love I haven’t really ever listened to the lyrics and then other songs the lyrics enhance the meaning of the song to me. You see, a lot of heavier music I listen to I find the lyrics are irrelevant, not all, but mostly it is the guitar solos and melodic metal sounds that I am engaging with. I also can barely understand what they are saying on surface value nor do I care. It would require looking up the lyrics . Other times it is a blending of the two – the lyrics only enhance all the emotion I place on the song in addition to the melody. I can’t say that the lyrics alone are a reason why I like a song in fact. An example is ” Anti Axis” by Darkest Hour. (Scroll down to see on my blog) I love the music and never paid any attention to the lyrics but then on looking at the lyrics (because I like to sing along and would also like John Henry to know that when he looks out into the crowd he is performing to, that some of the fans know the lyrics!) I could of course take them, and have some identification with them. It’s one of the reasons why music is so essential in society – there is an underlying ability to connect on some level. That’s why fans can go to extremes with their obsessions because they feel that through the lyrics and their personal experiences they are connected etc etc.

Lucky for them I have done some research to try and make sense of this. No doubt it led me down the path of Right brain vs Left brain functionality. Here is an overview: (or here to see it clearly

With specific reference to music, our brains can be related into the following classifications:

Right Hemisphere:

Left-hand control

Left Hemisphere:
Right-hand control

I think this can identify where the two of us were crossing paths during the discussion.I am however a little mortified I am more left than right but I definitely am creative in terms of my thought patterns of that I am sure! I love words,meaning, writing, literature, etymology so I am left brain dominant. I don’t know if they are right brain dominant but all signs point to yes. I think once they get out of their heads and start tapping into that aspect they would 100% be right brain dominant. On the surface,I may not see those elements but I am pretty sure they are there and again that’s my left brain intuition taking over. It is also my left brain that is led me to write a blog posting on it to help ascertain some type of answer or meaning whereas they probably would just like to let it float around in their head forever!

So upon a quick glance at this, I would make a sweeping statement that right brained people really place emphasis on the sounds of the music and lyrics are irrelevant. Left brain are looking for patterns, meaning, relevance, empathetic connections. Left brain is often more logical and right brain is more creative.

Now if I compare myself and the person asking the question that becomes challenging. I am creative in many different ways that would differ entirely to them. That doesn’t mean that one is more creative than the other it just means our approach and application is different. In fact we are quite opposite in many ways and that is just one variant in one instance. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am more emotive than they are because I think they are extremely emotive but it is buried quite far down whereas I think I am better at self expression. I don’t really know any different and neither do they. That’s the patterns and approach to music we have formed over years and who knows what other factors got us to that point.However,I definitely sing along and find meaning to a lot of the music I listen to and in fact listening to Nine Inch Nails when I was younger I taught myself to like the music after I had read the lyrics and established what exactly was trying to be conveyed. I would then apply this emotion to the music that on a first listening, was not appealing to me.

I suspect that people get so offended that you don’t know the lyrics because they feel it is a direct assault on their ability to relate to you.
It is nearly like wounding their soul. Their inner sanctuary of emotional expression feels isolated. It seems a sense displacement would take place when you think you know someone and can relate to them and yet they don’t understand why you think “Everything I do” by Bryan Adams is the most amazing love song and they just remember it as a soundtrack song to the movie ” Robin Hood”. Misfired music comprehension and its ultimate result categorises you into those categories – lyric listeners/non lyric listeners. Most people want connection and if someone disagrees or doesn’t understand why you do something your reaction is one of offence, confusion or lack of understanding. They may be perplexed as to why you can’t see or relate to what they are experiencing.

I would assume that people who just follow the melody,rhythm and tone are operating or activating different parts of their brain to those that may be engaging the language aspects.

Here is some further reading on the topic here here and 

Essentially the brain is divided into many areas. I can only guess with my non science background that it is lighting up different parts of the brain to separate the world into those who listen to lyrics and those who don’t.

From this diagram below I would say that people who listen to lyrics more are activating the nucleus accumbens and amygdala and those just experiencing the melody not concerned with lyrics are using a greater percentage of their auditory cortex?

I am totally confused but isn’t that the brilliance of the brain and music. You can’t simplify complex matters and the intricacies of music and its layers. This diagram alone should highlight that.

If we were all the same and experienced everything the same way nothing would be special or unique. The only conclusion I can really draw from this is that music effects everybody entirely differently and is a necessity for a release of some description.

If you do come up against someone that doesn’t decipher music  the same way you do, embrace it, learn from it , argue about it, discuss and maybe you could experience it through their world instead and that could lead to further brain expansion!