Music: do you hear without listening?

I met the lovely Elaina James last week at the RNA Birmingham chapter meeting. She told us about the blog series she’d written for Mslexia, detailing her inspiring journey from being a lyricist with stage fright to performing one of her songs on stage. She asked if any of us would like to blog about our own relationship with music, to link in with the final week of her blog series.

I didn’t offer.

I love music – many different types – but I don’t listen to it when I’m writing and I thought I had nothing of much interest to say. I don’t compile a playlist for each book, unlike many writers, and I find it distracting when I’m trying to write – the lyrics take over the part of my brain that is meant to be composing my own, original prose!


Then, today, I heard – again – Disturbed’s wonderful rendition of The Sound of Silence and – again – goosebumps spread over my whole body. And I realised I do have something to say about music.



Just over seven years ago, I assumed everyone listened to music in the same way I did. I can pinpoint the exact time I realised I was wrong because my (now) husband and I were choosing a playlist for our wedding. He has a vast collection of music, from Led Zeppelin to Sinatra, and came up with many suggestions for our playlist.

‘You can’t have that,’ I said, when he vigorously championed the inclusion of one particular song. I can’t remember what song it was, but it was all about regret over lost love.

‘Oh,’ said he, when I explained why. ‘I never realised that!’

Although he knew every word of that song, he had never registered the meaning, and it is the same for (virtually) every song he loves. The music is paramount; the lyrics are just words. And it seems there are many other folk who hear the lyrics, and sing them, without actually listening to them.

I, on the other hand, listen to songs. Yes, the tune is important but, for me, it is the lyrics that touch my heart. I absorb the poetry and the story, and that inspires my writing. So, you see, just because I don’t listen to music while I write doesn’t mean they are disconnected.

I simply didn’t make that connection last Saturday when I met Elaina.

It was hearing The Sound of Silence that inspired this post, and there is a line in that song (penned over 50 years ago by a youthful Paul Simon – a wonderful lyricist and songwriter) that is particularly apt:

‘People hearing without listening…’

Do you hear without listening or are you, like me, a listener?


This blog post is part of a music themed blog event organised by Elaina James, a guest blogger on Mslexia. Her author page on Mslexia can be found at

Details of participating bloggers in this event can be found on Elaina James’ blog.

7 thoughts on “Music: do you hear without listening?

  1. Yes, I’m with you Janice…words, words…and I love clever lyrics (e.g. Cole Porter), and yes, like you, so many of Paul Simon’s e.g. ‘the Mississippi delta shining like a national guitar.’ …I can actually visualise it.

  2. Absolutely, Lynn. I love Graceland. That’s a fabulous line – as you say, you can visualise the whole scene in just 8 words! A great lesson in descriptive writing. I had intended to quote one of my all-time favourites in my post – ‘I heard cathedral bells, dripping down the alley ways’. I’ve always found that line so evocative, I can close my eyes and be in those alleys. But then, when I double checked on line, Simon’s website had ‘tripping’ not ‘dripping’, and, to me, that didn’t have the same ring (pardon the pun!). Still love the song though – For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.’ Thanks for commenting!

  3. I listen to the words too. To the extent when I sing in the shower, I can often try to sing the words even though I don’t remember the tune. It is the words that get inside my soul. Phrases from songs have inspired whole stories.

  4. I definitely listen to the words too. The music is critical and can convey the mood, but it’s the words that tell the story. For me, song lyrics can inspire stories and stories can inspire song lyrics.

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