Song Interpretation: The Worksheet


THE BASICS: Title, Composer, Lyricist

  1. Who wrote your song?  Who did they write it with?
  2. When did they write it?  What year, what’s it’s category? Golden Age, contemporary etc?
  3. Why did they write it?  Show? Movie? TV? Revue? Political statement?
  4. What is the show about? (briefly)
  5. Who is your character?  What happens to them in the show, very briefly?
  6. Any words or references you don’t understand?  Look them up!  Google is your friend.


What hit you the first time you heard this song?  A certain phrase? A section of the melody?  Write down what you experienced.  Keep these thoughts in the forefront as you do this work.


THE TEXT, or the lyric…..

Are any of the following put to use in your song?

  1. Metaphor
  2. Imagery
  3. Onomatopoeia
  4. Alliteration
  5. Rhyme



Your answers to the following questions need to be based in fact - try not to be subjective. Yet….

  1. Who is this story about?  Who is the singer?  Don’t make it complicated, don’t use “I…” “This is a story about Eliza….”
  2. Where does the lyric take place?  Be objective.  “She just left Henry Higgins’ house and is in the street…..”
  3. Economic bracket? Schooling?  Age?  

GETTING PERSONAL - YOUR SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION -do not use the situation in the actual show:

Read the lyric over and over, then decide….


  1. Who are you, the singer?  Use the first person and be very specific.



  1. To whom are you speaking?  This person will become your focus.  Name this person; be sure the silent partner that you choose will provide you with conflict.   
  2. When is it?  
  3. What just happened?
  4. What is happening?
  5. What might happen?
  6. Where are you?  What is the world of the song?  Be specific.
  7. Where did you come from?
  8. Where are you now?
  9. Where might you be going?
  10. Why are you telling this story to this person? which leads us to……


  1. Objective: A strong “why” (a strong need or want) will always make your performance clearer (and this assignment easier to pull off!).
  2. Obstacle: what is preventing you from getting what you want?
  3. Change: what changes during the song?
  4. Beats:  Choose your verbs/tactics! Where are the beats in your song??  Assign a verb to each.  See Actions: The Actor’s Thesaurus or any other resource on verbs for actors.
  5. Moment before:What happened right before you sing?  Is there dialogue? If so write it out.  (It should not be from the actual script - make it up!)
  6. Movement: Movement shouldn’t occur unless there is a need.  Your verbs will help you find the natural easy movement of your body.  Remember - there is strength in stillness.  

THE MUSIC Work on the musical connection to the best of your ability.  It gets easier….

The musical composition of a good musical theater song will feel like it’s coming from within the character - heartbeat, excitement, fear, love etc - and it will fully support the text.  There is a musical monologue of your subtext……


How do the following inform the story and your character?

Play the song, listen to an OCR recording, have your accompanist record a practice track.  Then consider the following, making notes. How do these aspects of musical form support the/your story?

  1. Intro or vamp or bell tone: it can set key, tempo, mood.  Sometimes it’s what the composer actually wrote, and sometimes it’s something a publisher came up with. You have choice in what you use and how you use it.
  2. Verse - does it have one?  Contemporary music sometimes (not always!) doesn’t. If there’s a verse, learn it.  You may not perform it or use it in an audition but you MUST know.
  3. Chorus - or the main part of the song. What is the structure?  Musical Comedy, American Songbook, Golden Age tend to a noticeable structure or form - AABA, ABAB, etc etc etc.  Sondheim has moved from recognizable form to a more fluid structure for his music, and some contemporary composers have followed suit.  Take note of how your song is crafted.
  4. Postlude, conclusion epilogue, playout. How will you use it?  Remember your performance does not end until the accompanist’s hands come off the keys.  Stay with it!


How do the following inform the story and your character?

 Key Signature: ________________

Time Signature: ________________

  1. Do either of these change over the course of the song?  How does that affect the character?
  2. Melody: Main melody, and the bridge or release.  What are the hallmarks that make it special?  How does the melody support the story?
  3. Harmony:  How does the harmonic progression of the song support the story?
  4. Rhythm:  Anything special here?  Does it follow standard pronunciation of the text, or does it deviate on purpose?  Does it help illuminate the story in any way?
  5. Phrasing: How a song is phrased can be based on the lyric (start here!), the melody (is it happening over an important harmonic change?), the rhythm.  The point is to serve the text in the clearest possible way. 
  6. Markings: How does the composer use dynamics, and other markings to serve the story?  Any markings you don’t understand?  Look them up!  They’re often in Italian….
  7. Air:  Music without words in a song can be referred to as air; also as fill. What does it say?  When is it important in your song and when is it not?  How will you use the air, the fill?

YOUR SUBTEXT (this is the fun part!):

Separate the lyrics from the music; write them out in your notebook, leaving a few spaces between each line.  (This also actually helps you learn your lyrics - bonus!)

Create a useable subtext using the information you have mined above, writing it in the spaces underneath the lyrics you wrote in your notebookFor your purposes, subtext is something personal that you can recall which brings out the same emotional response as the lyric.  The subjective interpretation is your unique version of the story, and it fills in the blanks not supplied in the lyrics.   Do not ignore the musical discoveries you have made in creating your subtext! Use your verbs to delineate beats.