Breaking the wall between instruments and vocals

by Tzvi Steinberg

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Breaking the wall between instruments and vocals

  • Joined Jan 2024
  • Published Books 1

An introduction to a new form of story telling.

In this e-book I will introduce an idea in music I find very exciting: breaking the wall between the instruments and lyrics. And with it, contributing to the “story” the song tells.

Telling stories in an unconventional way, has become a small obsession of mine. Sending me on a mission to find more these songs. By the end of this e-book, hopefully you too will join me on this mission.


As was taught in Mel’s class, a center piece of a song being popular is its ability to convey a story. This is traditionally done through lyrics or instruments.

The lyrics, unsurprisingly, convey the story through words and tones. The instruments are more nuanced and do so through a number of methods:

  • Choice of instruments – instruments are associated with different emotions.
  • Choice of notes – happy or sad notes are able to completely shift the tone of the song as Mel demonstrated with Hatikva (Israeli national anthem).
  • Tempo – by increasing or decreasing the tempo, musicians can influence the listeners level of calm/anxiety to further place them in the story.

In King Curtis’ song Memphis Soul Stew we see an example of an additional method: interaction between the lyrics and instruments.


King Curtis wished to tell the story of the the Memphis soul music scene. While he could have simply played music in said genre, or conveyed his message in the lyrics seperately, he blended the two.

The song’s lyrics are a recipe for “The Memphis Soul Stew”, a metaphorical representation of the different components of the genre he is promoting. Each verse introduces a different instrument, with an emphasis on how its used in Memphis soul music.


With the story telling of this song, it became King Curtis’ most popular and arguably the one for which he is most known. Regretfully, he died a year after the song was released.


Now an honerable mention I feel compelled to add: Yankee Rose by David Lee Roth. This song is from 1986, but it is one of the most successful songs at giving a voice to an instrument.



While talkboxes were employed to make guitars “talk” as far back as the 1930’s, with pioneers such as Alvino Rey with his song St. Louis Blues, the opening of Yankee Rose done using the whammy stands out. The singer having a conversation with the guitar adds a tool to story making toolbox that keeps this song popular to this day.



To summarize, I demonstated in this e-book an interaction in songs that is not fully utilized. However, when it is incorporated, it adds a layer to the song’s story and captures the listener. Unfortunatly, while there more examples of interaction in songs between the lyrics and instruments on the level demonstated, they are far and in between.


I hope you found this topic as interesting as I do. The story is one of my favorite aspects in songs and I have found songs with unorthodox story telling methods to be very enjoyable.

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