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I'm sure there is an official name for this, but I am wondering how to write music that "sounds like the lyrics". Here is an example of a guitarist doing this with Blink-182's What's My Age Again?. After the intro, instead of going into the power chord progression as the song is officially written, she starts shredding in a really cool way that sounds just like the lyrics. My questions regarding this include:

  1. Does this have an official name?
  2. How can do I learn to do this myself? Do I just mess around in the key of the song until I find my way through it, or is it less structured than that? Or is it as straight forward as playing the exact notes that are being sung (if so where do I find sheet music for vocals of a given song?) along with some improvisational flair?

While playing songs officially is enjoyable, this shred-like way of "playing the lyrics" is really cool and I'm sure a great party trick when playing in front of others as well, so I'd like to learn.

NOTE: I am NOT asking anyone to do the work for me and tab this or anything. Rather, I just want more info on what is going on here and maybe a pointer or two on how I can begin to do this myself.

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  • If you don’t want to mess around and figure out the notes to the vocal melody, you could buy the sheet music and learn to play the vocal melody from that May 31, 2023 at 23:19
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    "Or is it as straight forward as playing the exact notes that are being sung" That's all there is to it!
    – Fattie
    Jun 1, 2023 at 11:23
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    By ‘sounds like the lyrics’, do you mean ‘sounds like the vocal line’? (It might be possible to produce something reminiscent of the words, but with a completely different tune.)
    – gidds
    Jun 1, 2023 at 13:12
  • "lyrics" are specifically the words btw, so to play the lyrics... you'd have to do something quite crazy, I've seen black midi that half-succeeds
    – minseong
    Jun 1, 2023 at 23:01
  • My kids had one of the "Hero" video games and I would sometimes play the vocal part by putting the mic inside the sound hole of a very cheap classical guitar: it depends on the idiom of course, but for a lot of "popular guitar-based music", the melodies the singer is using rarely get outside of a single octave.
    – Yorik
    Sep 26, 2023 at 19:49

3 Answers 3

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Does this have an official name?

"Playing the vocal melody"...

Is it as straight forward as playing the exact notes that are being sung along with some improvisational flair?

The answer is simple: yes

if so where do I find sheet music for vocals of a given song?

Look around. Sometimes people publish transcribed scores in the internet, and scores for popular songs are often available to buy in various arrangements.

I would definitely recommend trying to transcribe music by ear. This will give you skills to translate the notes you hear in your head, to your instrument, which is what you need when composing or improvising. It might be difficult at first, but you will get better as you practice.

Learning to play the vocal melody on the instrument is a very good starting point to play a good instrumental solo. It helps to play something which fits the individual song well, and to avoid a trap of repeating the same patterns in every song.

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I don't think you really mean 'playing the lyrics'. I can't hear any words in what she's playing! What I do hear is an improvisation that is aware of the vocal melody, and makes use of it.

This shouldn't be considered extraordinary! Many players improvise on the chords, ignoring the original melody. But how does this count as playing THAT song, not just any song with the same chord sequence? It's great to hear a player picking up on the melody as well.

How to do this? Well, how would a vocalist learn this song? There might be sheet music available, or they might have the musical skills needed to transcribe it to written notation. But quite likely they would just listen and imitate. If this is a skill you haven't explored yet, start off simple. Can you play the tune of 'Happy birthday to you'? Master that, then onward and upward!

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Instruments have been imitating sung vocal lines for, well, probably as long as both instruments and voices have been doing their things. And you can take it several steps further than shown in the video.

I recently played violin for Bach's B minor mass. My violin part would often print lyrics below the staff, not because I needed to sing them, but with the assumption that I would shape the attack, duration, and emphasis of my notes to match the text. For example, on the phrase "Kyrie eleison," I would start the first note with a bit of attack to match the plosive "k", but between the "e" that ends "kyrie" and "eleison," I would smooth it out a bit to match the back-to-back vowels. I would also insert slight space between both notes to show the separation between the two words. Meanwhile, I would match the speech emphasis by making the notes on syllables "ky-" and "-lei-" stronger and the others weaker. Most of all, I'd keep an ear out to hear how the choir sang this phrase before me, rather than making assumptions about all of the above.

Of course, the first thing I thought of when you asked about making a guitar "sound like" singing was a vocoder pedal:

And the second thing was Steve Reich's Different Trains, finding music in vocals where none was intended, mapping the inflection of non-musical spoken words to musical pitches and echoing them on instruments.

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