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April 27, 2012 / annagardiner

Science Songwriting – Yes It’s a Thing

She never needs to use a fist, when facing down a nemesis, she punches by hypothesis, she is a super scientist.

 

So go the lyrics to Monty Harper’s winning entry Super Scientist in the USA Science and Engineering Festival’s songwriting competition. It won first place in category two:

 A song that shows middle and high-school age students how cool a career in the sciences can be.

The first category;

a song that gets kids (ages 2-10) interested in science or engineering

was won by Becky Ferreira for her song I Want To Know. I suggest you listen to both tracks immediately. You’re guaranteed a giggle.

No denying, these songs are upbeat and catchy enough to drive you bananas. The positively puke-worthy enthusiasm they deliver is ever so infectious. But honestly for me, Super Scientist didn’t meet the ‘make science seem cool to high school students’ criteria. Maybe he was going for the so-bad-it’s-good approach? I thought it was too specific, too complex and with the bad beach boy-esque music, plain old knitted-jumper-from-your-nan daggy. Did you like it?

Harper bagged $500 for his little number, (which I like to think he spent on a Newton’s cradle to double as a metronome) and his winning proves he knows a thing or two about science songwriting. Definitely more than myself. If I were to hit up this competition though, I’d use the following tactics;

You’re a poet and now you know it – and if you’re not your song will flop.

Make your lyrics rhyme! Rhyming lyrics are more likely to cement that ever important place in the cerebral cortex of your crowd. If it gets stuck in their head, they’ll be singing it days later – and so will the people around them. Rhyme also makes it appealing to children (great for the first category) who’re taught nursery rhymes from a young age. To them, it’s not a song if it doesn’t rhyme.  This is where Super Scientist really excelled. It had great rhyme.

K.I.S.S

Don’t have too much information or complex science, and don’t make it too long – it’s hard to remember and boring. Keep it simple stupid! Again, it helps your audience memorise your lyrics and will make science as a career seem more attractive. I personally thought lines like “a secret message signals them to form a biofilm and they organize a syndicate, invincible and poisonous” from Super Scientist were too complex. (He did win though, so maybe I’m wrong about this point?)

Repeat after me

Repetition is crucial. Construct a great chorus that rhymes and is catchy, which you repeat throughout your song. The repetition means this is what people will remember most, so putting your main message here is a clever move. Just dot some punchy versus between your chorus and you’ll have yourself a great science song.

 

I feel my advice wouldn’t be very credible if I didn’t have a go at writing a science song myself – so here it is in all its soppy scientific glory. I’m sure you could all write much better lyrics! Feel free to post some below!

Happy writing my super scientists.

Anna’s Bad Science Song:

Verse 1:

From trees and shrubs to bees and bugs, we all have a reliance

Too much CO2

And there’ll be few

We can save them though, with science

As water creeps, and ice bergs seep, we could lose our land

We need to know

The way to go

Science helps us understand

Chorus:

So much unknown so much at risk

Fragile lives, we best be brisk

turn to the work of scientists

so our world will still exist

Verse 2:

Global warming, poles are thawing, we all need to cool down

We’ll experiment

So glad we went

With science so renowned

Chorus x2

 

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6 Comments

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  1. elenav90 / Apr 27 2012 4:08 am

    Oh my God…
    this was hilarious. These songs were worse than bad!! I laughed for a while. Doing this post must have been a blast.

    I think you structured your post really well, picking up the three most important things in this type of song writing – talk about REPETITION in the “I like Science” song! I guess at least the two aspects of simplicity and repetition are really crucial for any piece of effective communication, wouldn’t you agree? We know many political speeches that use repetition as well to persuade, educate and leave a lasting impression/message. The thing about songs is that they add rhythm – which is usually catchy – so you’re even MORE likely to remember the message! (again, I like science!)

    I guess what these songs do isn’t really ‘teach’ about science, but rather hope to stimulate curiosity about at least one science thing mentioned in the lyrics. Because they’re entertaining I guess they are better off just mentioning one fact about many topics, rather than have a whole song written about global warming, for example, which would be just tedious and futile.

    I’m so curious to hear what your original song sounds like! Will you record it for us?! Don’t forget the funny ooooooooooooh – aaaaaaaaaah background vocals 😉

  2. axl1228 / Apr 28 2012 12:31 pm

    Haha, good song!!! It makes me laugh, especially when I saw “Chorus x2”. You take it really seriously!!! But good job though. I really enjoy this topic.
    Actually, I think writing songs about science isn’t as uncommon as it sounds like. Quite a few science songs are written for some purpose. For example, the science song I was impressed most is “The History of Everything”, the theme of The Big Bang Theory. This song details the entire history of universe in 1’46“, and the theme version for the TV series is only 32 seconds long.
    So the educational function of a science song is really moderate. Within such a short time not so much science information can be involved in. But I totally agree with the comment above that the aim of a science song should be stimulating the interest or curiosity. When people see the science-related theories or terminology mentioned in the lyrics, they might not look up them in wikipedia or scholarly text to figure out what they are, but by getting a more entertaining form of scientific, their attitude towards science may change, and that’s the point.

  3. thiarayoanita69 / Apr 28 2012 1:17 pm

    This is really an interesting topic to write about. Science was strongly associated with experiments, complex theories etc; but now I see there is an increasing trend in turning all the complex theories to songs. Many youtube videos were made by students when they were trying to memorize for exam. However, with this science songwriting, as @elenav90 has mentioned, there is a different purpose behind the song. These songs are targeted for people in general, even those without a scientific background.. Therefore, just like what you have mentioned, it is better to simplify all the complexity.

    Another thing that I would like to add, it seemed that especially for the young kids (2-10 years of age), it is better to include many questions related to them. As it is around these age, that they begin to wonder everything that’s happening around them. In addition, a repetition of the word “I” may hold a significant impact on them. While for the middle-high school students, instead of exploring their curiosity, the lyrics may be more effective if it depicts how much impact they have on the real world- e.g. the winner in the category has associated working in science, like a detective or superhero. But above all things, just like what you suggested, rhymes hold a particular importance in creating a catchy song..

    and great lyrics you have got there! 😀

  4. muza2009 / May 1 2012 12:02 am

    Anna can you sing the song in the tutorial with background vocals by Elena? Great post that captures the salient points of science song writing. There are a number of complex science songs, The Biochemist songbook, provides some wonderful detail for remembering complex metabolic pathways, great for exam revision.

  5. baileymoser / May 1 2012 11:31 am

    What a great example @axl1228! “The History of Everything” is fantastic! It really helps illustrate the point that the amount of information you try to relay in such a short time frame depends on your audience: The viewers of Big Bang Theory are more likely older, and correspondingly better educated, than the school children the song contest was targeting. Older audiences would find “History of Everything” much more entertaining and possibly more informative than younger audiences could appreciate. And likewise, as @muza2009 suggested, a biochem student might have great use for songs that incorporate copious amounts of detail, using the techniques you suggested, to study.

    I loved this post and your song, @annagardiner. Awesome job.

  6. annagardiner / May 2 2012 1:01 am

    I’m in the recording studio as we speak! Only joking. I think it’s best I savour everyone from my singing voice.

    I agree with you all that science songwriting is brilliant for exam revision, In year 11 I made a song about photosynthesis for our exam and it worked really well.

    thiarayoanita69, you’ve described a key difference between the two age group categories perfectly, younger kids will definitiely want a song that questions things and they feel is relevant to them.

    axl1228, The ‘history of everything’ is an awesome example of a science song, great thinking!

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