The THESAURUS: What is it and how does it help a songwriter?
I'd like you to watch this: [note: There's no sound on this video; Don't worry, it's not your computer.]
[You can try this program right now by clicking on the banner below.]
Now, what have we just seen? And what does this have to do with songwriting?
Well, that was a demonstration of new generation of many a writer's old mainstay tool: the THESAURUS.
What is it? It is a reference work that lists words grouped together according to similarity of meaning ["synonyms"]. It is different than a dictionary, which contains definitions and pronunciations.
It's such a vital tool for any writer because it helps one "zero in" on EXACTLY which word should be used among a choice of words, or to locate a word which has the same or similar meaning, but sounds better and fits better in the lyric.
It's obvious that it cannot provide "creative judgment". That's the responsibility of you, the writer. BUT, the larger your vocabulary is at the outset, the more "raw material" you have to work with.
Many songwriters actually use this in quite a different way than merely as alternative word source - It is actually an amazing "brainstorming" tool and CREATIVITY "JUMP STARTER"
How does this work? Let's look at this entry from one of these, "WORDNET" [for the purposes of illustration of this principle, I've removed some uncommon words]. Here's the entry:
dog, domestic dog, => canine, => carnivore => mammal => vertebrate => animal, animate being, beast, brute, creature
But, now - here's where the "brainstorming" fun comes in: Notice the words toward the end of the listing? "BEAST", "BRUTE", "CREATURE"
"How do I take care of this beast when it's fully grown?".
"That brute can pull that sled all by himself".
See how the "color" is brought into the word, "dog"? and how the synonyms or related words begin to expand the original idea?
All the "standard" poetic devices: "Simile" [a figure of speech that indirectly compares two different things by employing conjunctions ("like", "as", or "than") "My love is LIKE a red, red rose'"], and "Metaphor" [comparing two things directly ("The red, red rose of love")] and all of the other devices depend of course upon not only the literal meaning of the word, but also on the "extended meaning" and the suggestions and associations which are produced by that word.
"Playing" with the individual words, can often cause these similes and metaphors to jump right out at you.
Now, let's take a look at an even BETTER way to represent the relationships between words, so as to display a myriad of possibilities in evolving a concept.
Take a look at this:
Above, you see a thesaurus entry [the word "love"] from the McGill English Dictionary of Rhyme with Verse Perfect. Click this text for the FREE unlimited use version; It's instantly and securely downloadable from CNET..
What the above screenshot doesn't show is that this "map" is "interactive", you can click and drag the individual words and create "associations" which broaden the concept further, or even lead to entirely new concepts.
Notice how displaying the word and it's related words in a sort of "conceptual tree" gets your imagination into play? This is a VERY powerful technique for unlocking color and meaning, and it was known about and in use by various very successful songwriters. But they had to manually write out the tree on a blackboard or on index cards - what a chore!
Well, no longer.
"VERSE PERFECT" is in fact a "suite" of programs with a TON of other features. Again, click here the direct download link from CNET..
Included in the package is: The "McGILL ENGLISH DICTIONARY OF RHYME 2.0" a massive and full-featured reference work in it's own right. ["Bryant McGill", who lists himself as a main contributor, is not connected with McGill University.]
However, one of the people credited on the "panel" of programmers who created this thesaurus is a database engineer from Borland, which is probably why this program is wicked-fast, among many of its other features.
This "suite" delivers an OVERabundance of songwriters' tools and we recommend it without reservation.
Now, believe it or not, there is an even MORE effective program of this type [the one we showed in the video at the top of the page]: the THINKMAP VISUAL THESAURUS. However, there is no rhyming dictionary and is not free after the 14 trial period; It is available by subscription or on CD-ROM or download as a direct purchase.
We think, though, after looking at their presentations and the amazing capabilities of this thesaurus, you might consider their nominal fees a VERY wise "investment".
From their website: "The Visual Thesaurus is an interactive dictionary and thesaurus which creates word maps that blossom with meanings and branch to related words. Its innovative display encourages exploration and learning. You'll understand language in a powerful new way."
Let's watch another video of THE VISUAL THESAURUS [Again, this is silent]:
Amazing, right? What effect do you think this might have on your songwriting?
As you'll see when you explore their site, this only scratches the surface of the bountiful array of features of this application. Besides all of the personal literary tools it has, there exists a community of collaborators which you are welcome to join. You can even take a word map such as we have seen, export it as a graphic file and have it printed on a t-shirt or a coffee mug!
Here is the link to their full presentations - click anywhere on the banner below and then select the "HOW IT WORKS" tab for a complete demonstration:
Personally, as a thesaurus alone, we rather prefer VISUAL THESAURUS. But of course, there's a LOT to recommend in VERSE PERFECT as well, with it's attendant rhyming dictionary, instant links to other reference works, etc. and in consideration of VERSE PERFECT's price, "$0", it's certainly an attractive option.
Either way, you will be obtaining a very powerful "writing and brainstorming partner".
But there are still more options: If you feel that a "word-map" type of thesaurus is "overkill", here are links to a very huge but simple and direct free online thesaurus or two...do check them out and enjoy them, and use them to create great lyrics!
This is a very simple but effective utility: SYNONYM FINDER.COM
And here is another, which we referred to earlier: WORD NET
The above link takes you to a search box for what is primarily a dictionary, but the synonyms are also displayed within each separate definition entry and these synonyms are also "live" links which you can click on to see their definitions and synonyms in turn, and so follow an "associative" line of inquiry. The easiest way to use it is to leave the "options" box alone, then you get "everything" regarding the word.
This is actually an project of Princeton University, which is doing a tremendous amount of research on the English language, so the options available for search would be primarily of interest to scholars. For this reason, it can be counted on as an authoritative source for really clarifying a word. Again, It's free to use, and the response time is instantaneous.
Try these all out and see how they work for you. Then, go forth and write those stunning and compelling lyrics!
Watch and listen to Prof. KEN ROBINSON on "CREATIVITY": A master songwriter, JIMMY WEBB, discusses the creative process and the use of the thesaurus:
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A master songwriter, JIMMY WEBB, discusses the creative process and the use of the thesaurus:
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