Lyrics can be a powerful tool to define who we are and how we perceive the world.
But if the lyrics don’t match up with what we think the song means, we’re left wondering what exactly we’re singing about.
A new study by the University of Exeter shows that when we hear a song as an original text, our brain will try to match the lyrics to the meaning.
And if the song has lyrics that aren’t quite right, we will also feel like we’re reading it wrong.
The researchers used a device called a phonotactic microphone that measures how our vocal cords vibrate in response to speech sounds, and that is able to capture the patterns of vibration in our mouths.
They found that when people listen to a song that has lyrics in their head that don’t quite match up to the lyrics, they will feel the music’s phonotaxis is off, meaning they are not translating the lyrics exactly.
In the case of the iconic track by Queen, The Star Spangled Banner, the researchers found that the song is about how a group of people who were all from the same country and didn’t speak the same language were given a new language and set out to create a song with the same meaning as the original one.
In their study, they also measured the brain activity of those listening to the song, and found that their brains were responding to a melody, not a verse.
It’s a simple theory, but one that suggests there may be more to the phenomenon than meets the eye.
In the case the Star Spangle Banner, a line in the lyrics that doesn’t match the original is the reason for the difference.
“What is really interesting is that the melody of the song might not be there at all,” said co-author Dr Matthew McBride, from the University’s Department of Cognitive Neuroscience and Brain Sciences.
“It’s not a melody that you would expect to be there, it’s an external thing.
It’s a vocal rhythm, and it’s a rhythm that doesn�t correspond with the words of the verse.”
It’s been known for a long time that the brain can process speech sounds as an external object, but now the researchers say it is possible to capture a neural response in the ear when a song has a different melody.
“This means that we have a new tool for exploring whether there’s any similarity between a song and its meaning in the brain,” said McBride.
“We can look at the pattern of the brain responses when we listen to the melody and the rhythm that we think we’re hearing.
This is a new way to look at how we use the brain.”
Listen to a recording of the original song:Lyrics can help us to see the worldThe researchers found this when they were recording music, and the music was a sample of the lyrics in the form of a tweet.
They were able to measure the brain response when listening to each tweet, and then when they analysed the patterns.
In one case, the song had a melody and a verse, and there was no difference between the two.
However, the other song had different words and a different vocal rhythm.
“When we’re listening to a tweet, we can pick up some similarities between the words that are being spoken and the words in the tweet.
So if we listen very closely to the tweet, the words are in common and the melodies are similar,” said Dr McBride from the study.”
But when we’re looking at the tweet as an audio recording, we don’t know that.”
The researchers say they are currently investigating whether this can be used to create more meaningful songs.
But it could also lead to other types of creative solutions to a particular problem, such as how to interpret text in a more personal way.
“I think that’s one of the main reasons why this might be important,” said Professor David Tullock from the Australian National University.
“There’s a real need for people to be able to use language in a very personal way.”
Follow Helen on Twitter: @helenmcgrath