Anyone who knows me can tell you that I love musicals, and Disney movies. One of the reasons that I love them so much is because each song has a purpose: either to push the plot forward or give the audience some needed information.
Below are five functions that come to mind when I think of a song from a musical:
- Setting the Stage: The song gives the background for the story or for a key part of the plot. (Examples: A Rumor in St. Petersburg from Anastasia, Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton, Façade from Jekyll and Hyde)
- Passage of Time: I have mostly seen this done so that the audience can see a character’s childhood, but it can be used in other ways. (Examples: I Know It’s Today from Shrek The Musical, Lovely Ladies from Les Misérables, The Plagues from The Prince of Egypt)
- Exposition: The song explains something. (Examples: Tightrope from The Greatest Showman, Something Bad from Wicked, I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here from Annie)
- Desire: Expresses what the protagonist wants. (Examples: Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid, Santa Fe from Newsies, Much More from The Fantastics)
- Love Song: There are many varieties of long songs. Often a love song is a duet, but sometimes it is just one character expressing his/her love for another character. It can also be the song in which two characters fall in love or finally realize that they are in love. (Examples: Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, Jimmy from Thoroughly Modern Millie, I See the Light from Tangled)
Choose a story that connects with you. Now, try to write a song for one of the scenes or one of the characters. Make sure that the song has a purpose, it cannot just sound pretty.
If you feel confident in your song writing abilities, increase the difficulty level by writing the song with a specific target audience in mind. For example, the language Lin-Manuel Miranda used in Hamilton is very different from the language he used in Moana. The reason is that Hamilton was written for an adult audience while Moana was marketed to children and their families.
Happy writing (and singing)!