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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What About Music In a Novel?

Photo by stevepb on Pixabay
I learned the words to many songs when I was young. My mother sang all the time--mostly the songs of her generation, but some even older than that. I took piano lessons for a short time, paid for with my babysitting money. My middle sister took guitar lessons, so I learned a bit about the guitar as well. I sang in the madrigal choir in college. For many years, I sang and played an accompaniment with the guitar in the folk choir at church. Then I married a man whose main hobby was music. Our daughters took piano lessons for years--until they went to college.

While I am not an accomplished pianist or guitarist, I have memorized the lyrics to a gazillion songs from the past, though I don't know much about current popular music. However, sometimes when I'm strolling through a store, I might hear a nice tune playing through the speakers as I load my cart with groceries. Then I'll go and search for it. If it really touches me, I'll buy the sheet music.

Surrounded by an abundance of musical scores, I have sometimes included the mention of a number of songs in the books I write. In The Cowboy's Miracle, I used several ancient western ballads. In my newest release, Patriot's Courage, I referenced "Amazing Grace," one of my favorite hymns. It was first published in 1779 by John Newton. (There's an interesting conversion story on John Newton that you can find at

I am well aware that a writer must be careful about using lyrics or songs in their stories and not only because it is difficult to secure the copyrights on the songs. Using song titles often dates the story and since songs go out of fashion quickly, future readers may never have heard of the song you are referencing in your book. See Jason Sanford's blog post:

Writer's Digest has a very succinct post about using song lyrics:  Jane Friedman has a longer and more detailed guide:

In Clear As Ice, I was tempted to use the titles from a playlist for EMTs and paramedics. Instead, I made vague references to the heavy beat of the songs and the way the protagonist reacts to the music. That's the safe way. 


Gay N Lewis said...

Thanks. Good ideas.

Carol James said...

Thanks for sharing. I grew up in a family who loved music. It’s such a part of me. I give each of my novels a Theme Song.

Penelope Marzec said...


I have theme songs in many of my novels. Weaving them in is fun. :-)