23 How to Quote Song Lyrics in an Essay in APA Style

When writing essays in fields like music education, psychology, sociology, or other disciplines that may analyze song lyrics, you’ll often need to incorporate direct quotations or paraphrases to support your arguments and deepen your analysis. Understanding how to properly attribute these sources is essential to both academic integrity and effectively guiding your reader back to the original work. The American Psychological Association (APA) style provides the framework for formatting these citations while ensuring you give credit where credit is due.

Additionally, if you find yourself overwhelmed with the task of incorporating citations or formatting your paper according to APA guidelines, consider seeking assistance and ask professionals to do my paper on DoMyEssay to ensure accuracy and adherence to academic standards.

While there’s no single section in the APA manual devoted entirely to musical sources, you can intelligently adapt the principles for citing various source formats to fit this particular purpose. This involves a careful understanding of both APA’s conventions and the unique nature of musical works, where elements like composer, lyricist, performer, and the date of a particular release all contribute to the full picture.

In-Text Citations

Short Quotations: Integrate shorter lyrical excerpts directly into your text using quotation marks, providing a seamless flow within your writing and allowing the lyrics to speak directly to the reader. Separate line breaks with a single forward slash ( / ) and stanza breaks with two ( // ).

Joni Mitchell explores themes of freedom and constraint in her song “Big Yellow Taxi,” where she poignantly sings, “They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot” (Mitchell, 1970, track 4). 

This technique lets the song’s imagery resonate clearly, strengthening your argument by using the artist’s own words as direct evidence. Furthermore, short quotations can be particularly impactful when they capture a powerful metaphor or a striking turn of phrase unique to the songwriter. 

The bitter irony of “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” (Mitchell, 1970, track 4) underscores the song’s larger message about the fleeting nature of what we take for granted.

Block Quotations: For lengthier lyrical segments (typically four lines or more), set them apart as block quotations to emphasize their significance, help with visual clarity, and signify a deeper level of analysis. Indent the entire block from your main text. Consider this example:

They took all the trees

Put ’em in a tree museum

And they charged the people

A dollar and a half just to see ’em

(Mitchell, 1970, track 4)

By using a block quotation, you invite the reader to pause and carefully consider the extended lyrical passage, potentially uncovering deeper meanings, nuances, or its connection to the larger themes of your work. Block quotations can also highlight shifts in tone within a song or reveal the development of an idea across several verses. In Mitchell’s case, the block quote emphasizes the absurdity and commercialization of a world where nature is commodified, adding a layer of social commentary to the environmental focus of “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Citation Components: An in-text citation for song lyrics generally includes the songwriter(s) last name, copyright year, and either track number (for recordings) or page/line number (for printed scores). For example, a direct quotation from “Big Yellow Taxi” would be cited as (Mitchell, 1970, track 4). Paraphrases follow the regular APA pattern of (Author, Year), allowing you to rephrase the song’s message in your own words while still giving credit to the original idea. Remember that consistency in your citations adds a layer of professionalism and clarity to your essay writing, demonstrating your respect for intellectual property and guiding your reader effectively.

Reference List Entries

Your reference list, found at the end of your essay, provides a comprehensive and detailed guide to all the sources you’ve used. For song lyrics, this is where you meticulously list full publication information, allowing a reader to easily locate the exact music you analyzed. Here’s the basic structure, with examples and additional considerations:

Recorded Music: Start with the songwriter(s), copyright year, song title, and recording artist. Then, specify the album title, medium of the recording (vinyl, CD, digital, etc.), location of the record label, and the label itself.

Mitchell, J. (1970). Big Yellow Taxi [Recorded by Joni Mitchell]. On Ladies of the Canyon [LP record]. Burbank, CA: Reprise Records.

If the songwriter and recording artist are the same, you can omit the bracketed “[Recorded by…]” portion. Sometimes, you might need to differentiate between various editions or re-releases of an album, especially if bonus tracks or alternate versions are involved. Since different versions could contain lyrical changes, it’s important to be detailed to ensure a reader can locate the precise source you used. Also, be aware that original publication dates and recent re-releases can differ, so make sure to list the date relevant to the version you’re citing.

Printed Scores: For printed sheet music, whether it’s a full score or a simplified arrangement, focus on the publication details. List the songwriter(s), year of publication, song title, the type of score (vocal, instrumental, choral, etc. – if relevant), the city and state where the publisher is located, and the publisher’s name.

Dylan, B. (1963). Blowin’ in the Wind [Vocal score]. New York, NY: Warner Bros. Publications.

Printed scores can vary widely, from simple piano-and-vocal arrangements to comprehensive orchestral scores. Specifying the score type clarifies the exact version you used for analysis and can be particularly helpful if your arguments focus on instrumentation, harmonies, or other musical elements beyond just the lyrics themselves. Additionally, some scores include notes on historical context or performance practice relevant to specific genres or time periods, giving you additional insights for your analysis.

With a bit of careful attention and by understanding the core principles of APA, you can successfully integrate song lyrics into your academic writing, giving proper credit, strengthening your analysis, and enhancing the overall scholarly impact of your work!


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