On the Internet one can find lists of misheard lyrics. But are songs really more difficult to understand than normal speech? And if so, why is that?

You may also want to check out the term mondegreen.

  • Yes. For all kinds of reasons. Rhyme and rhythm can guide some to the intended lyric; but they can just as easily guide them to a different interpretation. Songs, poems, proverbs, any frequently-spoken (or -sung) chunks of language, are notoriously productive of eggcorns.
    – jlawler
    Aug 1 '14 at 17:49
  • Yes. No. Sometimes. It depends. Aug 2 '14 at 8:41

Things that make songs easier to understand:

  • Songs are carefully written speech with no unintentional grammatical mistakes, hesitations etc.
  • Many singers (not all, obviously) pronounce very clearly.

Things that make songs harder to understand:

  • With songs, communication is usually not the principal purpose. They are typically performed/played in a context in which the text makes little sense. Hence there are no contextual cues for the overall meaning.
  • Songs are not prose. Lyrics tend to use rarely heard words and strained grammar to make words rhyme, lines scan etc.
  • Some songs are older than any other texts we are usually exposed to, and contain obsolete grammar / obsolete words.
  • The reason many singers - especially classical singers, who normally perform without electronic amplification yet can be quite loud - pronounce so clearly is because otherwise the audience would only hear the vowels and, given that vowel quality is connected to pitch, intonation etc., would even have trouble interpreting them correctly. They can't solve this problem, though, they can only mitigate it.
  • 1
    You missed all the music specific problems such as backing music and vocals being badly mixed!
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 1 '14 at 23:03

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