Many songwriters become fixated on one aspect of a song, to the detriment of the others. In my experience, more songwriters worry about their chord progressions than anything else. If you find chords hard to come up with, that fixation may make sense. But the most important element of a song may not actually be any one aspect, but how those different elements work together. It’s possible to have a great melody, accompanied by great chords and with a great set of lyrics, but have it all fall flat if those different parts are working against each other. It’s what Songwriting Principle No. 6 is all about:
The shape of a melody must be planned with vocal range, harmony, and text in mind.
The principle is all about avoiding what we call counterintuitive writing. The problem arises when the melody is trying to evoke one emotion while the lyrics and harmonies are trying to evoke a different one. The result of this is that the song sounds confusing. All of the elements of a song need to speak “with one voice,” appealing to one specific emotion.
Melodies that are placed very high, with a dynamic requiring the singer to scream out the lyric, will usually not be the kind of approach for singing about being at peace with the world. To set your lyric, you need to bring all elements together so that they work in sync with each other. Here are some tips:
- For lyrics that show determination and strongly held opinions, your melodies should use many repeating notes and be placed relatively high in the singer’s range.
- For lyrics that show love and compassion, your melodies should be placed centrally in the singer’s range with a few well-placed leaps to intensify the emotion.
- For lyrics that tell a story, your melodies should use mainly stepwise motion, with leaps at more emotional moments, and placed generally in the singer’s midrange.
The main lesson here is to ensure that the various components of a song work toward the same emotional goal. Remember, the songs that really speak to the audience are the ones that tell a story, with accompanying emotions, that relate to that audience. Having all components “on-side” makes that goal a much easier one to reach.
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website