If you find lyrics easy to write but melodies hard, here are some ideas for making your words singable.
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If you’re the kind of person who finds lyrics to be the most interesting and fun aspect of songwriting, you may also be the kind who finds melodies and chords hard to come up with. The temptation in those cases is to automatically assume that you can’t write melodies, and then seek out a songwriting partner who can. And while I am in favour of songwriting partnerships as a general rule, you may just need a little help to get your mind thinking melodically.
If you are a lyrics-first kind of writer, the basic shape of your melody is probably going to be more important to you than the chordal accompaniment. That’s because lyrics-first writers are usually careful about imagery, poetic devices, and generally how they say things. The melody you write has great potential for bringing those aspects of your words to life. A chord progression has that potential as well, but often to a lesser degree.
So if you’ve got a new lyric, but your mind is a blank with regard to melody, try the following steps as a way to create one. It’s a good idea to have a few simple progressions ready for this, so take the time right now to either create some, or choose from these simple ones:
C Dm G C
C Dm7 G C
C Fmaj7 G7 C
C Am Dm G C
C Em Am Dm G7 C
Now give these steps a try:
- Read your lyrics aloud several times. Try saying them at different tempos. Find and savour the basic rhythm of your words.
- For every line of lyric, write a number from 1 to 10 that corresponds to the emotional value of the line. For example, if the line is a simple descriptive line, such as, “I felt the sun shining down on me”, you might assign it a value of 1 or 2. A line like, “You gave me comfort as you held my hand…” might get a value of 5 or 6. A line like, “The fire in my heart burns only for you” might get an 8 or 9.
- For every verse or section of lyric, write the 2 or 3 words that hold the most emotional value. These should be the words that seem to jump out as being the kind that would get an audience’s attention.
- For every verse or section of lyric, find the one word that seems to serve as a climactic point: a word for which you might say, “That’s what this verse really is all about”. Circle that word.
- Play the first chord from a short chord progression on your guitar or keyboard. (Experiment with this step. Songs in major keys have a different feel from songs in a minor key). Sing the tonic note (e.g., if you play a C chord, sing a C).
- Start reciting your poem on that note, and think about the inherent rhythm of your words. For accented syllables, you may want to hold those words longer. Make sure that the natural pulse of your words comes through. You’re not really creating a melody here yet, you’re just transitioning your brain from thinking of your words as poetry to thinking of them as lyric.
- Play through your chosen chord progression, and sing your melody on the tonic note. Experiment with how long to play each chord, and how long you hold each word or syllable. As you change chords, if the tonic note you’re singing doesn’t fit, move your voice up or down until it does.
- Start singing your lyric again, this time changing the starting note of each line by considering the emotional value you assigned to each line of text. If you gave your line a value of 1-3, start on a low tonic. If you gave it a 4-6, start on the 3rd above it. If you gave the line a 7-8, start on a dominant note. And if your line is very emotional (9 or 10), start singing on the upper tonic note. As before, move your note up or down to make it fit as you play through your progression.
- Create melodic leaps by considering the emotional words you listed in Step 3. When you sing those words, allow your voice to leap upward.
- Create a climactic high point by considering the emotional word you listed in Step 4. The focal point of your lyric might work well by allowing it to be one of the highest notes in your song.
Of course, it’s silly to think that this is how all good melodies are written. There are many ways to create tunes. But if melodic ideas are just not happening for you, doing the 10 steps above can help. By the time you’ve reached the 7th or 8th step, you’ll start to get a sense of how a melody might work for your lyric.
Don’t consider those steps as rules. In fact, once you feel that you’re getting a sense of a workable melody happening, I’d encourage you to put the list away and simply let your imagination take over.
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My name is onomiteri Ufuoma from Nigeria I had fall in love with music. I think its my talent, I have gone through your post and I really find it helpful. I can write a lot of lyrics but the problem is poor tune. Secondly, I’m from a poor home and its real hard to associate with other successful song writers here. since I don’t have money to take my music career to the next level. I will do better once I associate myself with other musician&song writer once again thank you I think this is really helpful you can add me up on whatsapp 09013283029 thank you
Thanks for motivating us,I greatly learned from this,and I did as instructed,once again THANKS. God’s abundant blessings shall be be upon you
Thanks very much for your comment. 🙂
it’s nice explanation, and it’s unforgettable landmark to my music journey.
Still believe, there are many many nice people like you to share the learning.
This world is beautiful with the people like you.
Bhathiya from Sri Lanka (small pearl like drop in the Indian Ocean)
I’ve really enjoyed this, God bless you.
Can you please make a video tutorial on this? My humble appeal.
Hi Gary. This will be kind of a personal post, but I couldn’t resist…
I was trying to find tips on how to write a melody to lyrics, and accidentally stumbled onto this website. I am not a song writer, but want to write one for a Shanty festival in April. I really like the way you explain how to do that, your advises are very helpful.
Then I scrolled to the bottom of the page and saw your picture and name – Gary Ewer…and my heart skipped a bit….I used to sing in Kalina Singers, from 1990 til I finished my degree and left Halifax in 1995. I was a PhD student at Dalhousie, my name is Bogusia, you probably don’t remember me, but I have very fond memories from being part of that one of a kind group. I am still in touch with three members of that ensemble; two of them are now in Ontario, one in Florida.
I hope everything is well with you professionally and personally, and wish you all the best for the future!
Hi Bogusia – Yes, I remember you! And it’s so nice of you to make contact again after all these years! I have great memories of that choir, and I’m glad you do, too. 🙂
All the best to you!
your knowledge in writing melody was really helpful,thanks
Thanks, I’m glad you found it useful.
How do I dwelt a song to give melody?
Social distancing just got a whole lot easier now. Thanks Gary!
How shuld i compose a melody 4 my lyrics bcos evrytime i try i land at d same melody for my different lyrics wat do i do
There is a thing called musical muscle memory, which just means that our creative mind keeps wanting to go to the same notes. Who knows why this happens, but every songwriter deals with it. I wrote about this in a previous blog article, and you might give that a read to see if anything in there helps:
“Coming Up With Fresh Songwriting Ideas”
I have the lyrics written. I can even sing it through. My problem is the music behind it. I don’t know what would sound best with the way I sing it. I’m not sure how to fix this problem aside from increasing my skills with my guitar. Does anybody else have any suggestions?
If you have the words and the melody, you might give this article a read:
7 Quick Tips for Adding Chords to a Melody
Hope this helps!
This helps a lot.
I wrote the lyrics to a song but I don’t think I will be able to put the melody on.
What should I do?
I really believe that reading your lyric out loud is one of the best things a lyricist can and should do if you’re stuck creating a melody. Find the natural ups and downs of what you’ve written. Find the natural pulse of the words. Spend time improvising a tune using the words you’ve written.
It’s a skill that takes time. In the meantime, you might also consider partnering up with someone whose specialty is writing music, someone who might be struggling with lyrics. You might find that it’s the best way forward in the short term.
I can write fantastic words.I read it to friends and people almost cry hearing my write up but I don’t really know how to convert it into music.
pls help me
You’re on the right page for learning how. Probably the most important step, in my opinion, is reading your lyric out loud, getting a sense of the natural shape and pulse of the words.
I’d also say that some lyrics are harder than others to set. If you find yourself getting stuck, it’s time to move on, and not let frustration get the best of you. Simplify your lyric as a way of getting a handle on how to set words. Once you find simple, basic lyrics easier to set, it might then be time to switch to more emotional, heartfelt lyrics.
It takes time, and a lot of patience. Stick with it!
great information thanks for sharing
Wonderful piece of advice. Thanks so much.
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beautiful knowledge ! thanks alot…. Gary
Thank you so much Gary! Great post 🙂
What’s a low tonic, dominant note and a upper tonic note? I got completely stuck on that. Thanks!
The tonic note is the note that represents the key of your song, and the dominant note is the 5th note of that key. So for songs in the key of C major, C is the tonic and G is the dominant. A low tonic simply means (for C major) a low C. An upper tonic is a high C. In a song like “Hey Jude”, for example, McCartney sings a high tonic in the second phrase (“Take a sad song…”), and the verse ends on a low tonic.
Oh my gosh, I’m exactly the same. I wish I knew how to conquer it myself, but alas, I’m stuck in the same boat as you. I don’t have a lot of musical theory knowledge so everything I do is by accidental discovery. So, perhaps, you could hum each note in your melody and find which piano key, etc, corresponds with the note being hummed. Then move onto the next note. It’s slow, but provides results… eventually. That’s what I’ve been recently doing, and seeing how each note sounds on the piano, etc, may allow you to develop your ideas further… if that makes sense. Oh, I also record the melodies from my head. I just use an app on my phone.
What phone app are you using?
Thank you! This has been very helpful…I just have a few questions. I’m a lyricist in a band, and we’re slowly progressing towards recording demos. The only problem is, I’m stuck. It’s like writer’s block, but different. I can write the lyrics, and they can be great, and I’ll hear the melody too, but I can’t express the melody, or turn it into music. How do I get past this?
This is the pearl that I’ve been searching so hard for. I make sure to get my emotions written down first in order to have this double punch of conveyance. Both my melody and lyrics have to be tightly connected. Since I write before I play, or even think of a rhythm, it’s difficult for me to get a melody fully realised too.
So thank you very much for this. I shall use it in my future endeavors!
How do you add lyrics to melody? Thanks.
With me, if I was to have a melody, I would see what emotions are being conveyed first. If, say, it was a sad, slow melody, then naturally, I would write sad lyrics with few words in each line to match the flow of the melody. If it’s an upbeat song, then let the melody channel your emotions and allow you to write something corresponding to the melody and the emotions you feel to it. It’s easier having the melody down first I guess as it allows you to work within a pre-formed structure. But, with that being said, it doesn’t always grant the most flexibility… depending on how you see it.
Hope I helped.
Great post. I’m a music first person. How do I write words to melody? Thanks. 🙂