Speaking a Lyric to Create a Melody

Use the natural inflections of the words of a lyric to help construct a melody.

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Singer and microphoneSo you’ve got a lyric, but you’re struggling with writing a melody that makes it come alive? You can get the process started by spending some time speaking the lyric.

When you speak a lyric, you focus in on several different things:

  1. Inherent Rhythm. There is a natural pulse and flow to the way words are spoken, and that should mainly be preserved when you deal with the rhythm of your melody.
  2. Subtext and Rhythm. You can subtly change the meaning of your lyric by moving the naturally accented words to other words. For example, “THAT’S my way of showing I care” is not exactly the same as “That’s MY way of showing I care.”
  3. Naturally occurring pitch. When we speak, pitch naturally moves up and down, and you can use this characteristic to help create a melody.

Reading a lyric may not make these rhythmic and pitch qualities obvious, so here’s a useful tip: exaggerate your style of speaking when you read. If you feel that the words require you to move your voice higher, magnify that idea, and speak with considerable melodrama.

By doing so, melodic shapes start to become ever-more obvious. Once that happens, remember that repetition of melodic ideas throughout a song is an important quality. So once you feel that a melodic shape has possibilities, see what you can do to apply that shape to other words and phrases within your lyric.

Here is an activity that can help you with this concept of lyric recitation: Do an internet search for lyrics, choosing one that is unfamiliar to you. Read the lyric several times, exaggerating the vocal inflections implied by the words. Once you feel that melodic ideas are happening, go to YouTube and listen to a recording of the song. How closely does the natural pulse of the words match what the songwriter chose to do?


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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