What you do with a song’s melody will often affect how the listener processes your lyrics.
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Mo Kenney’s new release, “In My Dreams,” is grittier and edgier than her first self-titled album, something she describes as an “anti-love record.” Everything she does is fantastic, but her lyrical prowess in particular will impress you. You can stream and purchase the album at her Bandcamp site, and I hope you take the time to give it all a listen.
Because her lyrics are so enticingly thought-provoking, it’s almost easy to miss just how strong her melodies are. Well thought-out and constructed, they pair up beautifully with each song’s lyric. The second-last song on the album, “Wind Will Blow”, is a case in point. In songs in a simple verse-chorus design, it’s amazing how the smallest design features will powerfully impact the overall sound.
The design feature I’m talking about with “Wind Will Blow” is the simple matter of melodic direction. In the verse melody, which consists of a 2-bar melodic shape that repeats with slight variations, you get a definite feeling that though the tune moves up and down, it’s the downward motion that leaves its strongest impression:
Moving on the short chorus melody, while you’re still aware of both upward and downward motion, it’s the upward motion that seems to be most important:
The subtle reversal of the melodic line works so well, particularly once you’ve heard the entire song. It’s easy to hear and sense hope tinged with resignation in the verse lyric, and the downward-moving melodic cells enhance that sentiment. The sudden optimism of the chorus lyric is all the more empowered by the new melodic direction.
And it’s not just melodic direction that brings the lyric alive. The verse melody uses the notes C and A as important structural endpoints (and often C moving down to A); the chorus shifts upward to E, always being approached from below.
Musical instinct is what usually creates these magical pairings, but as a songwriter it’s quite possible for you to go back to a song you’ve written and take a look at how (or if) your lyric is strengthened by your melodies. In particular, consider the following:
- Melodic direction can play an important role in the listener’s understanding of your lyric.
- Melodic shape can enhance meaning and subtext in a lyric.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle. From how to use chords, melodies, and lyrics, to how to protect your music and receive royalties. And you’ll receive a 7th ebook – a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.”