Here’s a way to create several melodic ideas for one line of lyric. Then all you do is choose the best one.
Written by Gary Ewer, author of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” ebook Bundle.
It’s often hard to say why a certain melody seems to partner so well with a lyric. We know that in some styles of music, like a ballad, that mainly stepwise melodies with occasional leaps (like the chorus of “Man in the Mirror”) just seems to add to the emotional level of the lyric.
And most songwriters know this. The trick is, if you’ve got a great lyric, how do you ensure that the melody you’re partnering it with is doing its job? One way that can practice the art of pairing up melodies and lyrics is to do the following: choose one line of lyric, and write several melodies. Once you’ve done that, you simply choose the one that seems most effective.
Here’s how that works. Let’s say you’ve written a lyric where one of the most important lines is something like, “Help me love again, and let me know you better.” Here’s an exercise that can help you choose the right melody for that line.
- Say the line many times. It’s crucial, when you’re setting lyrics to music, that you get a real sense of the line, and all the possible shadings of meaning.
- Say the line melodramatically. This means to say the line, allowing your voice to move up and down as if you were reciting an epic poem. This allows you to find all the possible inflections, stresses and accents that the line offers. You’ll notice that as you say the line in a different way, subtext changes. Subtext is an underlying, implied meaning to a word or line that may not be obvious. There is a difference between “let me know you better…” and “let me know you better.”
- Invent possible accompanying chord progressions. Choose something short and basic at first, but then let you imagination go and see how the implied meaning of the line changes as you change the progression. Some suggestions: C-F-G, C-Am-Bb, C-Am-Em-G, C-Eb-F, etc.
- Create possible melodic ideas for the lyric. Try some high pitched ideas, as if you’re setting the climactic line of a chorus. Or try some a bit lower, as if you’re placing the lyric toward the end of a verse. Allow the natural inflections of the line inform the kind of melody you write. Record your ideas.
You will notice that as you get closer to a melody that works well with the lyric, other ideas for other lines in your lyric will start to make themselves apparent. That’s how you know you’ve written a good melodic fragment: it leads to other similar ideas.
When you’re done, you’ll have experimented with several or many ways to sing that line. Now the next step is create melodic lines for the lyric that leads up to that line, and the lyric that follows it.
And as I say, you’ll notice that the more you create, the easier it becomes to create the rest of it. That’s the beauty of good music. There often comes a point where you’ve got enough written that the rest of the song almost seems to be writing itself!
The advantage to creating several melodic ideas is that as a songwriter, you can often get discouraged as you try to write a melodic idea for your lyric, but it’s not sounding right. Each time you re-write the line can feel like a reminder that you haven’t written a good line yet. With the method described in this post, writing several melodies is your intention, and you’ll approach writing with a much more positive frame of mind.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. Get today’s special deal.