Guitar and paper - Songwriting

How Your Song’s Melody Can Add Meaning To Your Lyrics

I recently wrote an article for SongBay that discussed ways in which the chords you choose can work hand-in-hand with your lyrics, and actually enhance their meaning. Getting words and chords working together makes for a more meaningful experience for your audience.

Along the same lines, there are things you can be doing as you create a melody for your song that can add meaning to your lyrics. You can make your songs’ melodies and lyrics more poignant and more satisfying to the listener by knowing a few things about how melodic shape affects lyrical meaning.

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I’ve written about this important aspect of music composition before, but here are the main points to remember:

Lyrics that portray qualities of strength, determination or forthrightness:

  1. Use a melody with lots of repeated notes (i.e., singing the same pitch) (Ex: “Like a Rolling Stone” – Dylan)
  2. Start your melodies on a strong beat (i.e, try starting your melodies right on beat 1 of the bar).
  3. Try starting your melody quite low in the singer’s range, or (conversely) high in the range. This draws attention to the melodic line, and the lyric, right away.

Lyrics that portray qualities of love, melancholy or tenderness:

  1. Use a melody with lots of leaps, either upward or downward. (Ex: The chorus of “Man in the Mirror”, which features a large leap downward at its start; or “My Way” (Anka), which features a large leap upward.
  2. Place the bulk of the melody in the mid-range of the singer’s voice. This gives the best opportunity to add large leaps upward or downward.

Lyrics that describe a story or other type of narrative:

  1. Use a melody that moves up and down largely by step (i.e., avoiding large melodic leaps except in spots where emotional release is important.)
  2. Place the bulk of the melody in the singer’s mid-range, as this allows the best chance for the melody to be able to move up or down as needed.

In addition to these points, remember these important things about melodies and lyrics:

  1. Speak your lyric melodramatically to find the natural rise and fall of the words. These shapes should be worked into the basic shape of your melodies.
  2. Think about the natural pulse of the words – i.e., think about which syllables get an accent, and which ones don’t. Be sure that the lyric, when sung, has been partnered with the melody in such a way as to preserve that natural pulse.
  3. Simplify the rhythms of your melody and lyric when writing the chorus. Verses work well when you add in syncopations and other rhythmic devices, but for choruses the rhythms should simplify. This helps to create melodies that are easier to sing and easier to remember.
  4. Place emotional words in your lyrics generally higher in pitch than surrounding words.
  5. Pitch the chorus melody higher than the verse melody.

One of the most important principles of songwriting is to remember that a good song is a partnership of many different components, all working together to produce a satisfying musical experience.

In that respect, song components are either enhancing or compromising their combined effects.

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Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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Essential Chord Progressions - Gary Ewer

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3 Comments

  1. Funny you should ask about the suspended 4th the thing is it’s neither a
    major or a minor it has a magical sound to it , it’s not used that often ,
    and it is well known to be the chord thats played as an intro to a
    Hard Days Night

    I say funny because I have been using it in recently in a new song as
    yet unfinished I would say choose a medium tempo in common time
    (4/4 ) alternating between the tonic major chord of your chosen key
    and the sus 4 for two or three bars and then finding a complimentary
    phrase four or five different chords Best Of Luck

  2. Hi Mey – It’s hard to take one chord – or type of chord – and say that it’s going to produce a certain mood or emotion. But having said that, you’ll often find sus4, particularly on the I-chord or the V-chord, to be great for building musical tension. So wherever you need to intensify emotions of any sort, suspensions can be a good tool for doing that.

    -Gary

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