If you find it hard to create a melody that works with your lyric, it might be that you find the entire package of the musical side of things (melody, chords, rhythms, etc.) to be difficult. Some lyricists are good at creating images, and saying much with few words, but when it comes time to take the step of making melodies that bring those words to life, it’s hard to even get started.
Songwriters are very familiar with the chorus hook, but there are other kinds to experiment with, and you will want to discover the power of layering various kinds of hooks in the same song. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ shows you how it’s done.
If this describes you, here’s a set of steps that might get things finally moving for you. They start with making sure your lyric is actually ready for being put to a tune:
- Find the inherent rhythm in the words you’ve created. Melodies will often happen easier if there’s a beat running underneath. So spend some time reading your lyric while tapping your foot or slapping your knees, or both. Be creative — try different ways of reading, different implied time signatures, and just generally get a feel for how the words flow.
- Speed up and slow down your reading. Most songs will feature words of quick delivery for a verse, and then everything simplifies and locks into a stronger groove for the chorus hook. So make sure the bits that you expect to be the chorus feel hook-like. Your chorus should have two or three words that feel fun to read. They fly off the tongue and are catchy to listen to.
- Take advantage of the natural up and down of the way we say words. English is not a monotone language. Words rise and fall in pitch as a way of enhancing expression and implying deeper meaning. So use that natural shape as you begin to create melodies.
- Melodies don’t exist without chords being suggested. Most song melodies suggest chords by looking at the notes that happen on strong beats. Sometimes melodies are hard to imagine because you aren’t imagining the chords that would support it. So you might find that a good first step in creating a melody is to come up with a short chord progression that gets played while you speak your lyric out loud. Different progressions suggest different moods, so here are some to try: C-Bb-C (I-bVII-I); C-F-Dm (I-IV-ii); C-Eb-F-C (I-bIII-IV-I); Am-G-Am (vi-V-vi); Am-Em-G-Am (vi-iii-V-vi). Choose one, start strumming, and then chant your lyric. If you feel that you’d like certain words to move higher, the chords should lock you into some note that will work.
- Read your lyric in a lower-pitched voice for your verse and a higher-pitched voice for your chorus. This follows the general shape and contour of what most songs do: they start low in the verse and then rise to offer the highest notes in the chorus. Reading this way can help to imply melodic shapes that make sense and work with your song’s form.
These ideas are just starters, of course. The neat thing about creating melodies for your lyrics is that you’ll find that music can sometimes speak louder than words. In other words, you might find that once you get a bit of melody working, that you find you want to tweak your lyric just a bit, as you feel different emotions coming forward in the music.
In that regard, writing songs is always a collaboration between various song elements. There are no rules, just principles and guidelines.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes a copy of “Writing a Song From a Chord Progression.” If you find that coming up with chord progressions as a first step leaves your melodies sounding lame, this is the eBook for you.