Songwriter - Pianist

A Quick Tip For Remembering The Melody You Just Created

Let’s say you’re on a bus or out for a walk, and you’ve just come up with a great little bit of melody. It’s got great possibilities, you’re thinking, but you’ve always found it hard to remember the tune after even ten minutes, and you feel a bit too self-conscious to dig your phone out in front of others and start humming. What do you do?

I remember years ago Paul McCartney being asked about this — I think it might have been a Larry King interview — and McCartney said something along the lines of, “Well, I always figured that if I couldn’t remember the melody the next day when I got to the studio, it probably wasn’t very good.”

But the truth is that many good melodies are forgotten, simply because you’re in the middle of doing other things. Working, or even just walking. And sometimes it’s not convenient to whip out your phone and record your little gem.

So here’s a bit of a tip: Add words to your melody right away, even if you think you’ll never use those words. The combination of words and melody make it much more likely that you’ll remember the tune.

Those words can be anything, because you’ll have lots of time to change the words to something more meaningful once you’re back home or in the studio.

So if you’ve just come up with something that sounds nice and hook-like, something that really works well, improvise words right away: “Gotta let you know that I loooove you so…” – It really doesn’t matter, because you’ll likely be changing them.

Adding words to a melody is like adding landmarks to a walk along a path. “Turn left at the pine tree… turn right at the brook…” becomes “leap up on this word”, “repeat several notes on those words…” and so on.

And because most of us have smartphones, it’s usually only a matter of minutes anyway before you’ll get to a location where it’s easier to take the phone out and record your idea.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” comes with a Study Guide! Dig into the songwriting manuals that thousands of songwriters are using to polish their technique, complete with a study guide to show you how to progress through the materials. Comes with an 11th FREE ebook: “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process”

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  1. Gary, I hope you find that sketch and publish it as the Burger King Sonata! Actually, your idea of setting dummy lyrics to a melody to remember it is a very useful one, and I’m adding it to my repertoire. (Lyricist Irving Caesar said that the lyric of “Tea for Two” was at first only a random memory aid that turned out to be the final version!) You may be amused by the cover design of the little music booklet that I carry around:

  2. I know this sounds crazy, but somebody has actually invented a system for writing down melodies with five lines on a piece of paper! I carry around a little booklet with lots of these lines, and it really works! BTW you also need a pencil, but you can probably buy one online using your smartphone.

    • Preach, brother! Well yes, if only more songwriters read musical notation. Takes me back to my university years when I was working at a fast food store, and I was preparing for my graduation composition recital. I was suddenly gripped with the fear that I simply didn’t have enough music written for a full recital. So I sketched out musical staves on the back of an order pad and started writing a sonata for piano. It wound up being in my recital, but I sure wish I knew what I did with that sketch!

      I agree wholeheartedly with you! But for those who don’t (yet) read music, or who are still waiting for that pencil delivery, hopefully the method I describe in this post will work. 🙂

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