If you find song melodies hard to write, the trick to getting that step on track is to pair up the writing of melodies with existing lyrics. In other words, melodies will come a bit easier if you practice a lyrics-first songwriting process.
Recently I saw on an online forum that someone new to songwriting was trying to write their first song, but finding the writing of the melody to be where everything had ground to a halt. He had chords and lyrics, but said that no matter what he hummed, he couldn’t come up with a good melody.
If you’ve never tried it before, a lyrics-first songwriting process will change the way your audience hears your songs, placing the emphasis on meaning. “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process” is free with your purchase of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.”
Having the lyrics should help you with melody. Why? Because words, when spoken, have a natural up-and-down contour. No one speaks in a monotone; every time we read or say anything, we hear our voice naturally moving up for emphasis, and then down again for other less important words.
In fact, how our voice moves up and down imparts meaning to words, and we can change the entire meaning of a sentence by changing which word we place higher in our voice.
Try this experiment: read the following sentence, “That’s my car”, and place the emphasis on a different word each time you say it:
- “THAT’S my car.” (“That car is mine, not that other one.”)
- “That’s MY car.” (“It’s my car, not yours.”)
- “That’s my CAR.” (“It’s my car, not my truck.”)
Songwriters use that kind of emphasis all the time when they write melody and lyrics. They emphasize words by placing them higher in the voice, and that relates directly to how the melody is written.
If you have the words, but you’re stuck coming up with a good melody, the best way forward is to use the words in your melody-writing process. Simply humming to find a melody will be difficult, and may give you something that sounds random.
Here’s how you can work with words and chords to help create melodies:
- Say your lyrics to a beat. Tap your foot or your lap as you say the words, and try to find the natural pulse of the words.
- Change the emphasis of the words. Experiment with which words you place higher in your voice, and which words you allow to move lower. Note what that does to the meaning of what you’ve written.
- Let the rhythm of your melody match the natural rhythm of the words. As you create melodic fragments, the rhythms in those fragments should take into account the rhythm of the words when spoken. That’s an important part of writing a natural melody.
As you do those three steps, start adding in the chords from your progression, and see where your voice moves. As you move your voice up and down, you’ll see that it will hit certain words as “as slowed” by the chords, and that’s the beginning of what I call a “proto-melody.”
Humming random melodies to a chord progression rarely produces something useable. If you’re also stuck on words, you can still move forward by creating temporary words. Paul McCartney has famously described the process he used for “Yesterday”, temporarily singing the melody to the words “scrambled eggs”, just to get the melodic process going.
Once he had the melody, he then came up with the lyric for the song that eventually became the most recorded song in pop music history.
So if you’re finding melodies hard to write, switch your focus to the lyrics, get something — anything — working, and you’ve got a powerful tool for writing melodies.