Songwriter

Five Steps to Making Words Singable

Do you find it reasonably easy to write words (lyrics, poetry, etc.), but when you try to create songs with those words, everything sounds corny, random, and just plain bad? You read the words, and they sound just fine; you try singing them, and they sound a bit lame.


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Getting the words you write to sound great in a musical format means paying attention to two crucial characteristics:

  1. The up-and-down movement of your voice as you say the words, and…
  2. The basic rhythm of the words.

Creating song melodies that honour those two characteristics should make your words sound as good in musical form as they do in spoken form.

Once your lyrics are written and you’re ready to try to create melodies, try the following:

  1. Say your lyrics over and over, out loud. As you read the words, make note of how your voice moves up and down. If it’s hard to do this, try exaggerating that up and down movement, and read them melodramatically.
  2. Make a line drawing that displays this up and down motion. For example, if the line is: “You keep me walking in the right direction.”, your line drawing might look like:
  3. Use that line drawing as a kind of pattern for the general shape your melody should have. As you’d normally say those words, you’re likely going to hear a rise in your voice on the syllables “walk”, “right”, and “ec” (from “direction”).
  4. Keep in mind that there are many ways to say a line, and sometimes when you change the spots where your voice rises you change the meaning of the line in subtle ways. For example, “I love YOU” is a little different from saying “I LOVE you.” So try experimenting with how you say the line, and note how it changes the meaning.
  5. Now concentrate on the rhythm of your line. You’ll notice that some words skip by quickly, while others might sound better if you linger on them. These rhythmic ideas can and should be pulled into your song. The more natural the rhythm of your lyrics, the better they’ll sound.

Almost always, song lyrics sounding corny or awkward can be traced back to either a problem with rhythm, or a problem with melodic shape. In both those cases, you need to honour the natural flow and shape of a line of spoken word when you create the melody that allows those words to be sung.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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