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Now that you've learned a bit about the structure of good melodies, it's time to take a look at how lyrics work hand-in-hand with melodies. The natural up-and-down flow of a line of lyric can go a long way to informing how the melody should (or at least could) be shaped. In this lesson, you'll learn that the message of your lyric can be helped or hindered by the way the melody moves.

Lesson 1: Focusing Your Lyrics

Lesson 2: Writing Creative Lyrics

Lesson 3: Writing "Familiar" Lyrics

Lesson 4: Writing Melodies That Work

Lesson 5: Structuring Melodies

Lesson 6: Integrating Lyrics, Melodies


Lesson 7: Choosing the Right Chord

Lesson 8: Strong, Fragile Progressions

Lesson 9: Considering Form


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It's important to reiterate at this point: very rarely are songs good because of lyric or melody alone. It's the integration of melody, lyrics and chord progression, in a sensibly coherent form, that make a good song.

Good melodies are ones that set the lyric up, and that offer the same basic attitude of the lyric. Here are some guidelines:


Lyrics that exhibit... ...work well with melodies that:
determination, dedication, forthrightness
  • use many repeating notes;
  • start on a strong beat;
  • are pitched at the outer reaches of the singer's voice (high or low).
love, tenderness, compassion
  • use a motivic leap (i.e., a particular interval that recurs);
  • are pitched centrally in a singer's range, with higher notes reserved for more emotional moments.
a narrative (a story)
  • use mainly stepwise motion, with leaps at more emotional moments.
  • are pitched centrally in a singer's range.



Singer with guitar

Melodies generally need to be structured so that they don't sound like an aimless wandering of notes, and melodic patterns need to strongly consider lyric at any given time. A later lesson will deal with form specifically. But for now, take this important piece of advice: melodies generally work well if you keep the following structural elements in mind:

  1. The number of phrases should be a factor of two. A phrase is a spot in the music where the line rests momentarily, and most singers feel that it's the spot where they would breathe. Two-bar, four-bar, eight-bar, and sixteen bar phrases are the norm. (However, that being said, don't be afraid to experiment.)
  2. Repeated figures in a melody usually go hand in hand with an intensifying of lyric. For example, finding a four or five note idea "motif") and using it somewhat repetitiously works well in a bridge.
  3. Complex lyrics do not necessarily need a complex melody. In fact, you can use a somewhat simplistic melody to allow the lyric to be easier for the listener to remember. And a simple melody will make a complex lyric seem less daunting. (The music of Leonard Cohen is a great example of this principle.)
  4. Using a repeated-note motif and a slower tempo can add a sense of profundity to an unremarkable lyric. This doesn't always work, but if your melody takes a certain note, and repeats it often over a line or two of text, it has the same effect of someone tapping their finger on a desk as they talk: it offers emphasis.
  5. Repeating a line both melodically and lyrically adds emphasis and a sense of deeper meaning to a lyric. Some songs, like "Fly, Little White Dove, Fly," by The Bells, use a repeated line as an outro, repeating that title line over and over again until it sounds even more like the ultimate anthem for peace.



For the following activities, you may want to create a simple chord progression to accompany yourself as you create your melodic fragments. Write down or record your creations.



1. The following are short fragments of text. Try setting each fragment to several possible melodies. The kind of melody you choose will affect a listener's reaction. For each one, try:

i) Many repeated notes, for "determined" quality;
ii) centrally-placed with melodic leaps, for emotional quality;
iii) mid-range, and mostly stepwise, for narrative quality;


a) You held it up like a dying flower.
b) Sister Susan, tell me why.
c) In the darkest hour of night.
d) No one saw and no one cared.
e) I answered the call.

2. Create a melody for the following text fragments. For each one, write a melodic fragment that could serve as:

i) A verse
ii) A chorus
iii) A bridge


Note: Refer to Lesson 5 for refresher on structuring verse, chorus and bridge melodies. Feel free to repeat certain words or phrases within the text if needed (i.e., for emphasis).

a) I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too? (Emily Dickenson)

b) The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry. (Lewis Carroll)

c) And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day, (Padraic Colum)

d) As their fathers watch’d them once,
As my father once watch’d me; (Edmund Blunden)

e) He who is waiting
In the rain outside,
He who is standing
Where the dew drops wide. (James Stephens)




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