As if writing lyrics wasn’t hard enough, now you have to put a melody to the words. After all, lyrics without a melody is just a poem! If you struggle to create an engaging tune to accompany your incredible words, here are a few tips to help you write a melody for any lyric.
Read Your Lyrics Aloud
Speaking has a natural cadence to it. In English, statements typically start high and end low, while questions usually finish on a high note.
One of the best ways to write a melody for your lyrics is to simply speak your lyrics aloud multiple times. You might be surprised how the natural cadence of your speech turns into a catchy melody. Try speaking at different tempos to find what sounds best.
It can be difficult to speak and hear out a melody at the same time, so make sure you have your tape recorder handy. That way, you can replay yourself speaking the lyrics and maybe catch a hidden melody you might not have caught in the moment.
Find the Climax
Melody isn’t just something you throw into a song haphazardly. It’s supposed to support your lyrics. And since lyrics are designed to show emotion, so should your melody.
The best way to create a melody that supports your lyrics is to rank the emotionalism of your lyrics on a scale of 1 to 10. Under each line, write out how strong you think the lyric is emotionally. If it’s super emotional and amazing, give it a 10. If it’s just some supporting line, maybe it’s worth a 1 or 2.
Melodies gain emotion with jumps. The bigger the jump, the more the feeling. Just think of when Whitney Houston sings, “And I…” in “I Will Always Love You.” A big jump means big feelings!
Once you rank your lyrics, just follow along the numbers under the lines to build your melody. Remember, big numbers mean bigger jumps between notes. This will help your melody follow the emotionalism of your lyrics—and make your song more engaging.
Use Your Instrument
Sometimes it helps to get a little melodic inspiration from an outside source. Grab your favorite instrument that can make chords—typically a guitar or piano—and play the first chord of your song. Then, sing the tonic note. If you play a G chord, sing a G note.
Start singing your lyrics on that note and experiment with some rhythms. Hold certain notes out longer if they deserve more feeling (see the previous tip for extra help).
This trick might not help you write the entire melody for your song, but it’ll definitely help your brain transition from thinking of your lyrics as just words on a page and more like lyrics to a song.
Repeat the process with a few more chords and see what melodies and rhythms you come up with.
Get Into It!
Songwriting is all about feeling. When you think about it, it’s basically just dramatic speaking. Well, if you want to write a great melody, get into it and act it out!
If you want to write a sad melody, get sad. If you want to write a happy melody, get happy. Writing a heavy rock song? Stomp your feet, clench your fists, and get angry! Really overact and recite your lyrics. You’ll come up with an emotional melody that fits your lyrics in no time.
Add Some Rhythm
If you’re still struggling to come up with a good melody, it helps to add a little context. Give yourself some rhythm to work with by using a backing track or even just starting a metronome.
Hearing the rhythm underneath your lyrics might help you come up with some new and creative melodies. At the very least, you might get some rhythm ideas for when you do finally come up with that perfect melody.
Listen to Other Artists
Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Listening to other artists is a great way to find inspiration for your melodies.
Really listen to other artists, and specifically pay attention to how they construct their melodies and phrasing as they relate to the lyrics. If you notice they always seem to swell at emotional parts, try to incorporate that idea into your writing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should copy other artists’ melodies. Use general ideas, not specific phrasing. Make sure your creations are still yours!
Build Your Perfect Melody
You already have the lyrics, now you just need the perfect melody. Luckily, you can use your lyrics to write the tune for your song. Read your lyrics aloud, follow the emotions, use your instrument, act it out, use some backing rhythm, and listen to other artists for inspiration. You’ll have that perfect melody that’ll have your listeners humming along in no time!
For information on the 27th Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: https://www.songwriting.net