How do you write a melody?

We get this question all the time: what is the easiest way to come up with interesting melodies?

I find writing lyrics most difficult of all, harder than melody, rhythms and chords. But I co-write with someone who says writing lyrics is easy and the rest is hard. It’s different for everyone.

When writing melody, the easiest scenario for me is when the lyrics are already written, either by me or someone else (i.e. a co-writer or an pre-existing poem, story or news article).

To start, I read the lyrics out loud, as if I’m talking to someone and listen for where the accents fall in natural speech. I then attempt to loosely follow the sound of natural speech in my melody. I try to follow some of the ups and downs of the pitch, but mostly I try to follow the rhythms.

For example, take the line She flew over the ocean. Notice how the words over the go by quickly. When speaking, words like a, an, the, or, and and usually go by very quickly are are not stressed. So I usually try to make the melody notes for those words short (eighth or sixteenth notes, for you music theory types).

Of course, you can intentionally stress a word in the melody that would not be normally stressed. In this example, if over is an important concept in your song, you might stress it by holding out the note longer or by making it a high pitch or making it a dissonant or unexpected note.

In my opinion, you rarely want to make a word like the as the stressed word in a phrase or the highest pitch in the phrase.

Here’s a phrase that has a rhythm built into it: little by little. You’ll notice this phrase does not call for a long, drawn out, lyrical melody. It’s choppy and needs a choppy melody. The title phrase of the song Minute by Minute by the Doobie Brothers illustrates the same point.

Finally, let the melody follow the emotion in the lyrics. I don’t mean word for word/note for note, but the overall feeling evoked by the lyrics should be matched by the feeling in the melody. You could come up with a great melody, but one that doesn’t match the lyrics, emotionally. In that case, save the melody for another song.

Again, there are exceptions. It is possible, for example, to put an intense, serious lyric with a light, playful melody and achieve an interesting effect. Please take my suggestions with a grain of salt. They are not rules, just guidelines.


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3 Responses to “How do you write a melody?”

  1. Corinne C Says:

    What you’ve described is exactly what I do. Great minds do indeed think alike:-)

  2. Uneventful Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Uneventful

  3. Kyria Says:

    Keep up the good work.

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