Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Adding Words to Melody


great page, im 17, i have played guitar for 2 years but ive played a lot. Im getting pretty good, but i cant seem to put any words with a good melody, just wanted to let you know somones lookin at your page, and ill get back to you on how everything goes. Ive already got an idea or two. Thanks---Ryan

Hi Ryan,

If I read your comments right, you have a melody and you need words. To me this is always difficult. I usually have no trouble writing a melody if I have the words first. I can even come up with words and melody together at the same time pretty easily. But if I come up with a melody that has no words, finding the right words takes some effort. I have a lot of melodies lying around myself that I haven't put words to yet.

I think this is because, at least for me, when the melody is set already, it can be very confining. The words then have to have a certain number of syllables in order to fit, and yet they still need to make some kind of sense. So it's like working a puzzle. The melody gives you the form and the mood, and you have to find words that fit both.

But take heart - it isn't impossible.
Here's a general method you can try...

Record the music you've written - nothing fancy. Just use a tape recorder and play or sing your melody the best you can. Now you can listen to it without having to focus on performing it at the same time. Get comfortable, close your eyes, listen over and over, and let your mind wander. Daydream. What do you see in your head? What images does the music inspire? What situation are you thinking about? Once thoughts begin to come to you, write them down. Don't try to make the words fit the rhythm of the music yet - just write, as if you were writing in a diary. Get the ideas and images down on paper.

Gather words. Now that you have some idea what your song is going to be about, go back and circle the key words - the words that are most important to the song's mood, story, or theme. Do any of them fit at key places in the melody? These important words need to go where the melody will bring them out - the end of a phrase, or the high point in a line. They need to fit naturally with the melody so that when you sing the words, the emphasis comes on the right syllables.

Pick a word you want to use and sing the whole melody using just that word. Where does it sound the best?

If your words don't fit, or if you think they would be hard to rhyme (assuming you want them to rhyme, which isn't necessarily so) then try to come up with other words that are related to the same idea. Brainstorm a whole list of words. Use a thesaurus to help with this. (In a thesaurus, you look up the word you've got and you'll find a list of other words that mean the same thing.)

Work the puzzle. Once you figure out where your most important words will go, then start filling in the rest of each line. Approach it like a puzzle. Keep trying different ideas until all the pieces fit. You may want to record the song again, with the words you already have filled in. Just sing "dum de dum de dum" during the parts you don't have yet. That way you can easily listen back while your brain works on filling in the rest of those words.

Keep at it. This method may sound tedious and mechanical - sort of uninspired. But if you wait for inspiration to strike, you can easily wait forever. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. Following this method may seem like a lot of work at first but at some point you are likely to suddenly see the light and find that the words are filling themselves in more and more easily.

It also gets easier and feels more natural the more you do it. Practice makes perfect.

Or - find a partner. One final thought - you could always find a writing partner. If you look at all the top radio songs in a given week, you may notice that most of them are written by a team of two people or more. Sometimes two heads really are better than one. Some partners both write words and melody. Often one partner is a lyricist, who writes only words, and the other is a composer, who writes the melodies. If you find the task of putting words to your music to be too much of a hassle, there's no shame in finding a wordy partner who enjoys that sort of a challenge.

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