How to Write Lyrics On Top of a Melody
How to write lyrics when all you have is just a good melody? As vocalists and/or instrumentalists, we each have melodic tendencies that naturally flow through us. Harnessing these creative ideas for songwriting may feel effortless – however, for many, writing song lyrics for those melodies is out of our comfort zone.
While language and music are both left-brain activities, sometimes they seem worlds apart.
But you’re not alone! In this post, we’ll offer some tips on writing lyrics specifically for an already existing melody.
Here are the basic steps on how to write lyrics for existing melody:
- Nonsense Syllables
- Writing IS Rewriting
- Get Notes
- Get to Work
In a previous post, we talked about the opposite task, writing a melody on top of existing lyrics. There we suggested speaking your lyrics out loud to find its inherent melody, as well as some other activities that may feel silly but produce amazing results.
To find the beginning seeds of your lyrics that are hiding inside your melody, try employing some nonsense syllables.
Get yourself in a relaxed, calm mood, and start to play and sing your melody using vowels and consonants that feel natural to each note. Even if they’re random and meaningless, it will shed important light on your next steps.
Maybe on that certain long, high note, an “Oh” vowel comes naturally to you. This could lead to an array of words: So, Show, Grow, Slow. And even words with more syllables: Ago, Romeo, Radio.
Maybe on the resolution of your melody, the nonsense syllables come out as “Dun, dun, dun.” That is a word! Done! Done also rhymes with One, Fun, Sun, and multi-syllable words Outrun, Undone, Everyone.
These nonsense syllables can be a gold mine. They open the door to so many possibilities while keeping you aligned with the true character of your melody.
Looking at your rhymes or near-rhymes of your nonsense syllables, stay in that relaxed, quiet place and use intuition to decide on which words to start with.
Pro-Tip: Check out our blog How to Improve Your Songwriting Using Constructive Rest for tips on how to relax, stay calm, and be open to intuition during your writing sessions.
Writing is rewriting
What you’re working towards is the first draft.
If your time spent working on lyrics results in a draft you’re completely dissatisfied with – great!
Why? Because writing is rewriting.
A great analogy to songwriting is sculpting. It is a process of finding the desired shape inside the stone, chipping away piece by piece. We can’t call it quits after we complete the first layer.
Once you have your first draft, pause and give it some space. Maybe a day. Come back to it with a refreshed perspective.
Approach your rewriting session with focused energy and uninterrupted concentration.You’ll be amazed: solutions to problems you couldn’t crack yesterday seem obvious. A new metaphor or a grammar fix will reveal itself. You’ll be able to see the story you’re really trying to tell take shape.
Be careful not to leave your session too early. That frustrated “I give up” feeling is the indicator that you need to stay in it. Sometimes it’s that extra five minutes of hunkering down in the trenches of rewriting that will reveal the treasure you seek.
When is a lyric finished? Don’t worry, you’ll know.
ProTip: Stephen Sonheim, a master composer and lyricist, published a book called Finishing the Hat. Besides containing a huge collection of his work, it is an enlightening read for all who aspire to write great lyrics and songs. Not to be missed!
You do not have to write song lyrics in a vacuum.
Getting notes from other songwriters will save your song.
See if you have a tendency to be extremely sensitive about your work. If criticism pushes a button that is too much to handle.
If so, it’s time to release your grip! Until it’s a finished song, conceive of it as a draft. It is a blueprint, a model. No architect builds a model for a house and says, “alright! Time to move in!”
Cultivate an affection for notes and feedback. Music is subjective; we can’t operate only from our perspective. We need to know how our draft lands on others. Isn’t that our ultimate goal with songwriting anyway? Give your draft a few test runs before setting it free.
Here are some of the best questions you can get from your trusted note-givers:
– What is this song about?
– Why are you writing this song?
– Who is speaking, and to whom?
– Do you like this song?
They sound harsh, don’t they? Well, only if you can’t answer them clearly! If you are vague and ungrounded in your story, any of these questions will feel like an attack. If you can develop clear answers to these questions, you are well on your way to a good song that is worthy of existing.
You’ll start to enjoy throwing out whole lines or whole verses at the suggestion of a trusted peer. Big changes become cathartic and ultimately vital to your work.
Pro-Tip: If you are struggling with ideas on what to write a song about – check out this (FREE) Song Idea Generator. It will suggest some song theme ideas to start from.
Get to work
Creating something where there once was nothing is not an easy task. But the main requirement is this: Just don’t stop before it’s finished.
Your creative process may wax and wane, with bursts of productivity followed by weeks of writer’s block. Remember, all you can do is what you can do today.
These are simple measures you can apply to your already existing practice. Employ these techniques and it can feel like the song writes itself.
Pro-Tip: Co-writing is also an amazing way to get the best possible lyric, and improve as a lyricist! Our Lyric Revision service at Supreme Tracks amplifies your songs’ quality and clarity, but asks for no songwriting credit! Reach out today and book this incredible resource.
Which tip do you find the most useful? Let us know in the comments below.