Songwriting III - Writing a Melody
Below are slides that cover the basic characteristics of melody and ways to write an interesting melody & set it to lyrics.
This week's process:
1. Have a harmonic reference: Using your harmonic outline from last week, either pre-record or play through your chord progressions as you're creating your melody.
2. Improvise: While playing back your chord progressions, try humming a melody or singing one using nonsense words or syllables. You can use improvise a melody using the lyrics you've written, but don't force yourself to yet. Record or notate any melodic fragments that you may want to use.
3. Notate your melodies (optional): If you feel comfortable using music notation, write out your melodic ideas. This can help you visualize melodic contour, rhythm, phrase length, and where your melody does (or doesn't) breathe. Notate the chord progressions that these melodies align with, as well.
4. Fill in gaps & revise your melody: Using the suggestions from the slides, look at your melody and look for ways you can improve it. Remember, contrast! While any good song has consistency, it is also important to maintain interest. Mix it up between slow and fast rhythms, different types of melodic contour, various phrase lengths, and different pitch ranges. Generally, aim for a little contrast within song sections (within verses, for example), and more noticeable differences between sections (verses vs. choruses, for example). If you run out of melodic ideas, try writing some out using some of the techniques in the slides. You may start with a very simple melody (all quarter notes, for example), then gradually add embellishing tones, vary rhythm, shift phrases, etc.
5. Add lyrics: You might already have some melodic ideas that are associated with specific lyric lines. If so, use these, then start setting your melodic ideas to lyrics.
Note: This is when you'll probably be making the most changes / revisions to your song. Now that you're attempting to put together harmony, melody, AND lyrics, you'll likely find yourself having to edit all 3 facets. You might find you need to add or delete a chord here and there to accommodate your melody and lyrics. You may have to cut some lyrics, write new ones, or reword the lyrics that you already have.
By the end of this week, aim to have either a recorded demo and/or some sort of notated "lead sheet" that has the chords, melody, and lyrics of your whole song. Don't overthink it! This doesn't have to be the best thing you've ever written, or the best thing you'll ever write. You can always go back and make changes in the future, but what matters now is that you're practicing this process. It is important, however, that you go into the next (and final) part of the course ready to add accompaniment and finish this version of your song.