People often ask me, “How did you write this song? Did you start with the lyrics or with the melody?” My simple answer is… ummm… lyyyyyri…mmmelody!
I’ve always tended toward starting with the melody and then writing the lyrics, I guess because my musical journey started out with instrumental guitar from a young age. Having said that, I’ve noticed that most of my songs are born out of a single lyrical phrase which grows a melody. This lyrical phrase lends itself to a particular rhythm or feel and can be expressed more effectively with a certain melody, whether it be rising or falling to match the mood, or shaped to emphasise particular words.
Once the starting melody and the feel are defined, I usually work on expanding the melody across the entire song. Throughout this process I find it very important to always keep the feel in mind to ensure continuity between each section. To help keep new and interesting melody ideas coming I often use a few more budding lyrical phrases. Not all of the melody ideas make it into the mixture of melodic ingredients, however, they are sometimes filed away for another potential song.
The next stage – lyrics – can be a challenge, keeping to the theme with a limited source of words whose syllables fit and still keep a natural flow. A thesaurus is a very useful tool here. I’m also a big fan of mind maps for fleshing out lyrics. I often aim to write three or so verses with lyrics in each that tell a different part of the story, like chapters in a book.
So, lyrics or melody first? I guess my real answer is, in general I start with the melody then add lyrics, however, the very seed of the song is a lyrical phrase.
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