Writing great hooks and lyrics are useless without a great melody to carry them. Like the hand in the glove, or the wind in the sails, a lyric needs a melody to be animated and come to life in a singable way for people to enjoy it. Maybe in another very real way, the marriage of melody and lyrics is also like the breath in the body – the two can’t be separated without disastrous results. But how does a great marriage like this happen? Is there a “dating process” for this would-be couple? What steps can a writer take to ensure a long and healthy relationship between them and make sure they sing beautifully together forever? Let me share a couple of things that have worked for me to help you master the marriage of melody and lyrics.
First, know your prosody. This word refers to the patterns of rhythm and sound used in poetry and the way a poet uses meter and stress to make art. But it is also commonly used in our songwriting vernacular as the marriage of melody and lyrics and how they work together for better or worse. When I’m coaching a songwriter, this word always comes up because it is is central to the effectiveness of the song. Here’s an easy way to think about it. Remember the classic song Stop in the Name of Love by Diana Ross & the Supremes? The classic Motown writing and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland perfectly united the word “Stop!” at the beginning of the chorus with the highest note in the song’s melody, as well as animating it by actually making the word stop with a break between it and the next phrase “before you break my heart.”
A current example of great prosody is the marriage of melody and lyrics in Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin’s now classic song 10,000 Reasons. The soaring melody and perfectly united lyric in the chorus’ first line “Bless the Lord, O, my soul/O my soul” is unforgettable after the first listen and is a terrific example of this principle. When a melody becomes as hooky as the lyric’s hook and title, you’ve got a winner.
Second, know how melodies work. Sometimes a songwriter is stronger at writing lyrics. Sometimes they are stronger in the music and melody department. Which are you stronger at writing? Knowing how melodies work technically is critical to the great marriage of melody and lyrics. It doesn’t matter if you play piano or guitar, either, for many successful songwriters aren’t instrumentalists. They just know what great melodies are made of and use that to their advantage. Pop, country, and R&B hit songwriter Jason Blume is a fantastic example. His songs have appeared on over 50,000,000 records sung by dozens of top artists. He doesn’t play anything.
[bctt tweet=”Knowing how melodies work technically is critical to the great marriage of melody and lyrics.” via=”no”]
So, learning more about the technical side of melody writing is critical for you unless you want to hand that work off to a cowriter, which is perfectly acceptable. No shame. Some of the greatest songs were cowritten by a strong melody writer with a strong lyricist. Just Google something like “writing infectious melodies” and you’ll get a taste of what’s out there to help you be better at the marriage of melody and lyrics.
Third, make sure your song sings. As basic as it may seem, making sure that your song sings well is one of the most important steps in the successful marriage of melody and lyrics. It’s kind of like the dating phase in a relationship. Are these two compatible? Do they have enough common interests to make the marriage work? Are they both strong enough in their own identities to become explosive and powerful when they combine to make the song? In my work as a publisher at Integrity Music and Star Song Communications, I listened to thousands of songs. Quite often I would like something about the song, perhaps the title or the basic sentiment of the song. But hundreds of times over, the writer missed out on the perfect marriage of melody and lyrics and the song fell flat.
As you write, think about how your song sings. Do the words flow easily off your tongue, or do they feel forced? Are you putting extra words in lines that don’t need to be there? Could you employ a greater economy of words to deliver the verses, or are you wordy and thus forcing a more complicated melody? If you sing, actually sing your song as you write it, or find someone who can drop by and sing it for you as you work it all out. You might be surprised at how obvious it becomes that a line or melody isn’t working as well as it should. Great writers learn to ask themselves over and over, “Does this line really sing?”
In the end, mastering the marriage of melody and lyrics to make your songs sing is a lot like building great relationships in life. They take a lot of hard work, but the payoff is worth it all. Happy writing!