Melody Hacks For Lyricist Songwriters

melody hacks for lyricists


I have been primarily a lyricist for almost 25 years. To survive that long in the music business, I have had to stretch my boundaries to come up with ways to evolve my lyric writing along with changing music landscapes. Over those years, I’ve developed what I like to think of as melody hacks for lyricist songwriters.

Along the way, I’ve picked up some tricks that help me stay current and relevant in whatever genre I’m writing. Even if you are an accomplished melody writer AND lyricist, I think you may find these tips and tricks helpful in your songwriting.

So, here we go!

Melody Hack for Lyricist Songwriters #1 – Write A New Lyric To A Current Hit Melody

I like to take a song that is currently on the radio and write my own lyric to it. I have learned a lot from this exercise about current trends in lyric (and melody). It’s a great way to learn the art of song building. Having to write to a melody that is not in my typical wheelhouse is especially helpful and instructive.

When I do this exercise, it also forces me to study what the original writers did in terms of rhyme scheme, meter and song structure. Learning how that hit was constructed helps me craft my lyric in the same style or framework. Then, I get with a melody person and can be confident that I have a lyric that is able to be crafted into a modern song.

One caveat. I don’t ever tell my melody co-writer what song I wrote the lyric to. Doing that often results in THAT melody influencing my new song too much. You don’t want your new song sounding anything like the hit you wrote it to. But, a fresh melody to your lyric written that way can produce some really different and interesting songs.

Melody Hack for Lyricist Songwriters #2 – Start With A Rhythm

Left to my own devices, my melodies and rhythms tend to be very similar. There are just a couple of grooves that I feel like I play well on the guitar. So, I tend to write those grooves over and over and over. And my melodies are often limited by my vocal range. Not a good idea if you want to be around long as a songwriter. It’s very limiting if I only write things I can play or sing.

So, when I feel like I’m in a rut, I will often find a drum loop that I like and write my lyric to that groove. Doing so, helps me find different rhythmic patterns for my lyrics instead of the same old worn out ones that I drift toward naturally.

There are a number of great apps that have simple loops you can play on your phone. Some even have beats similar to hit songs, which I have found very helpful in staying current as well.

Writing to a new rhythm not only gets me out of my rut, but it also inspires me. It’s fun to find a cadence for my lyrics that I have never written before. Keeping yourself inspired and challenged is important if you want commercial success with your music. And, even if you are just writing songs to sing on your own project, you want to take your listeners on a musical journey, not hit them with 12 songs that sound very similar. New grooves and rhythms are crucial if you want to keep your listeners engaged.

Melody Hack for Lyricist Songwriters #3 – Playing With Syllables

Another melody hack that makes my lyrics more singable and more appealing to a melody co-writer is to explore different syllable counts. I mentioned earlier that I tend to gravitate toward certain rhythmic patterns. Unfortunately, I don’t gravitate toward any that are super interesting. For instance, my “go to” pattern tends to be:

Da DA da da da da da DA
Da DA da da da da da DA

I emphasize the syllables that I have capitalized. Why I gravitate to that, I don’t know. But, I have noticed with lyricists I mentor that most of them also have a certain cadence that they do a lot. That kind of thing can be a killer! After the third song a publisher hears with the same lyric cadence, they realize that you are a one-trick pony. That’s not the impression you want to make.

So, I will sit down and explore some other syllable and cadence patterns that I want to try. It’s hard to paint you a picture with words only, but I’ll try something like this:

Da DA da da da DAA DAA DAA
Da DA da da da DAA DAA DAA

I used the spaces and extra “A” to indicate a syllable that is held out longer. By creating a rhythmic pattern that includes short and long lines as well as some notes held out longer and emphasized differently, I enable a melody writing co-writer to come up with something WAY more interesting than my stock “go to” cadence.

I hope those three hacks will help you create more interesting lyrics and songs!

Happy writing!

~ Marty

Marty Dodson - pro songwriter/instructor - SongTown

Marty Dodson
Multi-hit songwriter/Co-Founder of SongTown
Co-Author of the top-selling book The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting

22 thoughts on “Melody Hacks For Lyricist Songwriters

  1. I love this information. I listen to different genres of music to help get my mind in a different place so as not to keep writing the same sounding song over and over. I Like the idea of writing a song to a current song. Thanks for all of your nuggets of wisdom!

  2. Thanks Marty..It seems we think alike on several things..I’m just a lyricist/ex-mega vinyl collector,fair singer but not a musician but have many high level musician friends who can hammer out music for my lyrics..I hear a melody in my head when I write..Eventhough I can’t play it on guitar well I can convey it by Da da’s,hummimg or singing what’s in my head well enough they get the idea and take off on it.. The Da dada stuff I do to my own kind of code naturally..(And I may be the only one that can decipher it) LOL…In the beginning I naturally started off thinking of a title/hook and tried writing around that before I ever read anything about songwriting..I remember several of your tips over the years and was excited that I leaned naturally toward many of them..Eventhough I just write in my spare time 2 things that really helped me were taking your “Writing to Tracks” course a couple of years ago and watching a few of Ralph Murphy’s online seminars before that..A light went off for the 1st time concerning songwriting while listening to Ralph..A week later I wrote lyrics to my 4th song ever..Two years later it was cut by Scott Ellison and entered Roots Music Report Blues Rock chart at #44 and peaked at # 16..Greg Allman was #2 on the chart at that time and as a beginner who never even considered writing before,I freaked!!.. I believe your “Writing To Tracks” course and your tips in the past really have contributed to my confidence as a Lyricist..Take care Marty..

  3. I have no idea whether you will print this or not but it’s true my best lyrics come when I’m stoned

  4. Thank you so much, I agree, and I do this, all the time!!!!

    It comes naturally for me, to do different styles, I welcome the challenges of songwriting!

    I have been working on JOY, song of mine, and the whole process, has been a joy!

    Video will be out soon!!!


    joy boleda in
    Composer in music and lyrics of all my Songs
    Cell: 786-346-4908
    From Miami, Florida, Shenandoah

  5. Thanks Marty for the tips. If only exercises were a problem. I do many, quite a few I have developed.
    Biggest challenge, finding serious collaborators.

  6. Really interesting and helpful Marty. I tend to come up with a hook or title and then the melody follows that, and then lyrics. This opens up another avenue to think of the lyrics and story, with rhyme, phrasing, and line length first. Then to write the melody/music after that. It’s not natural for me as I am music-first but I can see that this would challenge the norm which is good. New lyrics to current or established songs – great exercise and idea! Thanks!

  7. I’ve done the exercise of writing new lyrics to songs, but they’re not up to date songs. I’ll try to find a current hit and go for it. Thanks for the tips and re-enforcement.

    1. Dear Marty, This advice is Spot On!
      I am from a different era, but this method is tried and True.
      The music changes over the years, but the tools don’t.
      Thank you and keep shining you light.
      Jeff Elliot – Retired – Passing the torch to my son and I tell him the same stuff.
      As a matter of fact, I will share your info with him and hope he joins your community.
      I don’t know you. I like you already.

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