Songwriting

Melody Hacks For Lyricist Songwriters

by Marty Dodson
Apr 19, 2021

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 da da da DAA DAA DAA
DA DA DA

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

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

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