Use these questions as a tool for evaluating your song or as a reference to keep yourself on track during the writing process. Always remember, though, don’t be afraid to break a rule. Songwriting is a creative activity. If it feels right, go with it!
Does your melody have interesting rhythms?
Cool rhythms are created with variation. To achieve this, you’ll want to sing some notes quickly and hold some notes longer. This will keep your melody from becoming monotonous, as well as aid the meaning of the lyric. Try holding the note out on a significant word or speeding up the rhythm to take your listener by surprise. If you want to show off your vocal skills, hold notes that sound good in your voice or show off your range.
Have you thought about natural inflection?
Speak your lyrics out loud as you would in conversation. Do your words have any natural interesting rhythms? Does your voice rise and fall at certain points? Let’s go all the way back to high school English class. Do you hear any ear-catching alliterations or consonance? (alliteration: the words begin with the same sound, consonance: the words repeat similar consonant sounds) These are things that you can harness in your rhythms and notes. Check out almost anything Ed Sheeran has written. Not only is he an amazing lyricist, but he also knows how to stress the natural rhythms found in his words.
Try to accentuate syllables where it would serve the usual emphasis of the word. For example, if the stress is usually placed on the second syllable of the word when spoken, try to mimic that with your rhythm and notes. Emphasizing the first syllable will sound odd.
Do your melodic phrases break up the lyrics?
When I come up with a lyric before the melody, I often get stuck in the pattern of feeling like every line has to fit into one single melodic phrase. Once I allow myself to break up the sentence into separate phrases, finding the right melody comes much more naturally. It’s easier to work with short lyric pieces than lengthy lines. If you’re struggling to make the rhythm sound right, maybe you need to find a way to separate your lines. Look for the words “and” “but” “so” which may indicate a natural place to break. If using the entire line in your melodic phrase works for you, keep going! This is merely a suggestion for those times when you just can’t quite get it right.
Does your song have effective repetition?
Now, repetition might sound like a bad thing. Just hold your horses! Repetition is what gets stuck in the listener’s head. In fact, if there’s no repetition at all, your song will sound like it’s rambling, with no natural rise and fall. You need to repeat melodic phrases, or variations of the melodic phrase, in order for the listener to start to feel a familiarity in the song. When you listen to a song for the first time, do you remember the whole think after hearing it once? No. But do you remember parts of it? Yes! The parts you remember were most likely the melodic phrases that were repeated. These are often called the “motifs” of the song. Find the short phrases in your song that are the strongest and repeat or build off of these melodies.