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A Way To Make Your Melody Less Predictable

Like everyone, in my songwriting I have patterns I easily fall into. Comfort zone chord progressions, rhythms, tempos, melody lines…

As I pointed out last week (here), one of the most insidious of these is having the rhythms of the melody be the same, or too similar, in every phrase. This is a recipe for dullness and predictability.

We songwriters spend a lot of time contending with what I call the ‘crossword puzzle’ aspect of songwriting –  that is, fitting the words as elegantly and exactly as possible to the melody we’ve got. And it’s easy to think that once the melody is ’set’… that it’s ‘set in stone’.

When writing I often find myself with an apt lyric… but it just doesn’t fit the melody. What I used to do was keep chiseling away at the lyric until I got to the best solution I could find, leaving the melody alone. That’s still usually what I do.

But sometimes now, if I like the line of lyric, I think, “Rather than carving up the lyric to fit the melody, what if I change the melody instead?”.

Why? Not out of laziness, but because a lyric that ‘doesn’t fit’ can sometimes take my melody to a place I wouldn’t get to otherwise, to a melody that’s out of my comfort zone… if I’m willing to let the words change the melody, not vice versa.

Because the lyric line in question will probably have more or less words, syllables, or sounds than originally planned, it’ll make the melody longer, or shorter, with more or less notes. Maybe it’ll create more variety and contrast with the preceding and following melodic phrases. And its scan will dictate a different, perhaps pleasantly unexpected, rhythmic flow and emphasis.

This strategy doesn’t solve the problem of fitting the words to the melody. It just kicks that can down the road. If I change the melody, I still have to make the words of the other Verses fit the new melody.

But, when ‘change the melody to fit the lyric’ works, what it often does is move my melody writing in a less predictable direction. And that’s a good thing.

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