The Simple Trick To Writing Effective Song Melodies

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

Many songwriters compose melodies by strumming guitar chords, allowing chord changes to lead them to the notes that work with those chords. There is nothing wrong with this method, but people don’t sing chords. They sing melodies. If you play chord changes on guitar or keyboard, and then you impose melodies on top of the chord progressions, you may end up with a boring melody (or a melody that sounds like all your other melodies, if you tend to play the same chord progressions).

Chords are important, for sure. They “harmonize” with the melody, helping to evoke certain emotions. But melody is primary. So try this method of melody-writing:

  • First, compose the catchiest, most delightful melody you can, a cappella (without instrumentation).
  • Next, speak your lyrics aloud. This will help you hear the natural rhythm of the words, which may help you revise your melody as needed.
  • Last, find chords that will best support your melody, and bring out the emotional tones you’re looking for.

If you’re not a musician, you may want to work with a musician to find the right chords. This can be a co-writer, or just a musician in your church or band. If this person isn’t a co-writer, consider paying the musician an upfront fee for their time.

Finally, make sure your song “works” with just one voice and one instrument. Vicky Beeching says,

“I believe that if a song is going to be useful to the global Church, it needs to work with one voice and one acoustic guitar (or one piano). Most churches are not huge and have a small handful of musicians. Often it’s just one person up front leading on one instrument. Make sure your song doesn’t hang on some big musical riff, or the drumbeat, or the fact that a huge choir is singing it. Does it work when it’s stripped right back to one guitar and one vocal? If not, I’d say the song is too reliant on instrumentation and probably isn’t ready yet. Keep working on it until it stands strong on just one instrument and one vocal. Try the song that way at a smaller meeting, or a home group. A great song will work just as well in that simple setting, as it does with a huge band.”


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