The Art of Lyric Writing: How to Match Lyrics to Melody

The Art of Lyric Writing: How to Match Lyrics to Melody

You enjoy writing. Maybe you are a poet and rightfully know it! And maybe once or twice you’ve thought about turning your poetry or creative writing into a song, because why not?

But a musician’s approach to songwriting is a different technique from writing poetry, fiction, or any other type of creative writing, mostly due to needing another important element of a song: the melody! Therefore, lyrics are structured so a vocalist can easily sing them alongside the melody.

  • Lyrics are organized into song sections like a chorus and bridge.
  • Lyrics are typically written to be short and repetitive.
  • Lyrics often (but not always) include rich rhymes within each line.

So, how do you go about matching lyrics to a melody?

The Rhythm of a Lyric Line

Each syllable of the lyric is joined to one musical note, meaning each word becomes part of a melody. The rhythm happens as a result of a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within a phrase.

Many lyricists indicate the unstressed syllables with “ba” and the stressed syllables with “BUM.” What makes each part stressed is the fact that the accented syllables are longer, louder and have a higher pitch.

Here’s an example phrase:

“Lonely and waiting…” translates to “BUM ba ba BUM ba…”
  • “Lone-“ and “Wait-“ are stressed in their respective words.
  • “-ly” and “-ing” are unstressed in those same words.
  • “and” is also unstressed.

Writing The Rhythm

You can write your lyrics to a rhythm, even if you don’t have any music yet. The process may get chaotic at first when putting lines to music, because their rhythms are random. So, start with a rhythmic pattern, and then match words to that pattern.

Here’s an example of two lines:

Looking out into the sea
The night is so beautiful

Here’s an example of their rhythmic patterns:

LOOK-ing OUT IN-to the SEA
This NIGHT is so BEAU-ti-ful
BUM ba BUM BUM ba ba BUM
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

You can see that the line patterns are inconsistent. When writing to a specific melody pattern, the rhythm of the second line would match better.

So, to keep your patterns consistent, both lyrics and melody would be:

ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba
ba BUM ba ba BUM ba ba

Doesn’t that sound and look better? Now we just have to find words for the first line that fit that pattern. Perhaps:

The SEA is so MAG-i-cal
to match
This NIGHT is so BEAU-ti-ful

During the writing process, speak the patterns aloud to hear the consistency in the rhythm of your lyrics. Putting the words to the melody will be easier if the lines have a good rhythm that’s the same from line to line!

Well, dear writer, what do you think? Could you be a lyricist if you wish?

The above are basic guidelines on how to separate the creative writing process from the lyric writing process. For tips and tricks on how to better your songwriting process, read our article on how to “Beat Your Songwriting Block with These 5 Exercises.”
Happy writing! #staymusical

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