Writing a great vocal melody - how do you do it?

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Hi folks,

I'm sure this has probably been asked before, but how do you - yes, you - write your vocal melodies?

I have a band mate who writes lyrics. Then we put some chord progressions together. Then try to find a vocal melody that will work. But I've also read some people saying the vocal melody should come first (partly because if the melody has a sad bit, the lyric should be written sad to match it, and so on). 

How do people approach it? I currently have a song I'm working on where the lyrics are already done, I've written the chord progression for a verse, and now trying to do the vocal melody.

My first method was just to put the guitar into Reaper, and record myself randomly singing along. Do that ten times, and see if any of the lines in any of the versions sound good. BUT...

That method feels far too random,
Probably needs natural talent/deep knowledge of harmony I just don't have, and therefore...
Normally produces boring, generic, predictable melody.

Should I be writing the melody on piano? I can't play piano, but guess I could use it to find a melody one key at a time?

Any advice really appreciated...


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Comments

  • StuckfastStuckfast Frets: 491
    Not sure I can claim to have written any great vocal melodies, but...

    One thing that I think is key to many songs with great melodies is that lyrics have an unusual or irregular meter. Paul McCartney is a master at this. In many of his most memorable songs, all the lines in the verse or chorus are different lengths and have the stresses falling on different syllables -- think of Yesterday, Michelle, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Hey Jude, Lady Madonna etc. He also uses a lot of internal rhymes as well as conventional rhymes (as a simple example, "Hey Jude / don't make it bad / take a sad song and make it better..."

    A lyric like that is much more likely to suggest an interesting and memorable melody than a dull four-square lyric with an AABB rhyme scheme where every line has the same meter.
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4049
    The melody usually comes at the same time as the chords, for me. When I add the melody later, it's usually because I went off the one I started with. And in that case...

    Fuck knows. I just close my eyes, try to feel out something, and start singing. Don't be afraid to sound shit, and don't be afraid to feel vulnerable. When you arrive at something that feels significant to you emotionally, that can give you direction.

    And don't get me wrong, I don't think any of my melodies are great. But actually, nobody thinks their melodies are great.

    You need to look for melodies that mean something to you, so you believe in them. Whether or not anyone else thinks they're great is down to them.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • Winny_PoohWinny_Pooh Frets: 3444
    Basic things I do:

    Sing over the chords, no specific lyrics, just mmm's and nah nahs. Find the flow of phrase lengths that work then try moving the pitches around. Then squash in your lyrics.

    Take deliberate phrases and lyrics from other songs, anything even if unrelated to your song like say Adele's "send my love to your new lover", now place that over your chords in various ways. Shorten or stretch, moves the pitches around or just try another phrase. When you find the magic then put in your own words.



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  • fastonebazfastonebaz Frets: 416
    Its a hybrid method.  Hum melody. Write chords.  Adapt melody. Adapt chords.  Repeat.  Arrive at final tune. 
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1171
    edited January 12
    Know the tonic, dominant, chord tones & non-chord tones for whatever key you are in. I find playing single notes on the piano helps to prototype a rough melody outline, but you can also do the doo-da-da thing. Just experiment and find your own way   

    If you want to study this stuff check out hooktheory.com
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 28
    Thanks folks,

    I appreciate that there's no one way to do it, so good to hear your varying advice. Sounds like most of you find a melody without using your specific lyrics (or potentially before you've written them). I guess because I'm using someone else's lyrics, I feel a bit more restricted, but I shouldn't I guess.

    @Stuckfast - I think that's a part of my problem - the meter is really regimented and repetitive. I also think that I'm signing too much 'on the beat', and struggle to get phrasing that takes me way from the feeling of hitting each bar with a new word (if that makes sense - don't have a very good musical vocabulary to explain what I mean). 

    Time and time again my lack of theory lets me down @Freebird I don't know anything about what you refer to. I commit to learning theory, then get overwhelmed and don't know where to start.




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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1171
    edited January 13
    ijonty said:
    @Stuckfast - I think that's a part of my problem - the meter is really regimented and repetitive. I also think that I'm signing too much 'on the beat', and struggle to get phrasing that takes me way from the feeling of hitting each bar with a new word (if that makes sense - don't have a very good musical vocabulary to explain what I mean). 
    If you already have the lyrics and the chord progression, you could try entering a single-note rhythm into your DAW, and then edit the notes into a melody later, e.g. in the Key of C Maj, tap in a phonetic rhythm pattern using the c note that stresses the syllables in the lyric.

    Regarding theory, the tonic/root note is the home and the dominant note is the destination, so you construct a journey between the two. Chord tones are stable, while non-chord tones are unstable, so this allows you to emphasize certain words in your song.

    Hooktheory is great to see how real world songs work, as you can see the melody line interacting with the chords (use piano mode).

    Also have a look at the free Berklee Music School songwriting course..

    https://www.coursera.org/learn/songwriting-lyrics
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  • I'm a dreadful songwriter (mainly because I don't put any effort into getting better) but I watched this video and it really struck me as something I want to try:


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  • IMC1980IMC1980 Frets: 25
    As others have said, I don't think I would call my melodies great, but I find using my phone's voice recorder the best way of capturing a melody. Normally without music (i find that they seem to come that way) and then fit chords to the melody. doesn't seem to work as well if I am trying to fit a vocal melody to an arrangement.
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  • I can't write lyrics.  As such i normally come up with a chord progression and melody at the same time.  I record the progression while humming or "la la" ing the melody.

    That gets given to a mate who writes lyrics to the melody / choreds. That then gets recorded to over the existing chords, then those chords are taken away and I work on the final arrangement and drum patterns.
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 28
    Thanks all, this is really useful. Really helpful to hear how you all tackle it.


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  • TheBigDipperTheBigDipper Frets: 1246
    I've written songs and ended up at a vocal melody in several different ways. It all depends, but on what I have no idea...

    - I work out a melody that I like, find a lyric I like and then work out the chords that support it.
    - I have a chord progression (or riff) I like and work out a melody that fits it - a warning here, it's easy to end up following the chords with notes that fit rather than finding a nice melody.
    - I have a lyric I like - a catchy phrase with a rhythm that appeals, and work the rest out from there.

    Like everyone else, I find my lyrics to be naive, my melodies boring and my singing voice a travesty....  
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  • ijontyijonty Frets: 28
    Freebird said:


    Hooktheory is great to see how real world songs work, as you can see the melody line interacting with the chords (use piano mode).


    Just looked at the site but found it a bit overwhelming. Should I be signing up to a course, software or book? Or is there free stuff that will tell me some useful info?


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    Telecaster American Deluxe, Cornell Romany amp, without the talent to use them properly
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  • jaymenonjaymenon Frets: 56
    I have written very few songs - but I think a useful way is to write when you feel very strongly about something.  

    The words and the melody then tend to come together...and it sort of comes from the heart.

    I find it useful to write with an acoustic guitar - and consciously avoid thinking in terms of the electric guitar.

    If the words and melody come from your heart...then even if you feel it's corny, there will be people who can relate to the emotions you're expressing.

    Here are two of mine:

    1. Sound Like Me
    I played a Clapton Signature Strat at my local music shop, but unfortunately - I sounded like me :-( 
    I did get a song out of it though...



    2. Through My Eyes: apologies in advance for the corny lyrics...



    I hope you will enjoy them...

    Kind regards
    Jay
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