5 Ways to Rewrite a Melody

by Robin Frederick

Bright ideaMost of us know how to rework a song lyric to make it stronger – add images, action words, tighten the focus, etc. – but melodies are often left out of the rewriting process. Many times, the first melody that pops out is the one we keep just because we don’t know how to make it better.

But what happens when your melodies all start to sound the same, or a music publisher tells you your melody sounds generic or dated? How do you fix those problems? Here are a few tips that will help you reshape and update your melodies. Experiment with these ideas; play around with them. If you don’t like the new melody you come up with, you can always go back to what you had.

1. Break up a series of similar lines into different lengths. If you have a melody with a lot of lines that are the same length, your song might might sound monotonous or unstructured to listeners. Rewrite your chorus or verse melody to increase the contrast between sections. Try breaking up a long line into two shorter phrases or run two phrases together by adding extra notes and words. 

2. Change the note pitches. If your whole song is in the same note range, again, listeners might feel the song is wandering and  monotonous.  Try these ideas:

  • Move the chorus melody to a higher or lower note range.
  • Give your chorus the highest or lowest note in the song.
  • Add a jump up or down at the beginning of your chorus to grab attention. Repeat it in the second line of the chorus, then go somewhere else in your third line.

3. Change the pattern of long and short notes. If you have a series of short notes, try stretching out one or two to create an unexpected change in the rhythm. If you have long, held-out notes in every line, try breaking up one of the lines into shorter notes. Doing the unexpected catches the listener’s attention and keeps them interested.

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4. Use your lyric to suggest a stronger melody. Emphasize the important words in your lyric by putting them on the highest note of a phrase, or holding out the note. Try speaking your lyric with emotion to hear the natural melody. Here’s a tip that will show you how: Uncover the Melody in Your Lyric.

5. Study hit song melodies. The best tip of all… Get inspired and  find new ideas by singing along with a couple of recent hits you like. Notice where the melody phrases begin and end. Notice the patterns of long and short phrases in the verse and chorus. Rewrite one of your melodies using some of these ideas.

BONUS TIP: Change the chords.  You can add interest to a repetitive melody by changing the chords underneath the repeating lines. If you use the same melody phrase two, three, or even four times in a row, try using a different chord under each one. The new chord will make every repetition sound a little different. And change the lyric on each line, too. You’ll keep listeners involved and interested.

Remember, you can always hit the “UNDO” button. 🙂 If you don’t like a change you made, then go back to what you originally had.

Robin's books at Amazon.comThis post is based on my songwriting books. Find out more about all of my print and eBooks on my Author page at Amazon. In each book you’ll find dozens of useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.

Reprints of this article by permission.

Author: Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick is the author of Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. She has written and produced more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records and Executive Producer of 60 albums. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.