How Do You Write Lyrics to a Melody?

My Song Coach

Q: I have a melody and I want to put lyrics to it but I’m not sure how to do that. Is there a trick to this?

A: There are lots of ways to write songs. Some people write the melody or chords first, then add lyrics. Paul McCartney famously wrote the melody and chords to “Yesterday” before he had the lyrics. He went around singing the phrase “scrambled eggs” pr “ham and eggs” (depending on who’s telling the story) until he came up with the lyric “yesterday.” 

Sometimes, if you’re working with a co-writer, you might be given a melody to write to. The hugely successful musical theater songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart wrote that way. So why not give it a try and see what happens.

Tips on writing lyrics to an existing melody.

1. Listen to the melody and feel the emotion it suggests. Is it upbeat and happy? Or does it feel introspective, yearning, or sad? Write down the emotions the melody suggests, then make a list of words or phrases that express that emotion. How does it make your body feel? What do you do when you feel that emotion? List colors, sights, and sounds that you associate with that emotion.

2. Look thorough your lists for a line you think is memorable and compelling. Make this your title.

3. Identify the  section of the melody that will be the chorus. This should start with a melody line or chord that  contrasts with earlier lines and catches your attention. The first or last line of this section will be your hook line. Sing your title there. You may need to extend it by adding a couple of words or shorten it to fit the melody. Go ahead and play with the idea until it fits comfortably. If the song doesn’t  have a chorus section, then treat the last line of the verse as your hook and put your title there.

4. Build your chorus lyric from there using the lists of words you made. Try using a simple statement of what you feel in one of the lines so that listeners get a clear idea of what the song is about.

5. Once you have a chorus, then fill in the verse lyric. Give listeners more information about the chorus. What made the singer feel this way? What will happen next?

 Use these 10 Steps to help you finish your lyric.

by Robin Frederick

Robin's Songwriting BooksThis post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. Each book includes over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to write songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints 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.