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Archive for August, 2007

The Shapes of Melody

Posted by onestoprockstar on August 10, 2007

There are three shapes to a melody. They can be generalized as line, circle, and square. The line means there are a lot of repeated notes, so the melody doesn’t go up or down. The circle shape is when the melody goes up and down stepwise, but there are no leaps in the melody. The square shape allows for leaps in the melody.


The line shape is when the singer is expressing the overall state she’s in or the story. There is no recent change in emotion and there is no revelation. The square shape is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is used to express the change in emotion or new feelings the singer feels. The circle shape is in between, ending a previous feeling and discovering a new emotion, and all the uncertainty that comes with it.


Below you can see how the meaning of the song determines the melody of the song.


1. “I’m lonely.” – line

2. “I’m lonely, but love is headed my way.” – line, circle

3. “I was lonely, now I found you.” – line or circle, square

4. “I found you.” – square



Two examples of a line-shaped melody are a) the overall state (in Neil Diamond’s “I Am, I Said”):

 L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most of the time.
And the feeling is laid back.
Palm trees grow and the rents are low,
But’cha know,
And I keep thinking about making my way back. 

And b) the story (Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”):

 Deep down Louisiana close to New Orleans,
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy name of Johnny B. Goode.  

Even though the line shape of a melody is about a fixed state or emotion, it doesn’t mean the emotion’s bland. It could be the singer is very passionate about how he feels.

1. “I realize I love you.” – square

2. “I have always loved you.” – line

The singer has always been in love, but that doesn’t diminish the power of his emotion. Here’s an example from the opening of Sting’s passionate song “You Still Touch Me”:

 Another night finds me alone.
In my dreams, you still touch me.
Your picture by my telephone.
In that smile, you still thrill me.  

Just because Sting is expressing a fixed state he’s in, the emotion he feels is extreme enough to make the repetitive notes sound powerful. So using a linear shape, although it is the very definition of monotonous, will not necessarily sound monotonous. In fact, using a linear melody is much easier to sing back, if you’re trying to write something catchy.


Here are examples of the circle shape used for a) uncertainty (The Beatles’ “If I Fell”):

 If I fell in love with you
Would you promise to be true
And help me understand?

And for b) uneasiness (The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired”):

 I’m so tired. I haven’t slept a wink.
I’m so tired. My mind is on the blink.
I wonder, should I get up and fix myself a drink? 

And for c) approaching discovery (Fiona Apple’s “Never is a Promise”):

 But as the scenery grows
I see in different lights.
The shades and shadows
Undulate in my perception.
My feelings swell and stretch,
I see from greater heights.
I understand what I am still
Too proud to mention…t
o you. 


The square shape is used for a) describing a new situation (Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”):

 If you said goodbye to me tonight,
There would still be music left to write.
What else can I do?
I’m so inspired by you.
That hasn’t happened for the longest time. 

It’s used for b) advice (The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”):

 Hey Jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better. 

It’s used for c) revelations (Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues”:

 And I guess that’s why they call it the blues.
Time on my hands could be time spent with you.
Laughing like children,
Living like lovers,
Rolling like thunder
Under the covers.
And I guess that’s why they call it the blues. 

And it’s used for d) complete nonsense, because if you’re going to sing nonsense, sing it with confidence (The Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”):

 She came in through the bathroom window
Protected by a silver spoon.
But now she sucks her thumb and wonders
By the banks of her own lagoon. 

Knowing these shapes, you can now apply it to your lyrics. Have fun with it! The next step is to apply the rhythm in the right place.


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Lyrics Tips and Tricks

Posted by onestoprockstar on August 5, 2007


Tip 1: Do your lyrics sound too poetic or too much like a textbook? Use words that everyone says, not reads.

A good rule of thumb is to only use words you hear people use in casual conversation. The art of poetry is a combination of what words are used, how they are used, and the rhythm and pacing of it all. With songwriting, however, the creativity is not which words you use, it’s just how you use them and how they sound. After all, a poem is meant to be read carefully. A song is a passing sound that gives listeners a limited time to understand what’s being said. So simple, everyday words are best. 

For example, Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” is considered one of the finest poems of the twentieth century. A stanza of it reads:

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

While the text reads beautifully and sounds powerful in a poetry reading, they wouldn’t work too well in a rock song. We don’t say “grave men,” we say “serious people.” We don’t say “eyes blaze like meteors,” we say “fiery eyes.” And these days we most certainly don’t say “gay” when we want to say “happy.” Today, in everyday words, the verse might be:

Those who are serious, and realize at their death bed
Each day of joy they could have lived has taken its toll
Fight, fight against the losing of their soul.

While the poetry is lost, the meaning is much easier to grasp because the words are more ordinary. I should add, however, that pensive and poetic lines such as “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” would be fine to use as a line in a chorus, because the chorus is repeated and the verses can explain what is meant by the chorus.

Tip 2: Does your rhyme sound forced? Make a rhyme from your last line, not your first.

The most important line in your verse, bridge, or chorus is the last line (typically the fourth line). Suppose you’re working on a verse. Whatever you want to say in that verse, make it appear in the last line. Then, if your second line needs to rhyme with the last, you can find one with a rhyming dictionary and use that.

For example, I liked the phrase, “You drive me sane.”

I thought a good rhyme for “sane” was “explain,” so that the singer could explain why he was in love. But suppose I had written the verse:

 Have I ever told you?
Woman, you drive me sane.
Have I ever told you?
Woman, I have to explain. 

The punch of the phrase “You drive me sane” is lost. Putting it at the end of the verse was better:

 Are you aware why I love you so?
Shall I begin to explain?
While others may tell me I’m crazy,
Sweetheart, you drive me sane.

Tip 3: Repitition, repitition, repitition:

Use as much repitition as you can in a song. If you want your listeners to remember the song after hearing it once, the more repitition, the better. Obviously saying “She has great legs” over and over and over is not just catchy, it’s annoying. Leave annoying repitition to commercials. You can repeat your words while adding new information at the same time. For example:

I spent my love believing in your style,
I spent my love believing in your smile,
I spent my love believing all your words were true,
I spent my love believing you.

(Hey! That actually sounded pretty good! And here I was writing off the top of my head. These techniques work pretty well, I guess.)

Notice how just the beginning is repeated and the final word/s changed. In doing so, each line adds different meaning. Such extreme repition is more for a chorus. The verses don’t require as much repetition; they’re used for explaining the details behind the idea of the chorus. In this case, the verses would tell us how the singer fell in love, how strong that love was, and what the other did to betray the singer’s love.


Tip 4: For a slow song, don’t end the lines with short, hard consonants:

a) p and b (front of the mouth)
b) k and g (guttural throat sounds)
c) t and d are okay but not as good as, say, m and n

For example, imagine singing slowly this couplet:

It seems I truly have no hope.
She’s got my love tied with a rope.

Now imagine singing slowly this couplet:

These hopeless days I walk the town.
She’s roped my love, I feel tied down.

Tip 5: Does your song need four verses? Write five verses!

The more verses you write, the more lines you can cut. Trimming off the adequate lines will leave behind the best lines for your song. A good rule of thumb is to completely cut the first verse you write. Frequently, but not always, the first written verse is the worst.

Trick 1: Can’t find a rhyme? Use a rhyming dictionary.

Some artists will harrumph the use of a rhyming dictionary. I can hear them know, can you? They’re saying, “A rhyming dictionary? That’s not being a true artist! Harrumph! Harrumph!” But I’ve used the rhyming dictionary and come up with some really great lines because of it. Thumb your nose at harrumphers.

Don’t want to buy a rhyming dictionary? Use a rhyming dictionary for FREE at a library. Libraries are not only a great resource for such things as rhyming dictionaries, they’re also great places to write.

Trick 2: Do you have a line that’s too short and needs extra syllables? Add a free word.

Generally, it’s always good to make the most of the syllables in your song by using words that add meaning to the song. But if you have a great line and it’s missing one or two syllables, you can always add a free word. A free word is a word that contributes no added meaning to the song.

One syllable: add “just,” change “I’ll” to “I will,” “you’d” to “you would,” “it’s” to “it is,” etc.

Two syllables: add “truly” or “really.”

Three syllables: you can add something like “honestly,” but the truth is that if you need three syllables, it shouldn’t be too difficult to use that space to find a word that adds more meaning to the line.  

Coming up with a title: The title is the hook or catch phrase of the chorus. Here are a few exercises to come up with a great hook.

Exercise 1: Can you think of a song with the word “love” in it? Not hard, is it? Most rock songs have something to do with love. For this exercise, you’ll create a powerful phrase that uses the word “love.”

Think of an idiom, a saying with a message, and replace one of the nouns with the word “love.” Then adjust the sentence to fit the new meaning, or personalize it. For example:

-Money is the root of all evil (idiom)
-Love is the root of all evil (“love” placed in idiom)
-Love is the root of your evil (personalized) 

-A rolling stone gathers no moss
-A rolling stone gathers no love
-This rolling stone gathers no love 

-Don’t count your chickens ‘til they’ve hatched
-Don’t count you love ‘til its hatched
-Don’t count on love ‘til you make it. 

-A picture paints a thousand words
-Love paints a thousand words
-My love paints a thousand words of you 

It’s okay if the final phrase doesn’t sound like the original idiom. What’s important is that you found a meaningful phrase that sends a strong message.


Exercise 2: Make similes for the emotion you want to convey. Then remove the word “like.” Play with the sounds of the words, then look at the last words. Those last words are your title.

“I’m sad.”
-It’s like being at the bottom of the ocean (simile)
-I’m at the bottom of the ocean (“like” removed)
-I’m under the ocean (similar sounds)
-Under the Ocean (song title) 

“I love her, she doesn’t love me.”
-It’s like giving all my riches to a wealthy girl
-I’m giving all my riches to a wealthy girl
-I’m giving all my money to a girl in pearls
-A Girl in Pearls 

So there you have it! You are now ready to write great lyrics! Be creative, be controversial, be sympathetic and listeners will love your words.


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