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Is there any trick, rule, principle for increasing the melodicality of a lyric?

I want to write a lyric, but I don't really have a melody in mind and wish to just write a lyric that can fit a lot of different melodies? Is there a way to insure that?

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    Read psalms. I know it's from religious scripture, but you may inspired by the structure. People have set these psalms into contemporary hymns in various ways. You can also sing it however you wish. Use whatever language you want. – Double U Feb 6 at 1:01
  • So psalms have similar structures to pop music lyrics? – repomonster Feb 6 at 1:04
  • Psalms have been made into pop music, in Israel - the originals, and in other places - various translations. I believe what @DoubleU tries to say is, it doesn't matter how "melodic" your lyrics are - if somebody wants to set them to music, they will be set to music. – Galastel Feb 6 at 11:11
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Lyrics are essentially a specialized form of poetry, and usually have a regular rhyme scheme. The trickiest part IS the rhythm. You really need to have a musician's sense of rhythm to be a great lyricist. If the rhythm is too regular, your lyrics will be "sing-songy" and trite or monotonous sounding. But without rhythm, they will be awkward to sing. You might try writing along to a beat to see if that helps. I would also highly recommend reading the lyrics of great lyricists as if they were poetry, and seeing if you can get the feel. Oscar Hammerstein, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Tupac Shakur, James Mercer and Frank Ocean are just a few of my own favorites (in contrasting styles and genres).

The other thing to look out for is overall song structure. The most common song structure is verse, chorus, bridge. In this structure, the verse is usually longer, and more complex, both rhythmically and thematically. There are usually between two and four different verses, and each one should have roughly the same rhythm and rhyme scheme (because it will be sung to the same melody each time). The chorus is usually much simpler (because everyone sings along here), and contains the main theme (and usually the title) of the song. Generally there is only one chorus, which is repeated several times. The bridge is a (usually short) portion that contrasts to the other sections, and usually only comes in once. Not every song has all those parts, but they have been relatively standard over a long range of time, and across genres.

I would actually recommend NOT trying to write lyrics that will fit generic melodies. The best lyrics inspire their own unique melodies. All-purpose lyrics make for generic songs. On the other hand, your lyrics can be quite short and simple (and even repetitive) --sometimes that makes for the most powerful songs.

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Many lyrics work with a variety of melodies because the underlying structure of the set of melodies is similar.

My synagogue just had a "Broadway" bar mitzvah where the young man set our traditional prayers (which we do usually sing) to melodies from various Broadway showtunes. Worked great. (This particular synagogue has a history of changing up melodies anyway.)

One famous crossover is the words of the theme of Gilligan's Island (TV sitcom) sung to the tune of Stairway to Heaven.

Most songs are in 4/4 or 3/4 time. Meaning each measure has 4 beats or 3 beats, which can be divided up in different ways. You can also do other times, such as 2/4 or 6/8.

In music, a time signature tells you the meter of the piece you’re playing. Composers decide the number of beats per measure early on and convey this information with a time signature.

The two numbers in the time signature tell you how many beats are in each measure of music. A piece with a time signature of 4/4 has four quarter note beats; each measure with a 3/4 meter has three quarter note beats; and each measure of 2/4 time has two quarter note beats.

A time signature of 4/4 meter does not mean that each measure has only four quarter notes. It means each measure has only four beats. These beats may contain half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, rests, whatever the composer wants, but all note and rest values must combine to equal no more or less than the top number (or numerator) of the time signature. (ref)

Choose a common time for your lyrics, along with a fairly standard rhythm. The more flexible the cadence and points of emphasis within them, the more likely your lyrics will fit multiple melodies. If you have many long words that must be pronounced with certain emphasis to be understood, that will limit the melodies you can use.

  • Hmm, quite useful. Didn't think I would get such an useful answer. Thanks. – repomonster Feb 6 at 2:05
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    If I knew more about music, it would be even more useful. The band at my synagogue works wonders with lyrics and melodies. I'm often in awe. But you're welcome. – Cyn Feb 6 at 2:07
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    You can do a lot worse than making sure your lyrics scan to "Greensleeves". Not because you want to use that melody, but because lots of things scan to it and thus (most of the time) to each other. – Monica Cellio Feb 6 at 2:42

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