SO MANY SONGS...SO FEW NOTES!!!!
One of the most challenging things in songwriting is coming up with a melody that is both unique and interesting, and also fits the emotion of the song perfectly...and you only have 12 notes to choose from!!
Folks ask me many times...how do you come up with a good melody??? Well, here are some of the things I think about when creating a melody to a song:
1. The melody has to FIT PERFECTLY with the lyric and vice versa. Prosody here is the marriage between the melody and the lyric...they were just meant to be together. Don't be dragging 3 notes over a one syllable word making the one syllable word into a 3 syllable word :) etc.
2. BE CONVERSATIONAL! What this means is that when working on a melody to a lyric I ALWAYS "speak" the line first. Unless you speak in "monotone" every sentence or line has a "natural melody" when you speak. It is important to maintain this "natural melody" when creating the "musical melody" for the line. I like to try and mirror both the "meter" and the "natural melody" of the line when spoken. Take as example the classic song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco. Try this exercise:
A. Speak the line "I left my heart in San Francisco"...then
B. Sing the song (in your best Tony Bennett voice!! LOLOL)..."see?"
Pay attention to how the line flows perfectly with the meter and natural melody! This is what I strive for when I'm writing a new song. To me, the more conversational and natural a song sings the easier it is for the listener to "hear" the lyric and "feel" the song.
3. Play around with starting a melody not only on the "1" or "root note" (i.e. a C note in the key of C or G note in the key of G etc). Maybe start the melody on the "3" note of the key (the middle note of the root triad). For example, in the key of C this would be an "E" note or in G it would be a "B" note etc. Then try and start the melody on the "5" note of the root triad. This would be a "G" in the key of C or "D" in the key of G etc. Starting on a note other than the "root" note is a good way of varying melodies.
4. Don't change chords! A great exercise is to try and write a "one chord" song and make it interesting. Remember Sonny & Cher's..."The Beat Goes On" :) for good or bad LOL. I can tell you, in my opinion, it is harder to write a 2 chord song than a 6 chord song. We tend to fall back into "stock" melodies and "stock" chord changes...however using chord changes sparingly and maybe not changing chords when it feels like you should change chords can help create more unique melodies.
5. Lastly, experiment with unfamiliar "keys". Most of us have a "go to key"...that is we sit down and pick up the guitar or sit down at the piano and IMMEDIATELY go to the key of G...or the key of D etc. Every key has a fingerprint! A tonal color different from the others...so...writing a song in the key of Eb will sound tonally different than if you write a song in say the key of G. It can feel "brand new" to your ear! Experiment and get out of your "melodic rut". :)
So, with so few notes to choose from we as songwriters must really dig in and try to create that unique melody that will produce the next "HIT" with listeners. Now get out there and experiment and most importantly....HAVE FUN!!!
Remember: Write more...whine less!!!