Between The Rhymes: Melody Hacks For Lyricists

I have primarily been a lyricist for close to 25 years. To survive that long in the music business, I have had to stretch my boundaries and come up with ways to evolve my lyric writing along with changing music landscapes.

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Along the way, I’ve picked up some lyric writing tricks that help me stay current and relevant in whichever genre I’m writing. Even if you are an accomplished melody writer and lyricist, I think you may find these tips and tricks helpful in your songwriting.

So, here we go!

Melody Hack #1 – Write A New Lyric To A Current Hit Melody

I like to take a current song on the radio and write my own lyric to it. I have learned a lot about current trends in lyrics (and melody) from this exercise. Having to write to a melody not in my typical wheelhouse, is especially helpful and instructive.

When I do this exercise, it forces me to study what the original writers did in terms of rhyme scheme, meter and song structure. Learning how the hit was constructed helps me craft my lyric in the same style or framework. Then, I team up with a melody person, and I can be confident that I have a lyric that is able to be crafted into a modern song.

One caveat—I don’t ever tell my melody co-writer which song I wrote the lyric to. Doing that often results in the original melody influencing my new song too much. You don’t want your new song sounding anything like the hit you wrote it to. This way, a fresh melody written to your lyric can produce some really different and interesting songs.

Melody Hack #2 – Start With A Rhythm

Left to my own devices, my melodies and rhythms tend to be very similar. There are just a couple of grooves I feel that I play well on guitar. So, I tend to write those particular grooves over and over and over. Also, my melodies are often limited by my vocal range—not a good idea if you want to be around long as a songwriter. It’s very limiting to only write things I can play or sing.

When I feel like I’m in a rut, I will often find a drum loop I like and write my lyric to that groove. This helps me find different rhythmic patterns for my lyrics, instead of the same old worn out patterns that I drift toward naturally.

There are a number of great apps with simple loops that you play on your phone. Some even have beats similar to hit songs, which I have found very helpful in staying current as well.

Writing to a new rhythm not only gets me out of my rut, it inspires me. It’s fun to find a cadence for my lyrics that I have never written before. Keeping yourself inspired and challenged is important if you want commercial success with your music. Even if you are just writing songs to sing on your own project, you want to take your listeners on a musical journey, not hit them with 12 songs that sound very similar. New grooves and rhythms are crucial if you want to keep your listeners engaged.

Melody Hack #3 – Playing With Syllables

Another melody hack that makes my lyrics more singable and more appealing to a melody co-writer, is to explore different syllable counts. I mentioned earlier that I tend to gravitate toward certain rhythmic patterns, unfortunately, I don’t gravitate toward any that are super interesting. For instance, my “go to” pattern tends to be:

Da DA da da da da da DA
Da DA da da da da da DA

I emphasize the syllables that I have capitalized. Why I gravitate to that, I don’t know. I have noticed, with lyricists I mentor, that most of them also have a certain cadence they do a lot. That kind of thing can be a killer. After the third song a publisher hears with the same lyric cadence, they realize that you are a one trick pony. That’s not the impression you want to make.

I will sit down and explore some other syllable and cadence patterns that I want to try. It’s hard to paint you a picture with words only, but I’ll try something like this:

Da DA da da da DAA DAA DAA
Da DA da da da DAA DAA DAA

I used the spaces and extra “A” to indicate a syllable that is held out longer. By creating a rhythmic pattern, which includes short and long lines as well as some notes held out longer and emphasized differently, I enable a melody writing co-writer to come up with something way more interesting than my stock “go to” cadence. I hope those three exercises will help you create more interesting lyrics and songs.

Happy writing!


Marty Dodson is a seven-time, No. 1 hit songwriter who has had songs recorded in country, rock, pop, bluegrass, K-Pop, J-Pop and musical theatre.  His greatest songwriting achievement is knocking Psy out of the #1 spot in South Korea with his song “Bounce”.  He co-founded SongTown, the world’s leading songwriter education site, with fellow hit writer Clay Mills and is passionate about teaching people to write better songs.

Photo by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

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