View Full Version : How do you write the music for your lyrics?

01-17-2007, 05:13 AM
I just want to try this to see if it could be done by writing the lyrics first then getting an idea of how the song should sound then setting it to music to finish it. Only problem is I have no idea how to write music.

01-17-2007, 07:12 AM
If you're careful with structure and meter, you should be fine. Even if you don't know how to play an instrument, a melody should be driving the lyrics.


01-17-2007, 07:53 AM
Hi Dixie,

A song consists of the lyrics, the melody line and the chording.

If you CAN"T sing or play an instrument, then you've got to either learn those skills or try to hook up with someone who can do those things for you, preferably by collaborating with someone who shares your concept of what you want the song to be, rather than paying someone to simply put it to music without having empathy with your goals. (There are lots of organizations out there called "Song Mills" who are more than happy to do that for you for a fee, but whose only interest lies in taking your money, not producing a song that can become successful).

Writing the song out in a music notation, however, is basically unnecessary and probably won't help you much, even if you learn to do it, because the vast majority of musicians, (with the exception those in school bands or orchestras) CAN"T read music.

They say Bernie Taupin couldn't play or write music. If that's true, then, he was extremely fortunate in his companions because they did play, liked the lyrics what he had written, and became his collaborators, (an option that is open to any pure lyric writer, but works out and brings success only rarely).
They put it all together, and played and recorded the whole, with any written score being an afterthought put together by a specialist employed by the publisher.

If you still want to print out the notation for your song, yourself, there are composition programs for those who know the basics on one or more instruments (but are not practicing musicians) to fill out the whole from the 3 basic units, of Lyric, Melody Line (one-noted on a keyboard) and Chording (worked out on the guitar with the help of some knowledge of music theory and that is, in fact, how I have fleshed out 17 of the 55 songs I have
written, (which mostly consist of only lyric and chording with the melody line in my head), winning 7 Honorable Mentions in various Song Contests in the last 5 years and a 2d place finish in the Country category in the 2003 Billboard Song contest.

Despite that, I have yet to get any Publishing Contract or have any of my songs recorded (except as demos done by me or paid for by myself)


P.S. Here are a number of sites that will give you a basic grounding in most aspects of Music Theory af you decide that that's the way you want to go: http://www.theorylessons.com/ http://library.thinkquest.org/15413/theory/theory.htm http://www.dolmetsch.com/theoryintro.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_theory http://www.teoria.com/

01-17-2007, 09:14 AM
Hi, JRH. I had posted this for someone else several days ago:

Partner with a musician. Someone who understands your vision. There have been many lyricists who have been successful who have never learned to play a musical instrument. Peter Sinfield of King Crimson was credited on their early albums for: Words and Illumination.

I didn't wish to repeat myself.

It's very cool how well received your work was on contest entries. I hope you take first on your next entry.


Jim Colyer
01-18-2007, 05:51 AM
Lyrics can come first, music can come first, or they can be written in tandem. With me, I write them at the same time using a guitar.

01-18-2007, 06:41 AM
If you have any interest in taking up a musical instrument, or not, a music store can likely point you in the right direction. I've learned how to read music, write music, and play music by ear... from taking guitar lessons on a weekly basis.

Once you have your lyrics, I would suggest finding out what key you sing in. From that starting point, you would know what combination of chords your music will use... and if someone else sings in another key, you just shift a to b OR a to g... and so on.

I wish I knew more about recording in 5.1 surround sound... and, more importantly, what songs may have been popular on a fiddle/violin, that the player could dance to in the late 1700's, for my research. :)

Martin Hall-Kenny
01-25-2007, 04:17 PM
Mega old sausage! I MAY be able to help you with that last bit... songs popular in the latter part of the 18th century. You will however need to be a little more specific. Location, profession, topic etc. For example, do you want to know what was popular around 1780 in the west of England? You can bet that it would have taken at least four or five years for that to travel across the pond to America for example. Let me know...

01-25-2007, 04:28 PM
I just want to try this to see if it could be done by writing the lyrics first then getting an idea of how the song should sound then setting it to music to finish it. Only problem is I have no idea how to write music.

Hey Dixie!

Setting existing lyrics (poems, etc.) is the primary approach I've used in what music I've written (other than instrumentals, of course). The lyrics are the message and the melody is the medium in which the message is delivered. Having the lyrics already set tells me to a large extent what kind of music will best promote it. Mismatches between lyrics and musical genre become pretty obvious pretty quickly. The first example that comes to mind is They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love which is written in a minor key. :Shrug: Never quite understood that one.

Maybe you're actually more musically inclined than you think. The fact that you have an interest in doing this might be the first indicator. Pick up a guitar and in two weeks you'll know whether or not you've got the musical bug.

Martin Hall-Kenny
01-25-2007, 05:36 PM
While Bruce is essentially correct with what he says, I am unconvinced by his description of the relationaship between the lyrics (being the message) and the music (being the medium). The message is a combination and collaboration between the two. Apparent mis-matches occur when the two are at odds unless it is your intention to send a mixed or contradictory message. I recently (couple of years ago) was commisioned to write the music for a BBC Radio 4 radio drama called the The Fisherwomen of Black Tar. It could be argued that the drama itself was the message BUT the drama wasn't in any respect, lyrics. The music had to convey the idea of the sea and waves rolling gently up and down a south Wales beach. In that scenario, the music WAS the message. It took the listener somewhere else and described (without words) what was going on.
As a musician for over forty years and a teacher for thirty of them, I would also have to gently question what he says concerning picking up a guitar and in two weeks knowing if you had the musical bug or not.
Many people have a musical gift, as many don't but play anyway. Many are talented on one instrument but another may be anathema to them.
Finding which(?) instrument is vital.
My advice to you as someone effectively starting out would be to network/colaborate with someone who feels as you do. Your local musicians guide and open mic nights will help you find someone.
You will dig through loads of crap before finding your first gems. Some will love what you create, some will hate it. Answer this question.... "Why do I want to write songs?" If the answer is to make money, you may be in for some BIG disapointments. If the answer is... "Because I've GOT to." Then hoist the Jolly Roger and full speed ahead.

01-26-2007, 09:24 AM
I think I'll have to take a middle ground here because Poetry and Lyric writing are two different crafts, no matter how closely they are related, and are very different in many respects.

To begin with they have different purposes. Poems are meant to take all forms of experience (both internal and external) and put them in an organized form that will communicate with a reader on multiple levels, by recreating universal experience, so that it might provoke thought or emotion or understanding on multiple levels.

Although Poems can can draw from "Personal" experience, they are more properly suited to dealing with classical questions of Life, Death, History, Conflict, Philosophy, Social Criticism and various moral and ethical issues, and all are most effective if they are presented on a universal level.

The forms that Poems can take are almost unlimited as long as the Basic elements of craftsmanship are employed encompassing Purpose, (whether it be description, analysis , or expression of an emotional or intellectual response to experience), Focus which centers on a single subject, and be bounded by Unities of Expression, Thought, and Image, which must end in a Denouement or Outcome that Unites the whole, and they can encompass such complexity because they may be examined at leisure and returned to over and over again to capture subtleties of meaning.

Song Lyrics are much more limited as their "primary purpose" is to provide Entertainment and Pleasure by provoking emotional response through describing Personal Interactions, providing Social Criticism, or communicating Feeling. This may sound roughly similar to the goals of poetry, but "Lyrics", because they must be grasped and absorbed at a rapid pace, are generally limited to a single theme that can be responded to on an emotional or direct level without requiring (or encouraging) thought beyond the basic message, although other levels and any subliminal messages may be generated or otherwise carried by the music itself.

Moreover "Traditional Lyrics' were and are generally encumbered by the necessity of regular Rhythms, Rhyme and a fairly standard over all structure of Verse-Chorus- Bridge-Chorus-Verse-Chorus or variations thereof, which would generally NOT be considered appropriate to Poetry.

Keeping these distinctions in mind, one must remember that composing music is a distinct skill, in and of itself, and may exist, with or without being associated with any lyrics, so that if it is the music that comes first, then it is the lyrics that must conform while if the lyrics come first the reverse is true,

It is at this point that the distinctions between Poetry and a Lyric which is written to be set to Music become extremely important because Poetry need not be either rhythmical or lyrical, (or at least may be irregular in its patterns), thus making it more difficult to match with musical rythems that must conform to styles or patterns reflecting various musical genres and often be dancable in order conform with public expectations.

For myself, and because of that, I find that I write my Song Lyrics with definate Melody Lines and Structure in mind, even though I try to keep the Music I write for them open enough to be used with a large variety of arrangements so that they may work in several genres, limited, primarily to their subject matter.

Moreover, I would contend that no part of this process is likely to come easily or quickly, no matter what latent skills one might be born with it, because each aspect represents a craft which requires a great degree of dedication, and discipline to PERFECT on its own, (beyond minimum levels), and requires even more of the same to merge with the other aspects smoothly.

Finding a collaborator, can, indeed, simplify the process, but finding one who's on the same page as you as to your goals, while not impossible, is no small task in and of itself. I've been trying for almost 30 years and have yet to find anyone who was interested in trying to work with someone with limited musical skills or could interpret what I'm trying for in a way that was acceptable to me, so I continue to try to do it on my own.

Examples of my music and lyrics (including "Standing Room Only" which has been professionally demoed), can be found at: http://www.acidplanet.com/artist.asp?songs=171834&T=6554 if you would wish to judge my qualifications for yourself, (keeping in mind that I make NO claim as to being a performer, and these demos were designed as "Song Demos" only, not as finsihed recordings).

Martin Hall-Kenny
01-26-2007, 02:28 PM
I agree almost entirely with JRH. The only exception I have concerns collaboration. I have been writing songs for as long as I've been playing- I thought I had something to say. The 'message' in those songs was to me rather than to others so the element of 'entertainment' was not such a driving one. It has not been until these later years and in an effort to help new writers get started that I have become involved in any kind of collaboration. I am not convinced about not being able to find someone who is sympathetic (in the French meaning) to your mood, style, whatever. There will always be a stronger partner in these endevours though in which partner that strength is invested is subject to change. This may be due to a number of factors... committment, knowledge, experience, skill or a variety of other things. The point is that you can learn much simply by trying this process. It may well be that you hate collaboration so much that you start playing around on a guitar, piano, sequencer on computer... point being that you move forward. In learning the skills (and I agree entirely with JRH on this) it helps if you are able to link with someone who is a little further down the road than you are.

02-14-2007, 07:07 PM
Mega old sausage! I MAY be able to help you with that last bit... songs popular in the latter part of the 18th century. You will however need to be a little more specific. Location, profession, topic etc. For example, do you want to know what was popular around 1780 in the west of England? You can bet that it would have taken at least four or five years for that to travel across the pond to America for example. Let me know...

I was looking at a French Canadian Fur Trader and Miner being the first recorded settler in this part of the Loiusiana Territory (before it became Iowa). Around 1762/1764 he was born in St. Pierre les Brecquets, district of Trois Riveres and he learned to read and write at a Parish school called Sorel... he also learned to speak the indian language and may have taken an indian wife.

According to a small boy, he danced to his own music while playing the violin. I'd say this must have happened between 1800 and 1805 while visiting St. Louis. What kind of music could he have possibly been playing that one could dance to? Unless Native American Indians (Fox/Meskquakie/Sauk) play the fiddle, it was probably of Canadian or French origin... or at least something he would have picked up. I think that should be about as specific as I can get with what little information there is.

Martin Hall-Kenny
02-14-2007, 07:43 PM
The likelyhood is that it was a fusion from a number of sources. If I had to put money on it, I would be looking a Bretagne French and French Creol. Place yourself back in time....
You spend 95% of your time ALONE. Your only diversion, when you are not trying to stay alive and accumulating the stuff to stay alive is your music. The vast majority of what you play was either learned as a child or put together from what you remember hearing- songs/tunes etc... much as we learn today by ear.
It would only be when you went into settlements that you might see other musicians or people like yourself (down from the mountains) and be able to trade off stuff. Indeed, your music would be in much demand. Couple with this that people didn't have time to learn dance steps- again much as today and would shuffle from foot to foot trying to keep some semblance of rhythm but desperately wanting to feel a part of something, if only for a little while. The musician would often, create a dance on the spot to assist others to join in. A bit like learning to line dance.
Some of the early mountain men, marrying into the native American tribes, learned their dances and it may have been their first experience of 'group' activity in this vein. On retuning to the settlements- and this sometimes happened only once every three or four years- they knew only the dances they had learned from their native American families. Some of these steps would have passed back to itinerant musicians almost by osmosis and been utilised at the next settlement and so on.
The self-created entertainments are well documented in the military history of around the time of Napolean for both French and British forces and include references to musicians, dances and dancing musicians. For research, you need to look at where the person came from both geographically and culturally and what was happening in the world. Look at transport and speed of communication and any diasporic changes- the move westward for example. As I said at the beginning, if I had to put money on it, I would say French Creol/Cajun.

02-16-2007, 02:07 AM
Thank you for your suggestions. I'll look into those. I have been looking into every aspect of the time period I can think of and people/cultures he may have met. There isn't too much on music historically that I've found, so far.

I do highly doubt that 95% of his time was spent alone though. It is reported that he had "servants" in his household settlement. He lived quite wealthy for the time. He traveled with family when he left Canada, helped the natives farm the land, there were hundreds of Indians helping him mine at the end of his life as well as dozens of Canadians, he heard news from the Indian hunters as well as family in a malitia, he made regular yearly trips for hundreds of miles to sell goods by boat, and besides Indians having many magical dances (like to bring about rain) ballroom dances were not uncommon upon his arrival ...like with Spanish officials. I have a suspicion campfires would have brought about storytelling and dances outside of indian tradition, too.

Martin Hall-Kenny
02-16-2007, 07:44 PM
Given his apparent wealth, that would still not change the nature of the music dramatically. People made their own entertainment. The nature of those he travelled with would have substantially effected the choice of music he might have played. Its to do with accesibility. Class boundaries were like walls in those days. High status dancing would not only have been inaccesible but also frowned upon by the lower classes- 'taking on airs'. Similarly, high status music would not have found favour as it didn't reflect the experience and life styles of those in his company.
The '95%' was in an effort to create a picture as you provided me with little detail.
I concur with your assessment considering campfires etc being important.

02-16-2007, 11:12 PM
I just focus on my strongest emotion and biggest issue then I sing it out while writing it. When I'm finished I looked over it and either keep it or toss it. I'll probably post one later

Luke flees the scene
02-19-2007, 12:28 AM
It somewhat depends on what the song is about. What I try to do when writing lyrics is, I start off by thinking of what kind of genre I want it to be set to. And then I kind of just go from there and write the lyrics set to how I would picture it sounding.

02-19-2007, 01:02 AM
the thing that gets me in the mood to write lyrics and such is just listening to music.

Writing the lyrics themselves I kind of think about everything. Literally. Kind of think about how lyricists right their songs and how I write mine. And change my thoughts so that I'm thinking of something that sounds good and has a nice rythme in my mind. ^^;