I was reading various lessons on songwriting, and did not see this view expressed (at least not clearly), but it is intrinsic to my song-writing method, and I wonder if I'm alone in this.

What I do generally is this:
(1) play around with chord progressions on guitar till I find a sequence / rhythm that "speaks to me." I just know, "Hey that sounds really cool and original."
(2) i generally peg this as a "verse" progression, but that can change later. after I've played it a lot, fingerpicked it, played it in some different keys, and gotten really intimate with this progression, I settle on a "favorite" key and then do a few things with that:
(a) solo over it on guitar to get a sense of what melodic phrases I like (there are a ton of options, obviously and this will help narrow / focus the feel of the song)
(b) let some lyrics pop into my mind. A chord progression alone, with no melody, often pulls from me a certain feeling, and some words just seem to fit.
(c) look for a chorus that seems to go with it, playing around with some variations on the progression, substituting relative minors (or majors); changing the order of things.

Now, a, b and c do not necessarily happen in that order.

So, anyway, what I find is if I let some lyrics arise in my mind to go with a chord progression -- even before any soloing -- the lyrics have a built in melody. If I vocalize them while the chord progression is playing, I will automatically put the lyrics into a melody that seems to fit the feeling I'm trying to express, and will be in key.

Then I "reverse engineer" my vocal melody by essentially hunting note by note on my guitar or keyboard for the notes that match each syllable as I'm singing it, jot that down, and that's my melody. (If I had a better ear for notes, this process would probably be less ghetto.) Sometimes I use a tuner app and sing into it and let it tell me what notes I'm singing.

So far, I've been very happy with the melody that comes out this way. It does not feel at all forced. I really never "think" of a melody. I just think of lyrics to go over a chord progression and the lyrics come with a built in melody, like they can only be expressed one way that feels right.

Now most of the song-writing articles on here suggest writing lyrics first, before any music is created (chords, melody, etc.). However, if I just randomly think up some lyrics and try to sing them WITHOUT a chord progression setting a background mood, I feel like the lyrics would not come with a built in melody, but would be malleable and a lot of melodies could be superimposed on them, with different chord progressions / keys / emotional feelings and tensions. To me, that would be a tougher approach. My way feels a lot like some higher power is giving me the melody and I'm channeling that, but doing the lyrics first does not feel like I would be channeling, but rather would be limited to what my own ego wnats to impose at that particular moment. (Sorry if that is overly spiritual / nutty.)

Oh, I guess to wrap up my song-writing technique, I do vary it somewhat. Sometimes I do find a melodic groove while noodling on guitar, or even on bass, that I really like, and a lyrical hook just seems to fit over it. Again, though, I'm not starting with lyrics. Then my chore is to find the right chord progression that fits the melodic hook, which I find tough because it is not like one progression leaps out at me as the best. When I do the progression first, I do find one lyrical melody jumps to me as best, so it's an easier process. Like I'm working downhill.

If I do the verse progression first, then come up with some lyrics which include a built in melody, then I sing them over the chord progression a few times, I also find that at a certain point when I when I reach the end, I just naturally have a chorus lyrical phrase pop into my head, again with a built in melody, and I jot that down, then I do need to figure a chord progression from that (or sometimes it fits over the same progression as the verse, but I still change it up somewhat for variety).

Well, the point of this is that what I really never do, or have done, is have some lyrics I like as a starting point and then come up with a melody, because I feel like lyrics in that context would not have a built in melody and I'm not confident in my ability to figure out a great melody with so many options. But maybe I'm wrong? Maybe even with no chord progression setting the mood, even bare lyrics standing alone tend to call forth an inspired melody from the song-writer?

I'm curious what others think about this idea. Maybe I'm stating the obvious, and just don't have experience talking to other song-writers to know this is true for everyone, which is sort of why I'm posting this, to see how this resonates with others.

Hi there. Both Neil Sedaka and Elliott Smith have described their processes as similar to yours, so I'd say you're onto something!
Often times I write in this fashion as well. Fixating on getting the progressions just right and then I just sing whatever comes to mind. Makes for interesting lyrics haha
I like your method, mostly for the way you start with chord progressions. I don't know what kind of music you listen to but one band I like to follow is Killswitch Engage. Adam D is a really good producer/composer.

I was watching a recent interview as they have gone back to their original singer Jesse Leach. Jesse and Adam were talking about their process and Jesse said that Adam gave him finished music to write lyrics to for the entire album.

Now obviously there is some screaming in there where melody and even phrasing doesn't matter, but they have a very good ear for melodic hooks on their songs.

My point is that I think that writing with chord progressions first is a good way of doing it. I know you feel like a melody is attached to it and I think there is a reason for this. It would be called modes. A mode gets its feeling and organization by tonal centering (What note you are gravitating to for resolve commonly throughout the song).

I feel like if I write a chord progression just because it sounds good, some melodies will jump out at me which match the overall "feeling". Okay music theory overload!!! Anyways this is just an opinion which I have formulated after recently learning some really cool stuff from a college music major who is also a guitarist. He would have a prolific answer for you and be able to demonstrate haha.
I STARTED writing poetry..bought a guitar...decided to write songs wrote down about 6 verses they had a rhythem .when i spoke them mono tone? so i went with it. your not alone!
I find it easy to write different lyrics to other peoples music like weird Al Yankovitch....is that plagorigism
roni - I think it is easy to write lyrics to just about any given music, particularly if it was written for lyrics (like some classical or jazz instrumental stuff might not be so easy or even possible). All you have to do is open yourself up to the feel of the music and start talking/singing. Actually, even if you are somewhat closed to the feel of the music, you can probably come up with lyrics that "fit" the music in terms of timing/rhythm, but you may find others do not connect with your song so much because you did not get lyrics that really fit the emotion of the music.

I wrote a song yesterday using a variation of my system above, and I'm kind of excited about it. Excited about the method, not the song. I'm excited about the song, of course, but I'm not here to plug my music. Anyway, the system I used to come up with it was kind of an accident, but I may repeat it intentionally in the future.

It started out in my usual fashion. I was playing around with chords, and came up with a progression I really liked (D|D|E|F#m), and some variations on it (D|E|F#m|A, and others). I recorded the progressions and then was soloing over them in F#minor pentatonic (since I view the song as in the key of A), to see what melodic lines worked. I found two, one in the high strings, one on the low E string. I was then playing the low melody by itself over and over to lock it down. And then I thought, "I wonder what these notes would sound like as full chords?" So I tried playing them as full chords, and they worked really well, very different from the chord progression I had been soloing over when I came up with this melodic line. This new progression is in the key of F#. It actually confuses me because on paper, it really looks like it should be key of E (to me), but when I play the progression and end on E, it sounds off, but when I end on F# it sounds "home." Go figure. Guess I have more to learn about music theory before I know why this is the case.

Anyway, this new chord progression could be the start of a whole new song, and I really like it. Energetic and lively (most of what I come up with seems to go in a meloncholy / bittersweet direction). Actually now that I write this, I wonder if I should forget making this a new song and instead make it my chorus. It would really change up the mood of the song, but some great songs do that. And if I'm playing this "low melody" during the verse (the original progression) that would sort of "foreshadow" the chorus. Well, it's all kind of abstract since I have not done it to see how it works.

So, the main point was that I'm not so fixated on chord-first songwriting because I think now I can play around with single note melodic lines, find something I like, and then engineer a good chord progression from it. Whether I do chords first or melody first, I'm now kind of seeing the process as the same, like two sides of the same coin. Now if I truly wrote words first and then started on the music, that would be different, but maybe not so different from a melody-first approach, so maybe I'll play around with that, too.

mikey: I agree with you about the mode thing. When I first started writing my own stuff, I'd come up with a chord progression I really liked and to me the song would have a distinct feel/sound just from the progression alone. But when I played it for others, it was like an artist showing a blank canvas, they did not really get the feel of the song from the chord progression / strum pattern alone. When I started working out the words I felt came from the progression, and then worked out the melody in those, I found I was generally in some mode other than ionian (sp?), which I understand has a major impact on the feel of the music. So apparently, I was already feeling a mode when I first came up with the chord progression, but no one I played the progression for knew that or felt it until I actually played the melodic line over the chords.

I wonder how the music arrived at through this kind of process -- using the ear and feeling -- compares to music arrived at by people who know a ton of music theory and work out "Okay if we have this note here, we should resolve it here, and so we should play this chord to do that..." My general understanding / assumption is that very academic musicians steeped in theory write music like this, where it's almost (or actually is) a mathematical / logical process.

Last edited by krm27 at May 16, 2013,