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Lyric, Melody, Harmony, Rhythm - By Tom Leu
I recently saw an interview with Lenny Kravitz describing the new release from singer/songwriter, Alicia Keys. He stated that her Grammy nominated music “has the lyric, the melody, the chord progression, and rhythmic elements that just draw you in and you can’t ignore.” These are pretty strong accolades from an artist who has been successfully combining these songwriting components together for years. Let’s take a look at each briefly.

Lyric. What are you talking (or singing) about? Sounds simple, but often is anything but. Some people are lyric sensitive and others are not. I for one am more captivated by profound melody than profound lyric. However, I do prefer both, and secretly expect great lyrics to great melody. When the great lyrics do appear and knock us out, we remember again how powerful words can be. Lyrics should tell a story or capture a feeling without seeming like it. Often, less is more but not always. Using uncommon words or phrases to paint mind movies without sounding pretentious is a tricky prospect to say the least. Study the lyric styles of your favorite artists to learn and be inspired.

Melody. Along with the lyric, this is the essential part of a song. A melody is like a rainbow that contains the ebb and flow of notes that move you through emotions like few other art forms. The hook of a song is usually written within the melody. The “tune” as it’s often called, is that melody you walk around humming all day. The choice of major or minor keys will influence the texture and feel of a melody and harmony. Marrying an interesting lyric with a strong melody (regardless of style) is the foundation of great songwriting.

Harmony or chord progression if you will. This is the framework that offers the support and/or contrast to the lyric and melody. The bed of music that the melody fluently cascades over will influence the direction and feel of a song. The combinations of chords and keys are actually finite, but seemingly endless. Experiment writing in different keys. Just as colors have different shades and hues, music can paint different pictures depending on the harmony you choose. Oh look, I made a rhyme. Onto rhythm.

Rhythm is the groove, the feel, the time signature and tempo of the song or music. Rhythm can dictate or suggest a style, or genre of a piece of music. Rhythm adds the flavor and spice to your melody and harmony. Some songs contain signature rhythms that define the song and may contain the hook. Think of Phil Collins’ “I Don’t Care Anymore” as an example. The impact of creative and interesting rhythm as a songwriting technique should not be overlooked.

The Bottom Line: Entire books are written about these topics with all of their intricacies. The purpose here is to get you to think about these areas (again), in possible new ways. A great book for beginners and pro’s alike is The Craft and Business of Songwriting by John Braheny. Writing music can be one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences there is. Sharpen your skills, study the greats, and create your own masterpieces!

Tom Leu - The Musicians Corner
For hundreds of techniques & strategies to market, promote, and sell your music more efffectively, more often...check out Money, Marketing, & Myths Inside the Musician’s Corner Volume One by Tom Leu at

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