Good composition can’t be forced. I’ve learned this lesson well. It’s a letdown to realize I can’t just write a song when I want to, when I have the time to devote to it. Maybe if I were a more talented composer I could write music on command, but so far, composition creeps in when I least expect it.
For me, a song begins with melody.
Melodies come to me embodying an emotion that I’ve been carrying around either from my own life or from empathizing with others’ experiences. It is that melodic expression of emotion that gives life to my songs—guides the backdrop chord structure, harmony, and rhythm.
Some of my most prolific melody writing has come to me upon waking, taking a shower, and cleaning the dishes. At first, I was confused by the seemingly random time melody ideas pop in my head. Then I thought perhaps it is in instances that I am more relaxed I am better able to receive musical inspiration, to allow emotion to surface.
Whatever the reason, when melody arrives, it waits for no one. It can be so fleeting that I’ve learned to immediately record the idea on my phone or computer so that I can return to it later on when it is more convenient for me to sit down and compose. I can’t tell you how many times I failed to record a melody line because I thought, “This is so great, there’s no way I’ll forget it.” Ha ha ha. Oh, irony.
These days, finals are near and I’m spending most of my time studying and hardly any time at my piano. It is the least ideal time for me to spend composing, but if history is any example, it is exactly these inconvenient times a melody will drift into my life and demand my attention—at least for a little while. So here’s to the season of finals! May it bring unbelievably beautiful melodies to life!
How do you compose melodies? Do they come to mind first for you when you write a song?