To put the music part over lyrics – ever wanted to compose this way? Or was it always easier the other way ’round? You probably often wondered what comes first for an artist, lyrics or music. Well, the answer is, it can work both ways. Now let’s check out the former one and try to fit some music over a short phrase.
Lyrics first – no problem
Our example will be the following line: “Johnny had a bun for breakfast.” It might sound banal or downright silly, but for our purposes it will do the job, so you’ll be able to make it work over any lyrics you write or otherwise encounter later.
For starters, let’s try to find the natural rhythm of our phrase. If you say it out loud, it will sound something like ti-ri-ti-ri ti ti ti ti, kind of. Which looks like this:
The next step is to find some melody notes for every syllable we have. Don’t forget, you really can use just about any notes you want, if it sounds a bit strange, you can always repeat it to make it sound more familiar to the listener. I have chosen the following notes, in the key of A major:
Finally, we can harmonize our little musical phrase. It’s up to you again what you do, how many and what kind of chords you use. As long as you try to resolve any tension you created earlier, chances are that your music will sound good and pleasant for the audience. For our little example, I have used the following chords:
In case you would like to play these chords on your guitar, you can use these chord shapes:
I hope the above helped to demystify one way of diving into this craft. Putting some music over existing lyrics is a valid compositional method.