Words or Music First

‘What comes first, the words or the music?’ I’ve heard other songwriters ridicule the question, however, if you think about it, the interviewer is not a songwriter and has no idea about what the process is.

There are two schools of thought regarding what comes first words or music. On the one hand, some people feel that lyrics should come first, because the nature of melody makes it more flexible, and so from a practical point of view, one should always write lyrics first. The flip side of that argument is that melody is more important in song and the creation of melody, has to be a fluid process. And so melody should be written first. My take on it, is that songwriting itself is as fluid process and so both melody and words need to have a certain amount of flexibility.

The process is usually very fluid with the words and the music working together in a ‘give and take’ way to make it work. I’ve written many songs on my own and many with co-writers, and in every case there’s a certain adaptability necessary to make the words and music work together.

A lot of this kind of fine-tuning goes on the rewriting of the song. Rewriting cannot be over emphasized and separates the pros from the amateurs. There will be more on rewriting later in the course.

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One thought on “Words or Music First

  1. It happens both ways for me. Sometimes I’ll write the music first and the feeling that the music creates in me inspires the lyric. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. It is a fluid process and don’t think there is any correct answer; I think every songwriter has his/her own process but I will say that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone can allow us to explore new dimensions.

    The re-write? Absolutely! I frequently have to do this to make the music and the lyrics fit together in terms of creating cohesion between the syllable count and rhythmic beats. I’ve wasted too much time trying to “force” things together that just don’t work…and in the end I’m usually glad I did the re-write. I can get really “stuck” if I’m completely “sold-out” to a particular idea. In those cases, I find it’s better to walk away from it for a while and then come back with fresh ears and a new perspective.

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