6 Songwriting Tips for Finding Melodies in the Space Around You

6 Songwriting Tips for Finding Melodies in the Space Around You _ SongFancy, songwriting tips and inspiration for the contemporary lady singer songwriter

Life is busy and loud. Those of us who live in cities are constantly surrounded by the noise from cars, voices, music, HVACs, sirens and the vestiges of nature. Those of us who live in quieter locales hear the songs of nature or industry: the wind, birds, rain, river barges, trains, and semi truck brakes.

There are melodies all around us, even in the silence we may be lucky enough to experience once in a while.

It is up to us to harvest them, to memorialize them and to put them to use. The world and the mind itself can be sources of constant inspiration and provide fruitful and nearly constant ideas if we allow ourselves to listen and create.

There are melodies all around us, even in the silence we may be lucky enough to experience once in a while.

Here are a few tips that I find useful in my day to day life that help me find amazing melodies:

6 tips for finding melodies in the space around you | SongFancy

1. Give yourself space to really listen to yourself

Find some silence in the everyday. Tune out what surrounds you and really listen to what is happening in your mind. When there is no time to sit in quiet, utilize the time you spend in the bath or shower, on a commute, walking the aisles of the grocery store, or while you are on the way to sleep. Sometimes these melodies come completely out of the blue, when you are in the middle of something (see below). The important part is knowing when to shut out the noise. I am guilty of near constant music in the background of my life but sometimes even shutting it off for 10 minutes leads to me thinking of something new.

2. Give yourself space to listen to the world around you

You can find melody in overheard conversations, in wind chimes, in sirens, in the humming of an HVAC. Melodies can be found to the tossing and ticking of a dryer, the purr of a dishwasher, the roaring of a train. Keeping an open ear at all times allows one to start thinking of the world in song.

6 tips for finding melodies in the space around you | SongFancy

3. Meditate on a looped track

If you are working from an already created track, allowing yourself to sit and think deeply about the track as it repeats itself helps you become entranced in it and to dig deeper. When collaborating, I sometimes find this difficult as other folks are asserting melodic ideas at the same time so if I am not alone, I often walk around out of ear shot of others but still within listening range of the track to be able to think clearly. Sometimes I take ideas that I’ve heard others mulling about and build on them and come back to the table with something cohesive.

4. Doodle on your instrument

This is one of my personal favorite ways to find a melody. I was recently reminded of the scene in “Eat, Pray, Love” when the main character espouses upon the beauty of doing nothing. When I have time to “do nothing”, I often doodle on whatever instrument might be lying around, even if I am not a master of that instrument. I can’t play accordion to save my life but there have been quite a few times that I’ve picked one up and doodled long enough to pick up a motif or little melodic line that I can carry forward. There are plenty of phone and computer applications that are helpful for recording ideas for times when there are people around who might not care to hear your doodling.

5. Let the words lead you

When starting from the written word, sometimes the lines show the melody where to go. Great lyrics are often very conversational and there is beautiful melody in the cadence of the human voice in every day dialect. Using the phrasing and the peaks and valleys is often a great starting point. I have a phone full of melodies and a notebook and iPhone full of lyric notes and if I’m stuck in a doctor’s office or on a train, I will often take the time to thumb through the ideas to see if any of them lock up well together.

6 tips for finding melodies in the space around you | SongFancy

6. Take the time to record every melody you find (even if it is embarrassing)

Often when I am driving the words, “Hey Siri! Open Voice Memos” comes rushing out as I fumble to record some little line of melody that I’ve found in traffic. Don’t have voice memos on your phone? There are other apps for songwriters out there to help you out!

Sometimes they come to mind at inconvenient times.

Earlier this year, I was in the middle of signing the final financial documents on a new car and as I sat making cordial small talk with the financial fellow, out of nowhere I was struck by some line and I abruptly excused myself to the restroom. I stood in a stall for longer than I’d like to admit until I was alone so that I could record 20 seconds of myself repeating the melody to make sure that I did not forget it. It has since found its way in to a song and I still feel awkward about taking so long in the bathroom (but am grateful I did).

Recording every thought that I hear or find has not been second nature to me. I have to work to remember. It is only out of frustration for what is likely hundreds of lost ideas that I have come to a place that I am practicing what I am preaching.

Recording every thought that I hear or find has not been second nature to me. I have to work to remember.

Saved melodies can lead in the crafting of a brand new song or perhaps fit in to a write that is already well on its way. Not only is it super handy to have these available in a pinch (aka a cowrite that is seemingly going nowhere), it also ensures that they do not evaporate in to the ether for another writer to find.

Sometimes the world provides melodies for you. Sometimes they come from times of quiet and fun creativity and collaboration. Sometimes you have to work your ass off for them. For me, there has never been a formula to speak of but my best work has always come from listening and interacting with the world around me.

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Erin McAnally

Erin McAnally

Erin McAnally Utley is a writer of prose and song as well as a consultant living between Nashville, TN and Los Angeles, CA. Raised in both Muscle Shoals, AL and Nashville, Erin has crafted an extensive career in the music industry and is continuously refining her expertise. Her work includes developing major marketing campaigns for clients, directing events and symposiums, copywriting, and developing and teaching artist empowerment seminars for creatives. Erin also writes music with her writer/producer husband, Mick Utley. Check out one of their recent collaborations with pop artist, Athena and a prose piece published in the Nashville Scene. Instagram: @smalldrinkofwater Twitter: @smalldrink