SONGWRITING: Working out melodies for songs (more tips)

Was talking to another friend about a week ago, helping her write something for a song she wrote. Sometimes, she would be working out melodies and lyrics and I’d hear her ramble on… the vocals just didn’t really have a chance to “breathe”.


Tips I gave her (and believe me, these work wonders, and on a personal note, we finished the song… and it turned out awesome):


1. Sing the lyrics in the same way you’d speak a sentence… don’t put too many words in there, or pause in an awkward way before singing another line.

2. Let the singer BREATHE between lines. Fans of the song who sing along with it will greatly appreciate the pause, so they can catch their breath.

3. Pausing after sung lines doesn’t just help you not lose your breath (as the performer or person singing along), it also does two things, and well:

A. It lets the listener reflect on what they just heard, and think about the meaning behind what you just sang.

B. It lets the listener anticipate what they’re going to hear next… it creates a tiny bit of anticipation, which can make the listener like the song even more.


These three simple tips work WONDERS, believe me. And I struggle with writing vocal melodies for my songs CONSTANTLY. When I think about these simple tips… I actually make some mad progress on songs. And you will, too.



About chriscaulder

Posted on November 6, 2013, in songwriting, writing melodies. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Good advice. Let those lyrics breathe!

  2. nickhaynesmusic

    Good ideas. I notice when performing a song if I haven’t left enough space, but when writing it isn’t always so obvious.

  3. I agree that pauses/breathing time in melody lines are important, but it is not always easy to get an idea across in a short phrase before a natural pause. Rather than create anticipation for the listener, pauses in the middle of lyrical sentences can sound weird to me. Do you have any tips for lyric writing in those instances where you need to quickly get an idea across (i.e. finish a sentence) before the pause/breath?

    • Not sure. Unless I heard the incomplete idea, it’s hard to imagine what you need done.

      Phrases don’t have to be short, per se… they just have to pause at the right time. Think about the Letters to Cleo song “Here and Now”… there are very few pauses (and short) and the lyrics are squished together in the verse AND the chorus… lots of fast-sung lines, little pauses. Same is true with Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life”… barely any pauses. It just depends on the context of the song. If you need to throw in a pause in the middle of a LONG lyrical sentence, it’s best to throw it in where it sounds like two separate thoughts, such as the line “I never really knew if you wanted me or not, but these flowers you just sent answered my question” (I’m just making this line up, whatever)… the pause should be between “not” and “but”, or “not” and “these”… Again, unless I could hear your incomplete idea, it’s hard to say what the lyrics need.

      Here’s another thing that just popped in my head, that’s a long lyric idea split into three parts… John Mayer’s “Why Georgia”

      I am driving up (route) 85 in the kind of morning that lasts all afternoon, just stuck inside the gloom.

      That’s LONG… but the pause happens a lot through that sentence…. and the longest one is before the “just stuck inside the gloom.”

      Hope this helps… 🙂

      • hey thanks for the response. it definitely is difficult just describing my question to you without singing a demonstration! but i think you actually sorta answered my question, or got me thinking of a new solution. sometimes i can focus too much on trying to finish an idea before a pause instead of being open to carrying it through to a later point in the song. anyway, thanks for your thoughts!

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