Which Comes First, Melody or Lyrics?

Step Lively
L-R Singer and actor Frank Sinatra joins lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne and arranger and pianist Axel Stordahl in the studio in a publicity still for the RKO movie 'Step Lively' in 1944 in Los Angeles, California. Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

When writing a song, which do you think should come first, melody or lyrics?

The answer here is "it depends," some find it easier to come up with a melody first while others feel it's easier to begin with lyrics. Still, there are those who can create melody and lyrics at the same time.

Personally, I find that melodies come more naturally to me than the lyrics; although there were times when both the music and words came to me with less effort.

If you're thinking of writing a song but don't know where to begin, try going to a quiet room in your house (the bedroom, study, etc.), make sure you have a pen, paper and voice recorder next to you, then close your eyes and see which comes first.

If words begin pouring out, grab your pen and paper and start jotting it down. Don't edit your thoughts or re-read it, just let your thoughts flow; you'll be surprised at what you've written. If a melody suddenly pops into your head, get that voice recorder and start humming the tune; this way that sudden burst of inspiration will not be lost.

Did You Know?

Sammy Cahn was an Academy Award-winning lyricist who wrote the words to many unforgettable songs including "Three Coins in the Fountain," "All the Way" and "Call Me Irresponsible." Although he could play several instruments, Cahn focused on lyric writing. He collaborated with composers like Jule Styne, Saul Chaplin, and Jimmy Van Heusen to add music to his lyrics and vice versa. He wrote songs for Broadway musicals, films and for vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Doris Day.