Is there a right way to start on a song? Most people will begin by either building/buying a beat or humming out a tune. In today’s article, we’ll discuss which of those two methods you should use and what advantages can be had from them.
Should I Make The Beat or The Melody First?
Frankly, you should start with whatever inspires you the most at that time…whether it’s a melody, a beat, a chord progression, a drum loop, or whatever. While the melody is the more important element of your song, you really can make either the beat or the melody first.
Oftentimes, melodic ideas will flow more easily from your brain if you have some backing music to form a foundation. In the end, you should do what yields the best results based on your creative style.
Of course, your music-making methods are also dependent on your physical resources. If you don’t play/own any instruments and rely on buying beats, then it’s a better idea to pick your beat before you work on melody lines. That way, you won’t spend hours digging through beats, trying to find a match, leaving you too frustrated to be musical.
If you can compose all the elements of your beat or backing track on your own, then it’s far easier to conform it to a melody idea.
Pros of Making/Finding the Beat First
Inspiration and creativity are fickle. Some days you may get two or three amazing melody ideas just while brushing your teeth. Other days you might spend hours at your desk with a guitar and come up with nothing usable. Working from a pre-made beat can give you a gentle nudge in the right direction if your not feeling particularly inspired.
Here are a few reasons why to consider a beat-first approach:
- It’s easier to fit a melody to a beat than the other way around
- Hearing the beat can inspire a melody when you have no other ideas
Fitting a Melody vs Fitting A Beat
It’s easier to fit a melody to a beat than the other way around. The same goes for lyrics, too. What if you compose a gorgeous hook for your chorus, but you can’t find a beat that has enough bars for the whole thing? Or how about writing a tune in ¾ timing? Good luck finding a pre-made beat in anything other than 4/4!
If you lack the skills or equipment to record all the instruments yourself, then you’re better off picking a beat first and saving yourself the frustration.
The same idea can apply to people making their own beats, as well. On more than one occasion I have composed and recorded a beat before I wrote lyrics or a melody…only to find that the lyrics + hook I wanted to use with the beat didn’t fit into the number of bars I had recorded. Then I would have to re-arrange and re-record the beat.
Nudging Your Inspiration
Like I said, we won’t wake up every day ready to pump out bangers. Creativity is dependent on mood and energy levels. I therefore see the beat-first approach as a creativity aid for times when your imagination is fleeting.
Likewise, not all artists can work in a vacuum. Most creative work needs some kind of preliminary stimulus, such as:
- a photo or painting that inspires a musical concept,
- a quote or line of literature that evokes a word painting, or
- another song’s rhythm or theme that stirs up your own idea
So making (or sourcing) a beat could front-run your songwriting process if nothing good is coming to your mind in a blank state.
Pros of Making the Melody First
Despite the points I just made, there are still reasons to consider writing your melody first. They include:
- More harmonic experimentation
- You can’t fall back on chord boxing or pulse
More Harmonic Experimentation
Some intervals are so common that they feel a bit tired. Like a i-vii-vi progression in a minor key or a I-V-VI progression in a major key. Sure, these melody lines will sound fine, but they certainly won’t instill a sense of interest by themselves.
By working on the melody without a preexisting chord progression or beat, you are less likely to conform it’s intervals to expectations. Working from a blank slate will give you wiggle room to experiment with intervals.
This leads closely into my next point…
Free From Chord and Rhythm Expectations
Let’s say you’ve written the lyrics, picked the chord progression, made the beat, and now you’re tasked with fitting a melody to all of it. It’s now more likely that your melody will get boxed into the chords simply out of expectation or musical fatigue.
Likewise, writing the melody first gives you more freedom to experiment with the underlying chords. You can change up the chord progression and see how it alters the mood of the melody.
If you make the beat first, then changing the chords will require re-recording all your accompaniment. In the case of a beat that you bought…that means you’ll have to chop the beat or use a different one altogether.
In What Order Should You Make A Song?
You can compose and arrange a song in any order that suits your workflow. But here are a few common songwriting structures you can try if you don’t know where to start at all:
- Beat – lyrics – melody
- Beat – melody – lyrics
- Melody – lyrics – chords
- Melody – beat – lyrics
The order in which you compose music is best determined by a few personal factors, like:
- Your current creativity level,
- Your music theory experience, and
- Whether or not you are dependent on pre-made beats or can record your own instruments
There is no “right way” to write a piece of music. Whatever methods provides the best results should be your first choice. If you don’t know what method works best for you, then try different techniques to see what feels most fluid: write some melodies and pair chords to them later, find a few beats and practice fitting a melody to them, etc.
Thanks for reading. If you found this helpful, then here here are a few more articles to check out: