Do you ever find yourself singing along to the radio in your car, maybe even just silently following a song in your head, and then your mind starts making up new words or melodies to the rhythms and chords of the song? Many songwriters commonly have this experience. It is our creativity at work. It is your inner writer emerging from the depths of your subconscious mind to co-create with the band.
If you have never had this experience, don’t worry, you can consciously try it now from time to time. The advantage of creating new melodies to someone else’s song is that you have a completely finished product, which is starving for your creative input. There will be a structured song form, chord progressions, rhythm section arrangements, and a groove, for a song that was probably selected over tens of thousands of others, as one of the best to put on the radio. And you get to be the new lead singer to writer a melody for it.
You will have to ignore the singer on the recording of course, but you are not looking here to write an entire song with someone else’s music. The goal is to utilize top-notch recordings to jump-start your inner melody writer. You will have a chance to focus exclusively on THE MELODY with a completely finished song.
I sometimes find myself pulling out a bank receipt, or some other random piece of paper while driving, and jotting down lyric ideas that I came up with while playing around with melodies to someone else’s song. Other times I might be at a bar or restaurant and ask the waitress for a pen so that I could jot down my ideas on a napkin quickly before they are forgotten. It could be my lyrics that seem worthy of saving, but many times it is the melodies, with disposable lyrics that I attach to them as placeholders for better crafted ones that I might write later. The lyrics will remind me of the melody when I get home, and then I can write some better words and develop the ideas further.
It is really a cool experience when this happens. Maybe you have been at work and haven’t heard any music yet today, and when you are finally released from the slave driver’s whip, upon hearing some cool songs, your inner songwriter kicks in like a wild tiger demanding to participate.
There may be a few people who are reading this and thinking, isn’t that kind of like stealing other peoples songs? Well, music is in the air everywhere. None of us write songs in a total vacuum. We all hear the music of our times, and we write music that has similarities to the current styles. If we were back in seventeenth century France, we might all be inspired to write local folk songs, or classical compositions, depending on what our social class happened to be. We would certainly not be writing Rock or R&B songs. Today, however, we are all influenced by the popular styles that surround us, and our songs will show some resemblances, unless we are aspiring to write Ragtime, Gypsy dance music music, or some other less common style.
By the time you take the melody that was originally inspired by another song, and transform it at home with your own songwriting skills, it will become a completely different song. All you really need to do is change a couple things, like the tempo, or the chords, to make it sound unique, but you will most likely change many other components of the song as well.
You are simply using this method to kick-start the songwriting process with a catchy phrase or melody, which you can then build out with new chords, song sections, and different grooves, and then develop it into your own unique song.
I encourage you to give this a try anytime you are listening to music. It is a totally valid method of starting a song, and many writers use this technique quite a bit. If we, as songwriters, are going to be subjected to the songs of other artists at random times throughout our days, then we should take advantage of these moments, and rather than simply become passive listeners, we should use the music that surrounds us as vehicles for our own creativity.