Shane Adams is a twice Grammy-nominated music educator, an award-winning producer, and songwriter. Shane is president of Artist Accelerator and is a founding instructor for Berklee Online, where he has taught lyric writing and songwriting since 2003. He teaches several courses at Berklee Online, including Music Production, Songwriting, Orchestration, Music Theory, Harmony, Ear Training, and Arranging. Shane is also a featured songwriter and instructor for the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum where he received their TOP TEN HITMAKER award for 2014.

In this video series, Shane Adams offers eight songwriting tips for making your melodies stronger.

1. Use Unexpected Melodies

The most important quality in songwriting is melody. If you want your melody to stand out, you shouldn’t be afraid to try notes other than the most common notes used in any key (the root or the 5th of the scale). Berklee Online instructor Shane Adams demonstrates what he refers to as the “color” notes, which are notes that stand out to the listener because they provide a certain degree of dissonance. These color notes are generally the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th notes of the scale. Starting on the 2nd of the scale makes any melody more interesting and adds dissonance. Try this out and see what it does for your melody, and for your song.

2. Add Color and Contrast

If you’re writing too many of your songs just using major triads, your listeners may start to get bored. The way to color and contrast harmonies is by transforming major triads into suspended chords. And when you’re considering the bass note of your chord, going with the 3rd note in the scale can add more color than simply using the root note in the bass. In this next video, Shane showcases how to transform your songs by switching up the harmonies.

3. Lyrics Change Emotions

Making emotional decisions about your songs can be a challenge, but making the right choice can be the difference between writing a four-star song and a five-star song. In the lyrics of five-star songs, the character of the song changes emotions, and goes from feeling one way to another. Making this transition will give you a three-dimensional character that lesser songs don’t have. All you have to do is pick two emotions, as long as your character has a transformative experience.

In the lyrics of the greatest songs, the character of the song changes emotions, and goes from feeling one way to another. Making this transition will give you a three-dimensional character that lesser songs don’t have. #SongwritingTips… Click To Tweet

4. Switch up the Six Melodic Shapes

One way for you as a songwriter to make your song more interesting is to use different melody shapes. First, analyze your in-progress song, and figure out what melody shape you have already used. Then, choose from any of the six melody shapes that you haven’t yet used. Have you used a zigzag melody shape yet? How about an arch shape or an inverted arch? Try an ascending melody or a descending melody. Even a single-note melody could switch up the song for listeners. Or try combining these shapes! By tweaking the shape of your melody and having contrasting melody shapes in each part of your song, your songs will improve immensely.

5. Use New Chords to Harmonize Your Melodies

In this next video, Shane shows you a songwriting trick he uses to get outside of his comfort zone: To change up your melodies when writing a song, use a note from the melody as the basis for the chord you want to find. Start with your original progression, and then take a single note from the melody and plug it into different chords where the note appears.


You can also use the melody note as the second note in the next chord in the progression. You’ll be surprised by how different it can make your song sound with these new chord progressions. Experimenting with this process will energize your harmony and/or the chord progression in your song.

6. Inject Your Lyrics with Drama and Conflict

Most songwriters write the parts of a song in chronological order. Shane encourages you to try abandoning this old habit! Start at the most emotional part of the narrative, and fill in the blanks later in the song. No matter where you start writing—the verse, the chorus, the bridge—the first lyrics the listener hears should be loaded with emotions, drama, or conflict. By bringing in more emotional language for the actions being taken in the song, you’re connecting more with the listeners.

7. Don’t Start on the Downbeat

Most songwriters always start their songs on the downbeat, but if you want to try something different, to make your songs stand out, shift your melody to beats 3, 4, or 5. Shane explains that by shifting your melody to different beats, you create more contrast in your song. Even a simple melody can be more interesting just by starting it on different beats. The chief reason this method works: More anticipation for the listeners!

8. Change up Your Harmonic Rhythm

When we talk about harmonic rhythm we mean the distance between the chords you’re playing. Most songwriters use symmetrical harmonic rhythms, where each chord is spaced evenly from the next chord. In this final video in this series, Shane talks about changing up the rhythms of your chords. One way of doing this is to play an asymmetrical rhythm. You can play one chord for one beat, the next chord for three beats, etc. This works especially well with four-chord patterns, six-chord patterns, and eight-chord patterns. When you do this in your songs, you’re doing something a majority of other songwriters aren’t doing, and if you can make it sound good, it will make your song stand out!