In musical theatre, we have lyrics. Would you say, therefore, that you have to make sure you had the tune for this first before you added the brace for the grand staff for the melody and bass line? See, I’m wondering if you could construct a tune first and then go in and add a vocal line? I know it’s been done in the past. Look at Elgar’s LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY (March No. 1). These, however, I think, are rare occasions? It would be much easier no, to have the vocal line melody if we can call it that, first before you added in all the colours and textures of the main tune don’t you think?

See Richard Rodgers was famous for doing the music first, that’s before his partnership with Mr. Hammerstein. I can see this process taking such a long time, however. Say you had this rousing tune you managed to come up with, to then go in and add a vocal line would make this process much harder. Surely it’s much better to have this vocal line first?

  • You seem to be confusing the terminology: a vocal line is a tune (melody) sung by a singer, usually combined with a text (lyrics) (there are also vocal lines without lyrics: look up 'vocalise'). The question would make more sense if you substituted 'lyrics' for 'vocal line'.
    – PiedPiper
    Jun 12, 2020 at 10:05
  • @PiedPiper Apologies - Now edited.
    – cmp
    Jun 12, 2020 at 10:40

1 Answer 1


For any combination of melody and text (song, aria, etc...) there are different approaches to the composition:

  • The lyrics can come first. Most operas are written this way and a lot of musicals (although the composer and lyricist will often sit down together work out a way to make music and lyrics fit).
  • The melody can come first, e.g. Elgar "Pomp and Circumstance March No.1" where the text "Land of Hope and Glory" was added.
  • Singer-songwriters will mostly write lyrics and music simultaneously.

Which method a budding composer chooses is a matter of personal preference vs. external constraints (if you're setting a poem to music, you can't change it).

  • Yes. Thanks very much. But it would be so much harder no to make the music and then add lyrics? The lyrics might suggest something else completely and dependent on how vigorous your tune was, would make this terribly difficult to add in those wonderful words? With musical theatre composers not even orchestrating their own pieces nowadays, with time of the essence, this way of doing things would be counterintuitive no? Perhaps that’s why they say a good composer and lyricist partnership is often like a marriage. Regardless, you have to work together.
    – cmp
    Jun 12, 2020 at 10:39
  • It's probably somewhat harder to add words to a melody than vice versa, but that's exactly the reason that opera and musical composers start with the text.
    – PiedPiper
    Jun 12, 2020 at 13:34
  • Thanks again for your always very detailed answers.
    – cmp
    Jun 12, 2020 at 15:22

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