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Thread: Do you compose forward, backwards or both?

  1. #1
    dreamsound2's Avatar
    dreamsound2 is offline Junior Member
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    Question Do you compose forward, backwards or both?

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    In other words do you start with a vocal melody and lyrics and then add backing music to that OR do you start with backing music (guitar, bass, piano, synth) and then add a vocal melody with lyrics?

    I'm writing a whole article on this here, let me know if you have any suggestions:

  2. #2
    tojo is offline Force of Nature
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    instrumentation first, almost ALWAYS

    p.s. there are many threads on this... I tried starting one, and then someone told me the same thing. search it.

  3. #3
    icystorm Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by dreamsound2 View Post
    In other words do you start with a vocal melody and lyrics and then add backing music to that OR do you start with backing music (guitar, bass, piano, synth) and then add a vocal melody with lyrics?

    I'm writing a whole article on this here, let me know if you have any suggestions:
    There are differing opinions.

    I prefer:

    idea ... title ... music ... melody ... lyrics

    That's the order in which I almost always write. On occasion, I have conceived of a melody and lyrics first, but I have never been able to compose backing music after imagining the melody and music first. I'm not talented enough, I suppose.

    There are some very talented musicians and songwriters in this forum with advanced abilities and talents. They can probably offer much more insight.


  4. #4
    dementedchord is offline Psychotic State alumni ch
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    Quote Originally Posted by dreamsound2 View Post
    I'm writing a whole article on this here, let me know if you have any suggestions:
    get a job doing something you understand???
    37.8% of all statistics are made up on the spot...

    hey give a guy some room... people are trying to evolve here... for crying out loud...

  5. #5
    Whatmysay's Avatar
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    You are making some big assumptions about ‘completeness’ and the evolution of the song.

    I start with
    Lyrics (sometimes Ch hook, sometimes opening lines)
    Riffs (guitar/keys/mandolin/bass)
    Progressions (guitar/keys)
    Beats & Bass.

    Sometimes the music will finish before the lyrics; sometimes most of the words are done before I pick up an instrument.

    My point is before the song is done the music, lyrics, instrumentation, arrangement, recording and mixing have all influenced each other. I do go through a clinical phase with the lyrics where I check that the ideas are clearly expressed, connected and engaging and on occasions I have completely trashed all the lyrics held onto the music and rewritten lyrics at a latter date. However the music evolved through the original lyrics not as an exercise in musical composition

    I do not think I compose in a line – so there is no fwds or bwds – it is more of a lateral process for me.
    [QUOTE=dhollmusik;3463888] That is irresponsible posting, and reads like scaremongering.[/QUOTE]

  6. #6
    gecko zzed's Avatar
    gecko zzed is offline audio illusion
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    The process, for some people, is linear. Joseph gave an example of a linear approach: "idea ... title ... music ... melody ... lyrics"

    If we accept that Joseph has captured the main ingredients with his nice summation, then we can dwell on various combinations of these for a while.

    For example, it is possible to have "idea . . . lyrics . . . melody . . . music . . . title", an equally valid way of producing a song. In fact, as there are five ingredients, there are 5! (factorial five) combinations, i.e. 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 120 possible, and equally valid, ways of assembling a song in linear fashion. Some might argue that the number of combinations should be fewer, because logically, you would start with an idea first. This is not always the case. Sometimes I've had no idea for a song, but a phrase or a melody pops into my head and I build something from that, not really knowing what it is going to be about until later. However, I concede that it would be exceedingly rare (though not entirely inconceivable) to get through a sequence such as "title . . . melody . . . music . . . lyrics . . . idea".

    However, as Burt (Whatmysay) notes, not all songs are created linearly. Sometimes these ingredients emerge in parallel, with the development of the lyrics running alongside the development of melody, with each influencing the other. At other times you might create a chorus, or a verse, from which you construct the basis of a song, then find the rest of the words later. Sometimes you can plunder your own resources, and marry a middle eight of an old song with one you are creating.

    When Dreamsound2 states "There are two ways of composing, forwards and backwards", he is broadly right in that, quite often, a songwriter will work on a set of lyrics, perhaps alongside the melody, before determing the structure (forwards), or create the music and write the lyrics after (backwards). However, this generalisation is not very helpful, because there are so many other ways in which a song can be crafted, and in the context of the article, even less helpful, because of its didactic nature: there are two ways (no more, no less) of composing, as opposed to something that acknowledges the diversity of this art: "two common ways of writing songs are . . .".

    There are other problems with the article, which I won't dwell on too much, but the main points are:

    1 the art of songwriting is not easily encapsulated in three and a half paragraphs. I would balk at the task of trying to summarise it in a short article like that.

    2 the article mixes up songwriting and recording techniques (para 4). Arranging a song is an artform in itself, and so is recording that arrangement.

    3 and I am puzzled by this recommendation: "I also recommend a regular tape recorder which you can output back to your DAW and get the original saturation and warmth from regular tape." The purpose of getting a regular tape recorder was, I thought, to capture ideas. A casette walkman or a dictaphone was handy for this sort of thing . . . you know . . . you're driving along somewhere and you get this melody in your head . . . and it's vanished by the time you get a chance to do anything with it. There are more sophisticate devices around now for that. But for getting "the orignal saturation and warmth"? I don't buy it.

  7. #7
    rayc's Avatar
    rayc is offline retroreprobate
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    It appears you're offering an opinion piece rather than an article of fact (let alone faith).
    I'll offer my ideas but only on the guarantee that you'll :
    quote me accurately;
    triple cross reference all ideas put forward in your article as fact;
    provide examplars, (aural &/or written) of recommendations you use:
    provide me with a copy of the article prior to the publication for scrutiny
    prove to me that you can & do write songs well.
    Cheers rayC
    Pygmy Beat's 1st album is here:CD or Digital Download

  8. #8
    Denus is offline Newbie
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    My song-writing

    Interesting question...

    I think it would be a mistake for us to try and formulate our writing for any other reason than as an exercise. My tunes come from all over the place... usually, I sit on an idea for a really long time, because I really want my songs to speak, but yesterday, while on an airplane without an iPod, and then while playing video games, I came up with and got down 3 separate ideas on staff paper and a mini disc recorder and they are going to make great songs. They are just bits and pieces, a 2 bar repeating chord progression w/ melody over-top, an outro hook (chords and mel), etc. But usually, the chords and melody accompany each other, and I "hear" them in my head at the same time. Having a background in and love for great jazz composers such as Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter have really strengthened my inner ear, so that when a melody pops into my head, there is automatically a chord progression underneath. My writing sky-rocketed with a little better understanding of harmony outside the conventional pop world, which is what I write 90% of my tunes for.

    Other times, a progression will come in my head. Then I'll just start humming trying to find the melody. Usually, the rhythm of the melody lends itself to a certain lyric, which then becomes a working concept for the song.

    Lyrics are always the bear for me, but I feel no rush to hurry my art. If I don't like the line that is stuck in my head then I just sit on it until a new one comes out.

    Songs are stories of life... I prefer to let them unfold in a like-fashion.

  9. #9
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    Everything I've seem to have written has been chords first. I can't come up with a vocal melody first very often.

  10. #10
    mikeh is offline 2.5K Gold Member
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    Most of the time, I develop a chord progession which then leads to an idea for a melody. While I hum/scat the melody some lyrics come to me, often including the lyrical hook which often becomes a title. From there it is simply a matter of writing/re-writing until I have a "song"

    Less often, I will develop a riff/musical hook and then develop the chord progression from there - with lyrics being last.

    Only once or twice have I written lyrics first and then developed a melody/harmony from there (although I have writen a few songs for lyrics provided to me from someone else.....although I do not find this come very easy to me).

    I think most songwriters have songs start in many different ways - you simply have to be open to the muse when it hits....regardless of what some first.

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