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Thread: Questions/Help with music composition

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    Questions/Help with music composition

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    Hi, I'm new to the forums so let me first provide a little background information. I've been playing guitar for 10+ years and have been in several bands. In high school (8 years ago) I began using my computer to record music and slowly transitioned into a more electronic based songs. Well, I've grown up quite a bit and now crave more fundamental natural music. Anyway, on to my question.

    When the bands I was in broke up or whatever and I began writing everything on my own it was great. The smallest achievement felt like a milestone. Back then if someone asked me how many "songs" I'd written, I would have said hundreds. But to be honest, in the four or five years I've been producing music (or whatever you want to call it) I've only written maybe 6 whole/complete songs.

    I have hundreds of great melodies or ideas that I've always wanted to turn into complete songs, but I struggle and end up abandoning them. It wasn't until 8 months ago that I began recording again (women trouble, great inspiration ). I'm more focused now and want to write songs, not snippets. So I come to you, people of the internet for help.

    I have no problem with intros and verses. Hell sometimes I can come up with a chorus I'm not ashamed of, but a lot of the times my music is so short sighted. It'll just consist of the same 3 or 4 chord progressions in different variations. In the past I'd lie to myself and say I didn't want to be rigid in my compositions, and that there wasn't a formula to writing music. I still agree with that, but the few songs I've been able to write that have verses, a chorus, a bridge, and an outro are so much more interesting. They sound like real songs and not some guys sad attempt at a hobbie.

    For example, right now I'm working on a piece that starts with a little guitar melody revolving around an E minor and A. I've built some nice bass lines around it along with a rhythm section and leads. I love the feel of this one, but can't break out of this 2 chord progression without losing the tone I want.

    I don't know much about music theory and hope that perhaps that could help. So any advice or information anyone could steer me towards would be greatly appreciated. In the past I realize it was much easier to write music with other people, but that's not an option right now.

    Thanks,
    Golgi Body

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    For example, right now I'm working on a piece that starts with a little guitar melody revolving around an E minor and A. I've built some nice bass lines around it along with a rhythm section and leads. I love the feel of this one, but can't break out of this 2 chord progression without losing the tone I want.

    I don't know much about music theory and hope that perhaps that could help. So any advice or information anyone could steer me towards would be greatly appreciated. In the past I realize it was much easier to write music with other people, but that's not an option right now.
    Not quite sure what your question is Gogli Body. You have a guitar melody in E Minor and it modulates to A Major? You want to know how to transition the modulation without losing the overall tonal integrity of the piece?

    You said, "I don't know much about music theory and hope that perhaps that could help." What could help? The fact that you don't know much about music theory? I would say it's quite the contrary. Granted, you don't have to be a conservatory educated musicologist to write good music but having a grasp of music theory makes things a hell of a lot easier. If you have a knowledge of chord construction, even just triads, then you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble when you're trying to harmonize and arrange your songs.

    I'm trained in piano not guitar but I studied the works of the great composers and whenever I'm having difficulties in the pieces that I'm composing, I think back to my training. I try to remember what Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach did when they had similar dificulties and I just do what they did but with my own twist of course.

    If you're asking about the song you're working on, I guess I would have to hear it in order to give you advice but if you're asking about whether or not you should take a course or pick up a book about music theory, I would say do it. Do it, especially if you're a solo act because now you don't have others to help out with all that annoying arranging and harmonizing stuff. Think of it this way, you could get from point A to point B by walking? (a musician with no music theory knowledge) or you could get to point B by driving (a musician with music theory knowledge) Both ways are correct, but which way is quicker and easier? Always remember: the more you know, the more you know.

    Good luck to you.
    Last edited by sonicpsyops; 07-22-2007 at 15:25.

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    Hey, welcome to the board.

    Sonic, I don't think he was saying that his song modulates from Em to A. I think he was saying he has a song with an Em - A chord progression, and he was wanting to know where to go from there.


    In case you're interested: technically, that's a Dorian progression (it's hard to say for sure without hearing it, but I'm 99% sure). It's based around the E Dorian mode, which is a scale that's spelled E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D. (These are the same notes that are in a D major scale; it's just that you're making E the tonic note instead of D.) Another very famous Dorian progression is "Mary Jane's Last Dance" by Tom Petty, though that's in a different key: A Dorian. The essence of Dorian harmony is basically a minor i chord (tonic chord, in your case Em) with a major IV chord (in your case A major).

    Anyway, if you're looking for somewhere else to go, I'd suggest trying a C major chord (or Cmaj7) after the A to start a new section. Other chords in the new section might be G, D or D/F#, Bm or B.

    By moving to a C chord, you'd kind of be moving back into E natural minor (instead of E Dorian). The movement between the Dorian sound and the natural minor sound is another common device. You can hear this in "Eleanor Rigby" and "Drive" (by Incubus). Consequently, both of those songs are in the same key as your song.

    Good luck -- hope this helps.
    famous beagle

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    You don't have to be an expert on music theory to write songs, but you at least should try to learn the basic stuff like what the meaning of a "key" is and how to determine what key you are writing in and what chords fit well in that key. There are tons of sites on the web you can consult, but if you have a few bucks to spend the following may help you along:

    http://amazon.com/o/ASIN/1593376529/

    This is the book (with CD) I am using to learn more about theory -- I am sure there are others that are as good or better.

    http://www.amazon.com/Chord-Wheel-Ul...dp/0634021427/

    This is a really handy tool when you are searching for that next chord in a song.

    Another thing to consider is getting some keys. In my case, getting a cheapy home keyboard is what got me started learning theory. These days, all songs begin there and the guitar playing waits until recording time.

    Good luck,
    Tom

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    I think most people who are "novice" composers (no insult meant by the word novice) tend to depend on the standard 3 and 4 chord progressions (I-IV-V or I-vi-IV-V, etc). Often when starting to develop melodies it is so easy to hear a melody that follows those types of chords changes - and it can become too much of a comfort zone.

    If you make a point of learning the key you are writing (more often than not the chord you start and end the song on) and then learn the scale of that key - there is a good chance that most of the chords you need for a composition will involve those chords (in particular the I-ii-IV-V & vi). In addition learn the relative minor and major keys C=Am, etc - and you have a fair amount of chords to start with.

    Obviously, learning songs that have been written by great writers can give you an insight into chord progressions, passing chords, etc that you may not think of on your own. A great way to learn Songwriting 101 is to make up words to existing songs (just to learn phrasing, etc).

    A great piece of advice that was shared with me many years ago was "don't write melodies to fit your vocal range". Most of us are rather limited as vocalists - if we write melodies that we can sing, those melodies may be limited to our limited range and accordingly it may limit the direction of the melody, which in turn will limit the harmony (chords) which will work with the melody.

    On the other hand - if we write melodies which offer more adventure (even if we can't hit all the notes) the composition may benefit both from the wider melodic structure and from the enhanced harmonic structure needed to support the melody.

    Naturally, the advice about not writing to one's vocal range is based on someone who wants to be a songwriter vs. a singer/songwriter.
    Last edited by mikeh; 07-23-2007 at 15:44.

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    Thanks for all of the replies. I wasn't really asking for help about the particular piece I'm working on right now, but just trying to give everyone an idea of where I tend to struggle. Basically, I can come up with little riffs that I enjoy, but have trouble moving into different patterns without losing the original feel that I liked in the first place.

    When I write, I usually come up with a neat little riff, record it, then build around it (e.g. bass, lead, drums). Perhaps that's just a poor way of approaching things as I tend to get side tracked with all the other parts and have trouble transitioning into a constructive song with a chorus and bridge.

    I've been playing the guitar for a long time and was taught all the modes (phrygian, mixolydian, dorian, aeolian, etc...), but never really used them for anything, but soloing/improvising. I feel kind of embarrassed that I never thought of incorporating these notes into the rhythm and chord progressions. I've always been kind of lazy and just played by ear, never considering much of the theory I've been taught. I vaguely remember the circle of fifths. That is the whole I IV V thing right?

    Anyway, thanks for the advice and recommendations.

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    The circle of 5ths does in part tie in to the I-IV-V - when I mentioned the I-IV-V, this referred to the 1st, 4th and 5th tone of a scale (as an example in C major this would be C-F-G. Since G is the 5th of C - the circle of 5ths does apply.

    If you've had some theory you have the tools to develop chord progressions, etc. around your riffs - you just need to find the right motivation.

    For what's it's worth, when I write on guitar it is often move riff driven and then I too have to figure out how to develop chord progressions and melody lines to make sense with the riffs - whereas when I write on keyboard, I tend to write from more of a melody/harmony perspective and the chords come more naturally. I think guitar often lends itself to riff based compositions.

    Keep writing - you'll find the ideas you need to create full songs! Good luck!

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    i guess i can only tell you how i've approached songwriting, and maybe you'll identify with it, or possibly you won't. maybe it'll be an alarm bell, maybe it won't be anything you haven't heard before, or maybe you'll totally disagree with it as far as how you approach songwriting. but here goes.

    for me, there's two parts to it- there's the formula, and then there's what actually happens. but in either case, songwriting is just like any other form of storytelling, whether it's lyrical or instrumental. you're trying to get across a point, but trying not to make it boring at the same time. this is key.

    as far as the formula goes, songwriting is kind of like writing a shakespearean 5-act play, with character introduction (first verse), rising action (pre-chorus, maybe? or conflict in the verse), climax (chorus, the full realization of the point you're trying to get across), whatever happens in the 4th act, i don't remember (refinement of the second verse? change it up with the introduction of a bridge?), and then the inevitable conclusion (chorus repeat ad nauseum, fade out, whatever). whenever i'm writing a riff, i'm always trying to think of how it fits into the song as a whole- because it's the song as a whole that's supposed to convey the idea, the individual chapters/acts/verses/whatever are just pieces that contribute.

    that's the formulaic side of it... and sometimes that's what actually happens- sometimes, everything just falls together. but just as often, i'll come up with snippets here or there and have no idea what to do with them. don't let them go, just because you're not sure what to do with them! file them away, come back to them. after awhile, what you wind up with is a pool of ideas that you can draw on when you need to. it's kind of like a jigsaw puzzle- you've got a few segments done here and there, and when you get a new piece and you're not sure where it fits, you match it up against one of your segments. if it matches, now you've got a bigger segment. the trick is (and this comes with practice), you need to make sure that your different parts really belong together- the last thing you want to do is mash two pieces together, because it's pretty obvious when that happens.

    last thing i'll say is, be comfortable with the fact that your songwriting is going to evolve. it's like cooking, you always throw out the first batch. (or maybe that's just me, i'm a bad cook.) your first hundred songs might suck, a lot, and that's ok. my first songs were just 4-chord progessions played over and over again, with instrumental jamming on top; then i evolved to tacking on other (unrelated) chord progressions... it was a while before i wrote anything that i'd feel comfortable subjecting other people to.

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    Tools of the Trade

    This topic comes up every year or so it seems, and my advice does not change. If you want to write music you owe it to yourself to learn all you can about music. Firstly...take some college level music theory classes. Here you will learn the vocabulary and something of structure. A lot of the pure information is available in concise form online but I recommend a structured learning situation in the interest of thoroughness. Take creative writing classes and hang out with other people who are interested in writing. Learn to ignore their criticism of your writing because if you have real talent they will hate you. Learn the principles of form and the rules before you break them. Then break them. Break them again. If someone sez "you can't say that" say it again but better this time. Observe people and pay attention to what they do and why they do it. People are your greatest source of material. You can write about mountain sunrises and magnificent rivers all you want, but to make it interesting, you have to populate the scene with interesting people.


    write onnnnnnnnn


    chazba
    The issues are three, Hardware, Software and Wetware. The first two can be solved......

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    Quote Originally Posted by Golgi Body View Post
    I feel kind of embarrassed that I never thought of incorporating these notes into the rhythm and chord progressions. I've always been kind of lazy and just played by ear, never considering much of the theory I've been taught. I vaguely remember the circle of fifths. That is the whole I IV V thing right?
    OK ... so you already know (or knew) most of it. But I stand behind my recommendations, especially the chord wheel, which will provide a ready reference to the "natural" chords within any key, the whole I ii iii IV V vi vii thing, which can in turn might make it easier for you to find that "next chord" without losing that "original feel" as you call it. As for the circle of 5ths, that will come into play whan you want to modulate from one key to another because modulating in one direction or the other on the circle is the most natural sounding transition.

    Tom

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