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Thread: Writing Better Songs

  1. #1
    Registered User Xenodude's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2003

    Writing Better Songs

    Hey, I've been playing for over a year and a half now, and I'm just wondering how my songwriting skills should be - right now they kinda suck. I know key signatures, where to play the basic chords (major, minor, and 7ths), and I can even break out of the key signature from time to time without it sounding bad (still melodic and all). But now, I'm getting tired of basic chord progressions and even some of the cool, unique progressions I come up with. I'm looking for more technical (but still melodic) music when I write. My teacher told me to just write as much as possible, but I end up quitting half the stuff I come up with because it's the same old 'crap.' This goes for writing solos as well. I guess I'm just asking for advice mostly, but I also want to know how long it took you guys to start writing good stuff (stuff you can be proud of, y'know). Anyway, I'm done rambling for now (I may be back though -gasp-). Later

  2. #2
    Registered User LarryJ's Avatar
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    Aug 2003
    Boston, MA
    sounds to me like your taking a way too technical approach to playing. Relax and have some fun. You won't get original if you don't develop your own style.

    Knowing everything you do is a great start, but theres no formula to writing a great song, someone always comes along and knocks you on your ***. Theory and knowhow have a definitly place in music, but using them to start and create a song is probably a big no-no. Just start jamming, create a backing track or whatever, dont worry if it follows a set progression. Thats the best advice I can give...

    Creating songs does get easier with practice though. You develop a style, and learn to fit pieces together. Save everything you do so you can refer back/splice them into other songs, you never know when a riff will come in handy. Also try playing with other people. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, and have them do the same, is an excellent learning/songwriting tool.


  3. #3
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    May 2002
    Colorado Springs CO
    Everyone here know I'm a total Musical Moron. I'm not trying to be modest or anything...it's just a fact that I know jack squat about anything. In spite of all that, LarryJ's idea has a huge appeal. I just can't imagine anyone composing anything by starting with ideas of theory. I'm sure it's done, and I'm sure it's produced spectacular results. What I'm saying is, I think that's very, very unlikely.

    I really AM a moron. But somehow tunes that move me seem to have some kinda pattern of intro, body, conclusion. I have to relate tunes to what I relate to...I have no choice. It's all about a story. And someone said, "Yes, but you don't have to have lyrics to have a story." I agreed totally. But I think you STILL have to have those three basic components. Music dudes who actually went to school will be able to better articulate what I'm trying to say.

    Riffs and all that are just bumps in the road that add dimension and 'fun' to the journey. I really think you gotta have some sense of a journey--that's what I mean by a 'story'. I don't mean a story literally. I mean conveying some sense of going from Point A to Point B...maybe by way of Points C, D and E...so that you 'get' to a conclusion. Crescendo, climax, conclusion...etc.

    I really think many guitarists, in particular guitarists who aspire to be guitarists, tend to think in terms of 'the cool guitar lead' rather than in terms of some overall 'feel'. Why this should be the case for guitarist and not sax guys, for example, isn't clear. I think maybe I'm prejudiced against the guitarist. Maybe it's a problem for 'soloists' in general.

    I guess what I might be saying is that the solo, in general, is NOT a requirement for anything. It's an adornment that may or may not actually add to the feel of the tune. Composing a tune should, I think, subordinate any idea of 'solo' or 'instrument' (in general) until the idea is complete. THEN, adorn the idea with these things. Good god I really AM a moron--I'm sorry.
    Pulsing the System with Confirmed Nonsense.

  4. #4
    Registered User LarryJ's Avatar
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    Aug 2003
    Boston, MA
    Bongo boy, do you play guitar? I wasn't sure from that above post...

    But anyways, Bongo boy is right in what he says (at least...i think he is ). You have to tell a story. A good way to come up with a song is to think of something inspiring and play what you feel about that. That will get you in the mood. For instance, concentrate on on a rainy night and the sound of the rain ,and you'll probably get something mellow, or you might end up playing on a nice day in spring, and you could get something like 'summer song' by satriani. Or maybe something ethnic like vai, or some girl you used to know or currently know, a holiday time, a song about kickin *** or who knows. The inspiration is endless. This will give you focus for how to sound in that song and what to play, in essence limiting what to play and narrowing down good stuff that fits. Messing with tones can also help. If you dial in a really heavy tone you'll want to write a heavy song, or an acoustic/clean sound you'll probably want something light and airy, or something perhaps classical or folkish. Try learning new chords or new arpeggios to play. They can make you sound heavier, darker, happier or whatever. They can give you a prog rock sound, or a punk sound, or a classic rock sound just by your choice of how to play an E chord for instance. Since chords are the building blocks of songs, learning a new one and applying it can really change how you sound and what you might write.

    I'm not saying dont be technical. Most of us on here - myself included - are shredheads with the occasional blueser and jazzer. We all love being technical, but it has to come from somewhere first, and its not gonna come from a sheet of paper, if you get my drift...

    Technicalities should be used to make a song better, work better, fit together better and give you some idea of what to play over it and make it fancier if thats what you want. It's true that alot of songs follow a progression, but do you want to sound the same? You could go around plying I-IV-V progressions all day but then you'd sound like everyone else who has done that, unless you can make it original and your own.

    Having said this, there is a format most songs usually follow. They naturally progress between intro, verse, chorus , bridge etc...a song you write should probably follow that same order (look it up, i don't want to tell you the wrong order). This will help it to sound like a typical song someone would write. Beyond that messing with keysignatures and all that sort of stuff should be left for when your playing someone elses music, or step into a band situation where you need to improvise. Composing your own stuff should come from you, when you get better at writing songs, and find yourself as a player, things really start to go from there.

  5. #5
    Firebard RandyEllefson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Gaithersburg Maryland
    Being too technical in the approach to writing is definitely not good. You have to have a good idea first, then try taking it somewhere.

    To have an idea, you really need to just improvise for fun and not be thinking about it. EVERY good music idea I've ever had came when I was screwing around and not paying that much attention.

    If you're stuck in a rut, try learning other people's songs again. Find a chord you've never seen and play with it, altering notes, picking through it, whacking it, moving it around, whatever. It helps with a fresh perspective. I would also try focusing on melody in the rhythm (what most people call a riff).

    The thing about progressions is that they aren't really intended to be the whole deal. They are the thing underlying your main idea or melody. There aren't too many of them, frankly. Progressions are supporting players, not your all-star. Being bored with progressions is sort of expected.

  6. #6
    Registered User Xenodude's Avatar
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    Oct 2003
    Wow, thanks for all the replies; I wasn't expecting much feedback. I see what you're saying about not worrying about it being too technical at first and about telling a story. Half the time though, it's just I don't have enough inspiration to come up with that story, but I'll work on that some more. I'll also work on learning some more chords (maybe some inversions and whatnot) to help "move the story along". Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for the advice and let ya know I'm taking what you say into consideration. Later.

  7. #7
    Registered User JeffN's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Song writing is a funny thing.

    I have a drummer friend who knows maybe 10 basic chords and is constantly writing songs. I don't think he know anything on harmony, modes, or even a single scale for that matter. What he basically does (as far as I can tell) is start with the lyrics, which gives him a melody for him to work around. In my opinion, a good melody is the foundation to any good song.

    If you don't plan to have any lyrics in your song, hum a melody to yourself. What sounds good to you will most likely sound good to others. Figure that melody out on the guitar, and start from there. From there on, you can add inversions, time changes and whatnot.

    John Mclaughlin once said that in order to improvise, you need to learn everything and then forget it. If you start thinking of key signatures, chord voicings and stuff while you're improvising, your solos will come out sounding like a robot's.

    I think that this also applies to song writing. In the end, your audience isn't going to look for technical stuff in your songs.

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