Method or Madness

Songwriting, songwriters, etc

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jeffe
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Re: Method or Madness

Post by jeffe » Sat Mar 17, 2007 4:42 am

I'm about 60 miles south of London. I lived there up until 5 years ago. but I wanted out
It's been said that I have Murderous eyes.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by kouly » Tue Mar 27, 2007 12:34 am

Quote:Hey, KoulyI don't think there is one method for writing songs. Sometimes, I come up with the melody first, and then sometimes, I come up with a phrase first (that's usually my hook), and I'll put that phrase to a melody. I used to really feel like I was different because I didn't play an instrument when I started writing songs. I would just hum my melody into a tape recorder (the melody in my head of course), and then I'd put the words to it. I started taking guitar lessons because I felt this would make me a better songwriter. While I've learned to play the guitar a bit (although not well, hehe), I find that I'm still using the 'sing into the tape recorder' method to write my songs because it really helps my creative flow....I find that if I have to 'think about' plotting chords to my music, it ends up sounding wooden, at least for me....so I just let the melody flow in my mind, and then I put the chords to it after I'm finished writing the whole song, words and melody. Also, sometimes I just sing a capella into the tape recorder, burn it onto a CD, and then have the song fully produced by a good demo service like Beaird Music Group.I get my inspirations everywhere, and while I'm not a person who can write without an inspiration, I'm always alert to things around me (what people say and do) because this is what gives me ideas for my songs. I didn't start writing until January of 2006. Since then, I've written a lot of songs. When I was younger, I always wrote snippets of songs, but I didn't even think of myself as a songwriter....I'd just throw those snippets in a drawer. I just thought of it as a silly hobby I had. All of sudden last year, I started finishing my songs, so for me, this is all kind of new.So really, your way of writing song isn't all that unsual probably, just go with what works for you. Hey Chits, thanks for making me feel better. I am still new at the writing thing. It iskind of like meeting new people to me. You just never know who your going to meet next and what that idea may turn into. I tried the singing into the recorder thing, I just am not good and following up on that. I use my DAW as my sketch pad, a bit of overkill but I like having a complete toolbox at my disposal. My favorite song to date (I only have about 6 so far) started from an idea that I thought was a bad idea, I then took it into another direction and it turned out pretty good. Still much to learn, I love the discovery.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by jchitty » Tue Mar 27, 2007 2:46 am

Okay, Kouly. I guess it's safe to say that we all get our songs in a different way, but whatever works for you is the best way to go. Yeah, it's interesting how those 'bad idea songs' turn out to be great songs when you take them in an entirely different direction.....I think that might stem from the subconcious....I want to write a song in a VERY certain way, but my subconcious mind takes me in another direction...I've gotten some of my best songs that way. The songwriting process amazes me sometimes.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by gongchime » Tue Apr 24, 2007 6:40 am

This is what works for me. Go get the score for your favorite tunes about 10 or 20. Then get out a blank book of music paper and write the melodies for each section upside down, backwards and upside-down and backwards of all those tunes. Yes, your fingers will hurt and you'll feel like you want to start wearing glasses but I promise, it's WORTH IT! Then throw away the originals. The upside down versions of the choruses will most likely start on the downbeat (so says the Berklee book on melodywriting). Then use that upside down version for YOUR new chorus. And use the backwards version or the upside down and backwards version that you wrote for the verse BUT you'll have to both rhythmically displace the melody forward or backwards an 8th note or so (aka on the "and" of beat one or on the "and" of beat 4 just before the down beat. This helps create variety in the starting positions of each section). And you'll also need to transpose it so that it doesn't start or end on the same note as the chorus. (These last two points are not well covered in other songwriting books but are important). The chorus usually starts on and ends on important notes of the scale such as the 1,5,3, 7 in that order.Start and end in a different rhythmic position and start and end on different notes! If you listen to the music on a lot of the different composition forums, you'll hear so many tunes from amateurs that start different sections on the downbeat in the same song and on the tonic/first note of the scale. It's soooo BORING and amateurish 99% of the time.You also might want to check to make sure that the verse melody doesn't reach a higher pitch than the chorus. You may also want to make sure that the chorus ends in a strong position such as on the third beat of the second measure of a 2 bar phrase or on the first beat of the 4th measure in a 4 bar phrase. You'll also be wanting the chorus to end on a strong note as well most likely. Then look at your verse and make sure that it ends in a weaker rhythmic position than the chorus and on a weaker note of the scale such as the 2 6 and 4 in that order. If the chorus starts on the 5th and ends on the 1st note of the scale for example then you could start the verse on the 7th note of the scale and end on the 3rd note of the scale. When it comes time to create the bridge you may use whichever version of the original melody that you haven't used yet, either the backwards or the upside down and backwards depending on which one is left over after you chose one for the verse. Now displace that melody a different rhythmic amount than you did for the verse such as a quarter note (aka start on the 2nd beat of the measure or a beat ahead of the first beat of the first measure of that section). But you're not finished. You need to rhythmically augment the melody in the bridge (in which case there will be some left over that you haven't used for this song which you can use as one of the phrases in the section of another song). You need to use the augmented version of the melody because it will have the same rhythmic silhouette and just rhythmically displacing it won't hide that fact. (You do know there are two phrases in each verse or chorus section right?) You'll probably also need to transpose the bridge melody as well, so that it starts and ends on different notes than either the verse or the chorus. In my example you're left with either the 2nd 4th or 6th . Actually the 4th is a dissonant interval in the context of a Major chord or key (That's why chords with 4ths in them are usually labeled suspensions and were made to resolve during the classical period). By the way, on the repeats of the chorus' and verses' change them a bit, preferably more rhythmic events, embellishments and passing tones etc...(aka more complex so that the music is developing interest). Finally use part of your bridge to make the Intro which is ONLY 4 measures long for unknowns trying to break in to the biz. People listening to your tune want to get to the chorus quickly. If you've written a GREAT chorus consider placing it before the verse and also consider dropping the intro. Now that the melody is handled, it's time to think about accompaniment and percussion. The Bass guitar and bass drum should be similar but not identical most of the time, the high hat and the piano/guitar should be similar but not identical. One way to create the high hat part is from the bass part. Just use the bass part's rhythm played backwards. Have the piano and guitar follow the high hat part fairly closely. Likewise, if you've come up with a good guitar or piano accompaniment part, make the high hat similar and then write it backwards and give the backwards form to the bass. (Picked that idea up from Modern Drummer magazine). This doesn't always work but it's a place to start. Some idea is better than no idea at all.Major chords mostly don't work so well in root position except at the beginning and endings of tunes, so everytime you come across a major chord in your writing put it in first inversion (aka with the third in the bass) Also, you can't repeat the drums ad nauseum. You have to put variety in. So if you've got a 2 measure drum pattern, repeat it but with changes in the repeat. Then repeat those four and change the last measure or two of that, then repeat that and put a drum fill at the end of the section. (That's hard to do well if you're not a drummer.) In modal styles of music such as groove based music like pop and dance music, you're limited to 3 modes (if you're not using pentatonics in the melody); dorian, aeolian and mixolydian. (This also applies to rock but it also includes other modes such as harmonic minor if you're Ingwie Malmsteen and Phrygian if you're Metallica). Notice I didn't say minor and said aeolian instead. Minor implies the ability to move from aeolian to harmonic minor to melodic minor when desired. The reason groove based music is limited to three modes and does not use melodic or harmonic minor normally is because aeolian, dorian and mixolydian don't have a leading tone(aka a raised 7th step of the scale which would cause the music to cadence too forcefully. Something which is undesirable in a groove.So about those modal chord progressions. They either move by step or frequently use the I IV or V chords. Minor chords are usually placed in inversion only if it makes the bass line smoother (moving by step and not jumping around so much). The motion of a 5th or more is considered a leap and is reserved for climactic points in the melody and sometimes in the bass line as well. Melody, accompaniment and rhythm all handled. I'll let you worry about lyrics, vocal quality and production. Not my forte. More could be said about different ways to create unique accompaniments and transitions which is where the art of great composers is truly found. My accompaniments are consistently good and unique. My transitions are weak. Maybe someone else could state their opinions about that.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by mixopenta » Tue Apr 24, 2007 11:48 pm

Wow Gongchime, there’s a pretty interesting post you’ve got there. Yet it also comes across as very…analytical. I’ve been a musician and “songwriter” for 30+ years, and I am probably doing all the things your post says not to do, and that’s also probably why I still need a day job. I know my songs tends to wander aimlessly from start to finish, but I’m trying to correct that. I’m going to print your post and read it a couple of times until I get the hang of it, and try to understand these basics. It’s really not until we know the mechanics behind it, that we can deviate from it, and work in alternative ways, right? Having been trying to create songs for all these 30+ years, it’s not until I joined taxi I’ve come to realize that song structure is there for a reason. And I’m slowly starting picking it up, and it’s actually fun trying to frame the songs by “conventional” structures. This comes from a guy who most of his life been writing “songs” that had a 7-50 minute span… Having that in mind, it’s also very interesting to learn from all posts that I’m really not that different from the rest, when it comes to the basic approach.One thing I have learned is that I can’t write songs using the same method all the time. Sometimes a melody comes into my mind, and if it’s good enough it will stick there. If I don’t remember it, it probably wasn’t too good anyway. I have melodies in my head that popped up six or seven years ago. I just haven't yet figured out what format they would require.Other times I can work on a chord progression (the methodology I’m using the most). And here’s where I need to improve. -Often it’s these songs that becomes aimless and unstructured, and putting a melody on top of the progression always tends to rely too heavily on the chords (as opposed to the melody tying the chords together). Another approach which I’m also using a lot is hammering out chords, melody or a sequence with a drum, and/or percussion loop going on.Sometimes I may stumble upon a lyric, and try to develop something out of that. (I can’t write lyrics myself, let alone singing them, so those occasions are seldom seen, or heard). The approach that I find hardest to yield any result from is developing a melody from scratch. The few times I managed to do that, have IMO rendered me the best songs though.The common denominator for all of the above approaches enabling me to create a finished song, is that it needs something that catches me, something that I feel a disire to continue working on. Sometimes this is a fast process if there’s something good enough happening in the material. Other times it might be a case of being able to take it only to a certain point, then when I’m getting stuck I just put it aside, and pick up on it on occasions later on to see if the “muse” hits me.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by gongchime » Wed Apr 25, 2007 5:20 am

Yeah, I'm aware my name could even be Anna Lytical. Lol If you have the instincts from listening and playing a lot of good music that causes you to write music this way or that allows you to break the "rules" for a good reason then analyzing too much gets in the way. Most people aren't the Beatles. I've met lots of people who resist doing this stuff consciously like the plague. Some people are unconscious competents (they consistently write good music without thinking about it too much), some are conscious competents (who are good at explaining what the unconscious competents are doing) and some are incompetent (and need no introduction ). Most people seem to think that doing it without thinking about it is best (Or is that only guitarists?). But while they're trying to do that, their career is floundering and wasting precious time just like a lot of us have done.Before I read the Berklee book, I had "analyzed" a lot of music but didn't know what to look for even after a Bachelors in music. Me and a lot of other people thought we knew but we didn't. It was a revelation to me that varying the starting and ending points and pitches are important in popular styles of music. (Rock and Rap are popular in this definition) Since I discovered that, I feel enlightened. I started writing a lot more music that I liked and a lot more music period. (But marketing bamboo xyllophones is not for the faint of heart. Haha) Anyway, I've got 30 tunes that haven't been recorded yet. I'm a bit busy with a masters in music composition but I'll get around to them and more eventually before I leave this rock. I think it's best to take the big picture and plan in advance how each song on an album is going to be different. You can always change things later if they don't work out, but having variety planned in from the beginning will probably benefit most people. So, for arguments sake, you could define the parameters of your next album by saying The first tune will be in C Major the second rune will be in Db Dorian and the third tune will be in D Mixolydian and the fourth tune will be in Eb aeolian and the fifth tune will be in E minor pentatonic etc...Then decide on variations in the form. IVCVCBCO, IVCVCBCO, IVRCVRCBRCO, IVCVRCBRCO, IVCVCBRCO, IVCTVCTBCO, IVCVCTBCO, IVCTVCBCO, I=intro, V-verse, C-chorus, R-rise, B-bridge, T-transition, O-outroThen make a chart and plan variations in each section of the music, perhaps the first tune can have two four measure phrases in both the verse and chorus, then don't do that again on the rest of the album. Have an 8 measure phrase folowed by another 8 measure phrase, have an 8 measure phrase followed by a 4 measure phrase. Have a four measure phrase followed by 2 two measure phrases in one section and two four measure phrases in the second one. Or a four measure phrase followed by a 3 measure phrase or a 5 measure phrase even. If something doesn't work then just fall back on the tried and true 8 or 16 bar section divided in half. If you're running out of ideas is when you might want to start both the verse and chorus on the same note in one song and start the verse and chorus on the same beat in another song. (I don't recommend doing both but it might work for a special song perhaps with drone and sitar.) Or switch things up by having the verse start on the downbeat. Anything is possible really but like my art teacher used to say, it's better to know what the "rules" are and why you're breaking them. (Variety is a good reason I think) Then within the phrases you'll want to plan some variety in the RHYTHMIC scheme which the melody may or may not follow. Schemes like abaa abac abba abcb abca abcd aaab aaba abab abcc. Something my professor of composition recommends is to use at least three different rhythmic levels in the same instrument especially when an instrument first comes in, such as quarter notes, 2 eighths and 4 16ths for the sake of explanation. This is something I haven't looked into yet as far as popular styles of music go, but it may have some bearing. Another thing to try is to plan to start on a different chord in each song's ChorusIf all of you're songs are in CMajor, for the sake of example, then start the chorus in the first song on D minor, in the second song on E minor, in the third song on G Major, in the fourth song on A minor and the the fifth song on C Major. Even if you don't keep any of these or the previous schemes, it gives something to shoot for and starts people writing, which may lead to new and better ideas.The last chord of the verse sections should have Subdominant function which may be the actual subdominant chord. Taking the example of a verse starting in C Major then it's last chord could be F Major but other chords can serve as substitutes for subdominant function. The second chord D minor will work. You just don't want to end on the I or the V chord in the verse unless you know how to treat them, such as placing the IM7 chord in 3rd inversion weakening it's tonic function. Now you have the first and the last chords of the verse and the first chord of the chorus. Often the chorus ends on the I chord but you can also use another chord that can substitute for the tonic function such as the iii chord. Following these "rules" for harmony will help avoid wandering chord progressions. Another thing to think about is what the Beatles used to do. They would say if the chorus doesn't have any chromaticism then the verse will: either in the melody or in the chord progression or both. Another way to do that is if there is chromaticism in the melody in the verse then there won't be chromaticism in the chorus' melody but can be in the chorus' harmony in order to change things up.The same idea applies to the melodic rhythm. One section can have some syncopation, while the other is more flat footed. Or if the melody is flat footed then the accompaniment is syncopated and visa versa. That's not something I've employed much consciously but I'll give it a shot at some point not that I probably haven't already done it unintentionally.Also the first phrase within a section can be syncopated while the second phrase is flat footed or the antecedent within the first phrase is syncopated while the consequent is more on the beat within the first phrase. Cuban and African music even take it down to the level of one or two measures, where the first measure of the Clave is syncopated and the second measure is on the beat.Hope that helps. I'd say good luck but it's mostly skill.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by jchitty » Wed May 09, 2007 1:53 am

Quote:I think this is where the madness part of my post comes in. I started reading your post but unfortunately started laughing so hard that I pulled a muscle in my back and will be out of commission for about a week. I believe this is what my associate would say is a case of getting caught up in the system. He graduated from Berkley and then went on to study from a very knowledgeable person who after 1 year made him realize that most of what he learned at Berkley was a waste of time. To each his own, if this system works for you then that is great. As I am already on the brink as far as mental health is concerned, I do believe if I had finished reading your posts I would be reclining in a padded room somewhere. I will have to rely on my friend who boils it down to a very simple formulaMajor Minor Minor Major Major Minor Diminished Major. Much easier to swallow. There is a little more to it, but untilit is published, I cant really talk about it. I'd say good luck but your right it is mostly skill. I'd have to agree with you, Kouly. I think Gongchime's intentions were good when he made the post, but I don't follow any formula for songwriter either. Many times, I just wake up with a melody in my head....guess the sleep fairies delivered it to me in the night. If the melody sounds pretty good, then I'll go with it. After that, I'll start writing some lyrics....then I'll re-write, over and over again and then some. Some songs, I can write in a day (although not many), while others take me a month to write.....but I end up writing a song a week because I'm working on 3 or 4 at a time. There is no rhyme or reason to what I do. The melodies to my songs just seem to come to me for some reason....I'm more a free style type....kind of out there and willing to grab at anything. I'm a left-handed person, hehe...maybe that has something to do with my zany approach. However, everyone is different...I guess if a more analytical approach works for them, they should go with it.

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by edteja » Wed May 09, 2007 2:18 am

I find that what Gongchime says is very useful. I can see it providing the inspiration for lots of cool stuff. Jimmy Webb actually suggests a similar thing, in a somewhat more organic fashion. I confess to writing songs analytically, inspirationally, out of emotion, sometimes out of tune and/or tempo, technically, from chords, from lyrics, on schedule and off schedule. I am, however, quite consistent in this approach.Seriously, I see merit in the analytical approach, and do use it at times (and thanks for the detail gongchime), but a lot of songs don't come out that way.
"In the future, when we finally get over racism, bigotry, and everyone is purple, red, and brown ... then we'll have to hate people for who they truly are."--George Carlin

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by jchitty » Wed May 09, 2007 3:28 am

Quote:I find that what Gongchime says is very useful. I can see it providing the inspiration for lots of cool stuff. Jimmy Webb actually suggests a similar thing, in a somewhat more organic fashion. I confess to writing songs analytically, inspirationally, out of emotion, sometimes out of tune and/or tempo, technically, from chords, from lyrics, on schedule and off schedule. I am, however, quite consistent in this approach.Seriously, I see merit in the analytical approach, and do use it at times (and thanks for the detail gongchime), but a lot of songs don't come out that way. If it works for you, go with it. Some people like the more analytical approach....their songs may be even better than those who don't use it. Not everyone is a zany Southpaw like me anyway

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Re: Method or Madness

Post by kouly » Wed May 09, 2007 9:45 am

Quote: Many times, I just wake up with a melody in my head....guess the sleep fairies delivered it to me in the night. Hey Chit, could you give them my address?

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