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Thread: Songwriting Help

  1. #1
    Spicy Meatball Guitarist
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    Unhappy Songwriting Help

    I really hate admitting this, but to be honest, I've been playing guitar for 8 years, and have ONLY ONE song to my name, and even that ONE song, is a comlete ditsy, something I'll never show anyone, and I wouldn't want to continue to write in that style. Trust me, this HURTS admitting this, mainly because, even I figure that after 8 years, I would have SOMETHING to show for my efforts. I mean, don't get me wrong, people tell me I'm a "great guitarist." But honestly, I don't feel it. I have all these great ideas in my head as far as music, but most of the time, I can only get out short little segments, and then I just can't continue. I have probably 3 or four books FILLED with JUST ideas. Little musical things that are either too "licky" to use as a song basis, or only a few bars long. I just can't write the full thing, and unfortunately, that equals out to me not writing songs. Does ANYONE (anyone AT ALL that is) have something of this same sorts? Or am I seriously just a guy who can't write?

  2. #2
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    I think you may be putting too much pressure on yourself and being a little to picky. A song does not have to be a completely original masterpiece in order for you to be satisfied. Writing something can serve many different purposes.

    Try putting new chords to a melody you like, or writing a new melody for a chord progression you like. Or re-phrasing a melody you already know by adding or taking away notes. If you did a combination of all three you could probably start with a song you know and end up with something new. Or if you want to really go for it, sit down and say to yourself "in 2 hours I'm going to start and finish a song." Put a deadline on things and see if that helps get the ideas out. Or just say to yourself "for the next half hour I'm going to write as much as I can" and after that time, no matter where you are, just stop. Ideas don't have to fall from the sky to be good. Sometimes you have to grind them out and really work at them in order to come up with something.

    I saw a great video of someone who had gone through some of Beethoven's notes and found different variations of what he had come up with for 'Ode to Joy.' Somehow he was able to put them in chronological order. He had something like 30-40 different melodies and most of them were TERRIBLE. But every once in a while he would stumble across something half way decent and he would start down a different path until he finally came up with the finished product. Composition didn't come easy for him and if he had to bang his head against the wall and grind out ideas, there is nothing wrong with you doing that.

    I think in the end it comes down to consistancy. If you want to really come up with something worth while you have to be willing to slug it out with terrible idea after terrible idea.

  3. #3
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    another thing I want to add is that the small pieces you have written and anything more you have come up with is probably not as bad as you think it is. Maybe when you look back a few years from now you may have a few moments of "what was I thinking?" but really...who cares? I remember when I took some composition lessons. Before then I had just written stuff for school and nothing more. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. But after my second composition my teacher didn't really have anything to say. He just said "well, I can't knock it if it's good" I was so suprised. Here I had just assumed there were plenty of mistakes, but apparently it was pretty good.

    It's great to have a lot of ideas in your head, but eventually you have to put pen to paper. Composition can be a pretty freaky thing because you are pretty much saying "this is the best I could possibly come up with and maybe my best isn't all that great" but again, so what? Is your goal to write a masterpiece right now? I hope not because you are setting yourself up for failure. Composition is a life long process, so if it takes a couple of tries to come up with something and you have a few clunkers along the way, it doesn't really matter. No matter how good you think an idea is, chances are something in the very near future is going to be better.
    Last edited by silent-storm; 02-28-2008 at 08:16 AM.

  4. #4
    Modbod UKRuss's Avatar
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    I will add this:

    Record your ideas. Sitting in books they are not music.

    I recommend Ableton Live (www.ableton.com) as it is not your straight forward linear DAW. It has a view called session view which allows you to drop your ideas into clips in tracks and the fire them off as loops, all tempo synced.

    It is a GREAT way, and I mean truly GREAT way to, build ideas and then finally turn them into a finished song.

    Since I have owned it, just over a year, I churn out track after track.

    Before then, like you, I'd never get a song written.

  5. #5
    Jazz is Life bilbo230763's Avatar
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    I know the feeling!

    But you need to address the psychological barrier that you have placed in front of yourself. You know how long it took you to become a good guitar player and you probably, by now, have realised that this is a journey that will never end. And yet you think that the FIRST SONG YOU HAVE EVER WRITTEN should be a classic!!

    I heard Pat Metheny say the other day that, after writing more than 400 compositions, his hit rate remains about three in ten. That means for every CD he releases, he writes about forty tunes, then throws 28 of them away becasue they are 'ditsy'!

    You need to give yourself permission to write crap tunes for at least the next few years. You need to just write stuff learn what works and what doesn't.

    Another tip, when listening to the work of other composers, listen to transitions, modulations, key changes, tempo changes etc, anything that links two sections of music together. You may begin to realise that some of the work you have done previously can bear fruit. Also, sometimes we dismiss ideas that are credible not because the composition is poor but because the ARRANGEMENT is weak e.g. a melody that is sung can be a lot simpler than one that is played on a guitar.

    Its in the doing of the thing!
    Last edited by bilbo230763; 02-28-2008 at 03:04 PM.
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  6. #6
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Unless I missed it, I did not hear anything about the lyrics.

    The lyrics is where I start. Understand I'm Country and in Country with out the story there is no need for the song. That said.....

    Using a basic I IV V chord progression I recite the lyrics and move the chord change word around till I get a good lyric / chord flow. In reciting and moving the chord changes around if I'm lucky a better chord progression develops and after that a tune will develop.

    The classic Autumn Leaves takes a five note phrase E-F-G-C-C and ends up with a song.
    .............. Am7
    The falling leaves E-F-G-C-C The D7 is played under the second C
    D7............ Gmaj7
    Drift by my windows D-E-F-B-B and the Cmaj7 is played under the 2nd B, etc. etc.
    Cmaj7........F#dim
    The autumn Leaves C-D-E-A-A
    B7b9..........Em7
    Of red and gold B-C-D-G-G

    Starts on E and moves down to B. Then starts over. My version goes for 31 bars and there are a couple of other short phrases added, but, the tune revolves around that 5 note phrase.

    My point --- a five note phrase moved down or up the scale and repeated ended up being a classic.
    I can only get out short little segments, and then I just can't continue. I have probably 3 or four books FILLED with JUST ideas.
    I think if you take some of your short melodic pieces and tie them to some lyrics --- and try moving them up or down scale in short segments you could end up with YOUR classic.

    Here is sheet music on Autumn Leaves:
    http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic...?ppn=MN0028996

    Good luck.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 02-28-2008 at 04:34 PM.

  7. #7
    Artistically Bankrupt
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    "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" by Andy Williams, et al, is similar, Malcolm.

    I only mention it because, embarrassingly, I was listening to Williams doing it, Sinatra doing "Autumn Leaves," and Bobby Darin all weekend. No clue why. I started off by listening to Dion doing "Abraham, Martin, and John."

    Ever notice that there are a large number of top-selling major hits from the 60's that for some reason never get played on "classic rock/pop" radio stations? We hear the Zombies and Tommy James and the Shondells daily, but when was the last time you heard Darin do "If I Were a Carpenter?" The thing was huge back in the day.

    It is a conspiracy, I tell you. Yeah...
    "If a child learns which is jay and which is sparrow, he'll no longer see birds nor hear them sing."

  8. #8
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Agree, the youngsters are out to get us oldsters. Very seldom do you hear our music --------- come to think of it --------- that's what my parents used to say. O'h well I guess that is just the way it is.

    And you youngsters --- listen up ---- the economy needs a boost, go spend some money so my SS check will keep coming.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 02-28-2008 at 04:41 PM.

  9. #9
    Spicy Meatball Guitarist
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    Hey thanks everyone for your opinions and advice. I think one of the DEFINITE points that someone (sorry, don't remember who) touched on was the fact that I need to ALLOW myself to write crappy songs. Granted, I don't think anyone WANTS to put out that type of stuff on an album, but It's really a learning process. Another point I liked was about Beethoven (sorry, again can't remember who posted what), talking about how he went through variation after variation after variation until something worked for him. In either case, thanks to everyone for their advice and support, feel free to throw in anything else that you have to say. Take care to all.

  10. #10
    Registered User Obivion's Avatar
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    Just get some popular chord progressions, ie. 12 bar blues and write some words and hey presto!

    So many guys have got millage out of the blues, I mean think of ZZ Top, BB King and all those guys. It doesn't have to be great.

    The thing that is hard for many people to realize is that songwriting and technical ability on an instrument are not connected. You could be a great player and write poor songs ie. Rusty Cooley, or you could be a poor player and write great songs ie. Neil Young (This is just my opinion on song quality here). Many players typically underplay throughout their songs for the sake of the song, so just keep in mind it doesn't have to be super complicated.
    No one sings the blues quite like Yngwie!

  11. #11
    Wordgirl: Jaded Musician jade_bodhi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malcolm

    The classic Autumn Leaves takes a five note phrase E-F-G-C-C and ends up with a song.

    My point --- a five note phrase moved down or up the scale and repeated ended up being a classic.

    I think if you take some of your short melodic pieces and tie them to some lyrics --- and try moving them up or down scale in short segments you could end up with YOUR classic.

    My point --- a five note phrase moved down or up the scale and repeated ended up being a classic.
    Malcolm. Your note really interested me because melody has always seemed difficult for me. I understand chords, and I know how to be traditional and creative in using them, but when I try to write melody to the chords, I tend to hum whatever sounds like it fits, and I usually end up with melodies based largely on arpeggios, which is a limitation for me. I'm interested in your suggestion "take some of your short melodic pieces and tie them to some lyrics --- and try moving them up or down scale in short segments you could end up with YOUR classic."

    What exactly do you mean by "moving them up or down scale." What is the theory behind that? I looked at your "Autumn Leaves example, and I didn't perceive the melody moving up or down because it seemed to me the intervals weren't the same when it moved.

    I hope my question makes sense. I don't read music or scales. All my knowledge is based on chord theory.

    Thanks for any response you are inclined and able to give.

    Jade.
    Last edited by jade_bodhi; 02-29-2008 at 03:12 AM.
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by jade_bodhi
    Malcolm. Your note really interested me because melody has always seemed difficult for me. I understand chords, and I know how to be traditional and creative in using them, but when I try to write melody to the chords, I tend to hum whatever sounds like it fits, and I usually end up with melodies based largely on arpeggios, which is a limitation for me. I'm interested in your suggestion "take some of your short melodic pieces and tie them to some lyrics --- and try moving them up or down scale in short segments you could end up with YOUR classic."

    What exactly do you mean by "moving them up or down scale." What is the theory behind that? I looked at your "Autumn Leaves example, and I didn't perceive the melody moving up or down because it seemed to me the intervals weren't the same when it moved.

    I hope my question makes sense. I don't read music or scales. All my knowledge is based on chord theory.

    Thanks for any response you are inclined and able to give.

    Jade.
    I don't know how to explain this without explaining it using scales. I would suggest listening to a recording with as little embelishment as possible. The first four notes are the main motive and when you hear it it will be pretty clear how that motive is manipulated.

    Ok, I just thought of a way to explain it purely as chords, I think. The motive is the first four notes of the song. When the first motive finishes, it lands on the third of Am, which is C. Then when the the motive is repeated, everything has moved down and it ends on the third of G, which is B. Then when it's played again, the motive moves down again and ends on the third of F#m7b5, which is A and then finally it is played again and ends on the third of E minor, which is G. The chords that occur at the end of each phrase move down by step and the melody has to follow suit in order to land on the third of each chord. Each interval doesn't have to be exact because they have to line up with their respective chords, ie major and minor.

    I have no idea if that fits within your knowledge of chord theory. But if you listen to the song it will be perfectly clear.

  13. #13
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Storm -- Great answer, I had not picked up on the chordal 3rds. That may be THE answer I've been looking for ---

    Jade -- Here is how the phrase moves back down the scale:

    ...................E-F-G-C-C
    ................D-E-F-B-B
    .............C-D-E-A-A
    ..........B-C-D-G-G..... easy to see on the keyboard, little harder on the fretboard.

    Perhaps interval sequence will help you see the movement. I'll use C scale:

    ...................3-4-5-8-8
    ................2-3-4-7-7
    .............1-2-3-6-6
    ........-1-1-2-5-5 ...........Note the (-1) minus one - that B is in the lower octave
    Last edited by Malcolm; 02-29-2008 at 01:58 PM.

  14. #14
    Wordgirl: Jaded Musician jade_bodhi's Avatar
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    Thank you, Malcolm and Storm. That does make sense to me.
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  15. #15
    Wordgirl: Jaded Musician jade_bodhi's Avatar
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    good example

    Quote Originally Posted by Blutwulf
    "Can't Take My Eyes off of You" by Andy Williams, et al, is similar, Malcolm.
    Yes, for me that illlustrates Malcolm's point about moving the form of the melody line even better than Malcolm's example, "Autumn Leaves," since I know "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" even better.

    It's not exactly a moving down of the melody form, until the last phrase, but the seven note form is catchy and pleasing because it repeats.

    Dacks, another songwriting suggestion, one I've made in another thread, is to write in a specific form or genre. That helps me. For example, I set myself the task of writing a blues song in 1, 4, 5 form, or a jazz standard style tune that uses the minor sevenths.

    JB
    Last edited by jade_bodhi; 03-03-2008 at 10:47 PM.
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