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Songwriting? Anyone into it?

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GuitarLord
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Hey guys and gals ;)

I'm in the process of practicing my songwriting skills right now... Anyone into it? Does anyone know any good products (books, dvd courses, software, website resource... whatever) which can help you become better songwriter?

Nikola

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I've been writing poetry for a long time, and that gave me a good basis for lyric writing. When it comes to creating a musical composition, forget it. I listen to everything in my head, but I can't give it life, because I don't play any instrument and I'm not patient enough to learn how to use music software programs like Reason, which apparently compensate the need of a real guitar, piano, etc. I don't know what kind of products can help you develop your skills, but I'm pretty sure that constant and thorough practice can already do a lot for you, besides paying more attention to the music you listen to, in terms of rhythmic and lyrical structure. Listening to more diverse genres might help you find new sources of inspiration.

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Actually, I'd like to get a bit of a discussion around this topic - songwriting. And preferably a bit more detailed than "which comes first, the music or the lyrics?". F.ex. a more interesting question would be "what makes a catchy melody?" or "how do you construct the actual music?".

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I've written quite alot small 1-2min songs the lastest 3 months as I've been writing music for a small video game project for school, and for me It's all about starting off with a little riff or a chord progression, then you add in harmonies, variations. Also build ups are great. To add to this comes your personal musical skill, I'm not a musical genius from birth and neither have I been to any musical schools but I have no problem whatsoever coming up with melodies in my head once I got a key. If they're good or not is of course always hard to know but they fit.

Here is a song I made which originated from just a single chord progression. It started with me adding some melodies to it, and then a second chord progression and so on.

EDIT: Updated version

(Choosing highest quality is ofc recommended)
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Here are the things about a popular song, regardless of genre. Simple arrangements. Easily identifiable hooks (riffs, sub-melodies) that stick in the mind. Simple, clear lyrics that tell a simple story.

The Barry Manilow method, which has served him well for decades, is to start out slow and low. Elevate for a chorus. Come on strong in the bridge. Return to the low and slow for a final stanza of lyrics and then finish on a strong chorus with two repetitions, with the second being the highest. Yes, it's a formula. And it makes for a memorable song every time. "Mandy" is a perfect example.

Another good example is the song I wrote. No, I'm not bragging. But it follows the classic formua. It's in the critique section and it's called "Gimme Some Time." I only mention it here as an example of basic song-writing. I'm a basic kind of guy.

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I've been writing for basically forever, albeit rarely really reaching for something artistic. A few poems here and there, some novels, etc... As I grew in interest with music in general, and singing in particular, I've been naturally trying to write some kind of lyrics, but so far, I've been pretty much bad, not helped by the fact I have no musical formation whatsoever :)

But the subject interests me deeply.

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Here are the things about a popular song, regardless of genre. Simple arrangements. Easily identifiable hooks (riffs, sub-melodies) that stick in the mind. Simple, clear lyrics that tell a simple story.

The Barry Manilow method, which has served him well for decades, is to start out slow and low. Elevate for a chorus. Come on strong in the bridge. Return to the low and slow for a final stanza of lyrics and then finish on a strong chorus with two repetitions, with the second being the highest. Yes, it's a formula. And it makes for a memorable song every time. "Mandy" is a perfect example.

Another good example is the song I wrote. No, I'm not bragging. But it follows the classic formua. It's in the critique section and it's called "Gimme Some Time." I only mention it here as an example of basic song-writing. I'm a basic kind of guy.

I'm going to try to fix one of my songs a little more like that, just got to add the chorus twice at the end, got a plan on what I'm going to do but it is going to make the last chorus a complete bitch lol, also considering I don't have any instrumental at all and it was "finished" today. I shall post it on here and the critique section.

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I've taught at the Kaua‘i Music Festival for a few years now (I teach composition in the Hawaiian language, so I probably can't help you). But one of the individuals how has presented for several years there is Jason Blume:

http://www.jasonblume.com/

He's done some pretty detailed analysis of trends in songwriting and keeps up with what is popular today. His focus is more on the pop and country styles, but a lot of what he teaches is applicable in many styles. He's had a few big hits himself, but seems to focus as much if not more on teaching these days. David Pack (Ambrosia) has also taught at KMF and our Academy's workships, and has handed out some very helpful materials. If I can find my copies and David doesn't mind I'll scan them.

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I've been writing songs for about 10 years now, and I think it's much like any other skill. The more you practice the better you get, and sometimes finding other people to write with can be very developing as well. Also testing out different genres, and listening to lots of music will help.

Offcourse playing an instrument will be of help, since it's easier to test out chord progressions and melodies. Even if you don't play an instrument you will need some basic knowledge of music when working with virtual instruments. Getting some basic music theory will as well be of help in writing music - though you shouldn't be sticking to the "rules" too hard, because it's when you break away from the norm you get some more interesting stuff.

I find it much of help to be writing in a home studio environment, since I can record everything at once and test out some arrangement ideas as well - adding drums and orchestra to the composition. I've kind of built the home recording studio over time, and learnt to use it over time as well. If I'm not in the studio when I get some ideas for music I usually record it on my phone for later reference :)

In Sweden there's a magazine called Studio wich covers tests of music equipment as well as how-to-guides for recording, mixing and songwriting. There's probably similar magazines in other countries.

http://studio.idg.se/

A program to check out when it comes to some music theory is Ear Master, it's ear training for musicians. I find it helpful:

http://www.earmaster.com/

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Ive been doing it mostly in spanish (first language) and english as well and i used to read articles, see videos, etc.

but the best way to improve is to write, and write, and write and write until you get better, getting indirectly inspired by similar artists, movies, books, etc. is good, takes you to another level

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oh and if you mean like musical composition and not lyrics, i also do it, started with guitar, can now compose bass, harmonica, drums, keyboard as well, its just the same thing, doing it over and over again and getting some inspiration, but learning music theory is quite helpful, having musical friends is a great help as well, even if they are noobs just as you

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One can also start basic and elaborate from there. For example, "Narcosynthesis" is really a basic song with a very simple vocal riff. What makes it sound complex is that the other instruments are playing at double and quadruple time to the meter of the voice. That is, the voice is meant to sound slow and sluggish, as if one is under the effects of a narcotic, such as valium, while the drums are at least quadruple that beat and the bass and guitars alternate between double and quadruple time to the vocal melody. These other instruments represent the world rushing by you at normal speed. So, the song is melody, lyrics (storytelling) and sonic effect to create a mental image of the theme. That song is a perfect example of everything right in songwriting, even programmatically (for a specific purpose or text, like music for movies and theater productions.)

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Song-writing is one of those vague terms. If you write lyrics, is that enough? Or do you have to create the chord progressions as well? What about the arrangement of instruments? Most popular music can easily be simplified down to a piano arrangement, and often they sound, at best, generic. There is a lot of talent involved in creating the music behind the singer; usually the simpler the chord progression, the more work needs to be done to make the song stand out!

I for one write terrible lyrics and am very interested in the arrangement side. The strings, brass, percussion, synthesisers, vocal harmonies, etc. How these producer guys can write for instruments they don't actually play, I don't know!

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Mr. Bounce, you reminded me of something else I meant to add in my posts. One of my favorite posts and guiding principles is from Annie Lennox. She and Dave Stewart (the Eurythmics) were performing "Who's That Girl?" on an episode of the Tonight Show and it was just them, no back up from the stage band on the show.

Annie said, "A real song is one that can be performed with one voice and one instrument, be that guitar or piano. If the song cannot be performed that simply, it is not a song."

But yes, a song involves, lyrics, melody, and arrangement. How many instruments and which ones play which part. And the voice must be viewed as an instrument, complimentary with the others. That was one of the neat things about Plant's performances with Led Zep. His voice was part of the sonic "picture," not just a case of a "Singer" with accompaniment.

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I don't know much about books about songwriting.

It's good to know some music theory for sure.

In my opinion listening to music is a very good way to learn about songwriting.

I like to think that in every genre of music there is it's own vocabulary.

Take a song that you like and ask yourself "what makes this song sound so good?", find the elements that appeal to you, study them

and try to apply similar kind of "tricks" in your own songs, but make them sound like you.

That's the way I learnt the little I know :)

When it comes to lyrics, I really don't know how to make good lyrics.

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I find the hardest parts about writing are:

Finding the "alone time" to do it.

Not reusing familiar chord progressions.

Not having your lyrics sound stupid.

:)

Then you have never seen the video of all the famous songs that use the same chord progression.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I read a book by Jason Blume on songwriting. He wasn't all that great as a guitar or piano player and really couldn't play anything when he decided to be a songwriter. But that is not a requirement. The greatest or biggest songs actually start as a melody, regardless of chords. Starting with chords, it can be quite predictable to fall into a melody you've already heard. So, Blume "writes" a song with melody first. Back in the day, it was humming or la-la'ing into a portable cassette recorder. These days, you can use a portable digital recorder. It's how Keith Richards came up with "I can't get no satisfaction." He woke up in the middle of the night with the riff in his head. He turned on the tape recorder and hummed the riff and then went back to sleep. So, the tape had about 30 seconds to one minute of the riff and 45 minutes of snoring.

When I wrote "Gimme Some Time," I woke up with the melody in my head. Before I even had some orange juice, I picked up the guitar to find what key it was in. G. And what chords would support it. G-D-C-G-Em-Bm-C-D. Probably 30 minutes to one hour to write the whole thing.

It won't happen that way every time. However, chord progressions will always be similar. What makes a song unique is the melody and how it is presented.

A song can also start out as a lyric but I guarantee that if you look at the meter of what you wrote, a melody will lend itself to it.

Another secret. 9 times out of 10, the melody covers no more than 10 notes and no more than an octave, usually, though sometimes stretching to an octave and a half. Plus, some songs sound better high, some are better low.

Now go and listen to a favorite song or even a hugely successful song. The main vocal melody will be less than 10 notes in range. Usually 4/4 time with 8 syllables or less per line. Standard rhyming is on the 2nd and 4th line.

You can vary from that in jazz and prog rock. And prog rock can be successful, such as Kansas, Dream Theatre, RUSH. Dixie Dregs with Steve Morse was pretty popular among the guitar freaks like me when I was a teenager.

The chorus will be pitched differently than the main lyrics or stanzas. The title will usually be in the chorus. Many hit songs start as a title. All the parts will have unifying themes that are subtley different. Some of the greatest guitar solos are not really fast or jazzy and actually flutter around the central melody, providing unification through the bridge, where it most often occurs. Listen to Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven." It's a slow, lazy ramble through the blues scale in A. And is pitched around the vocal line following it. Most of that solo is played at the 5th and 7th frets with the last trill before the final vocals at the 17th and 20th frets, as a transition. The main part of the song stays within an 8 note range, as does the high part, later on.

The lyrics ramble through some tangential summations that center around the dichotomy of how we view ourselves and where we are actually in the world. In the case of this song, the melody came out of the descending counterpointed tones in Jimmie's "finger exercise." That is, the guitar part at the beginning was one of Jimmie's warm-up runs, meant to practice harmony and counterpoint.

So, start with melody. 9 times out of 10, that will get you where you want to go.

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About starting with melody, then harmonizing is a sure way to get a more complete picture of the song. Totally agree. However in the best of worlds you want to go all Mozart and just scribble down everything you have in your head, rhythm, parts, melody and harmony at the same time. But it's nearly impossible. Once you write out some rhythm half the melody is gone, or the words have gone astray :)

You can analyse some songs and almost feel how it started. If they got a strong beat as in electronic music they probably started with the drums and bass and added harmony on-top. Melody as an afterthought.

I usually just for kicks try to limit myself to just write a song from one single riff, or starting from the rhythm. It's always different. Sometimes I like to have two or three bandmates to help out so I can just write lyrics while someone else contribute with some chords etc.

What I have noticed is that I almost always write lyrics in situations around my person, my thoughts, moods etc. They are always sublimely present (or I could just be reading into my own words). What I do if I feel I've gone too personal is just to hand it over to someone else and let them have a take on it. I've made some great songs that way. It's also sometimes easier to start something that you already begun at an earlier stage so I keep everything I jot down in a huge archive. I flip through it at times and take stuff here and there, refresh it and slam it right back again if it doesn't catch my interest enough.

Cheers

Fred

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Mozart had a unique gift. He could often hear the complete piece in his head and then wrote furiously on everything to get it on paper. Tom Hulce did an astounding job portraying him in "Amadeus," based on the Rimsky-Korsakov opera, wherein, the story line involves a plot on the part of Antonio Salieri, court composer to Emperor Joseph (the musical king), to bury Mozart figuratively and literally. Jeffrey Jones played the perfect pompous Emperor and F. Murray Abraham was brilliant as Salieri. One of my favorite movies.

"It's all up here. The rest is just scribbling and bibbling ... bibbling and scribbling."

and,

"There are simply too many notes. Just snip a few here and there and everything will be fine."

Another technique to tightening up lyrics is to ask if that word or phrase could be taken out and would the song be better, the same, or worse.

And then someone comes along with "Macarena," which should be listed as enhanced interrogation techniques, in my opinion. But, hey, it was a hit song.

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Hey guys... in regards to Songwriting... I was able to get a special savings on Master Writer 2.0,, which is this REALLY cool lyric writing software. TMV members save $20, cllick here for details:

http://www.themodernvocalist.com/page/tmv-membership-savings

I have the program and its great!

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That's a pretty cool software. I remember seeing an interview with David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust phase. His approach to novel songwriting was lo-tech, for sure. He had phrases and words written on slips of paper and would re-group them to see what that looked like. Any ole way to get past writer's block.

Sometimes, I look at a lyric and I can hear in my head, a melody that goes with it.

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