Where do you start?

Discuss playing styles and techniques, or share your own here.
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notavirtuoso
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When you're writing a new song, where do you start? I've started songs from all sorts of places and don't seem to have a normal or preferred method. Sometimes I'll start with a bass line or a chord progression and let a melody develop (or not, depending on the tune), sometimes I have a simple melody and build everything else around it and other times I'll take bits of failed songs and make a new arrangement out of the bits I like. Anyone here have a set method or at least really seem to prefer one way or another or is everyone else as inconsistent as I am?
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-SkiZ-
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writing music is not about having a method, at least that's what i think and i bet most people do too. the creative part of the brain is a mess and so is the creative process of writing music at least until most of it is materialized (that is, written or whatever) and one can start working on structure and stuff like that. That, unless one does not write music as a creative process but as a methodic thing, wich is likely to be music i'd rather not listen to.
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guyver_dio
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I think everyones like that. I don't know about you, but I don't really get a tune or idea before I sit down with an instrument, so like it's not like get an idea then materialize it. It's more accidental that just comes from noodling around after awhile. Something jumps out at me that I do or triggers a tune in my head, then I work on it while I'm in that frame of mind, I like to write the entire song if possible when I actually get the idea, otherwise I lose interest later and don't bother going back to it. It mostly depends on what I'm doing at the time that gets me started, so if I'm just noodling around soloing, I might start with a melody, or if I'm working on chord progressions and rhythm patterns I'll start with that. It doesn't always stick to guitar too, I might start writing something on guitar and find I could do something better with this on a keyboard and start working it out on there. I know shit all about piano, but you don't need to limit yourself to guitar if you're writing something, you can pretty much pick up any instrument for the first time and write something, depends on what sort of arrangement brings it out of you. I always find instruments you're not familiar with better for writing, your forced to play around rather than look at an instrument and only see things by what you know.
Pif
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It really depends, but most of my actual music writing was in a band. Even if I came most of the time with a solid idea, it was the process and everyone's input which breathed life into it. A rewarding but tedious process, and everyone has to keep their ego in check (and everyone having the right to veto an idea is probably a good thing).

By oneself, the best idea is certainly to go with melody, but I'd rather muck around messing the beat, going asymetric and try to layer a strange riff on top of it. We all have our problems...
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notavirtuoso
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For me, at least some of the time (maybe 1/3) I don't have an instrument around when an idea hits. I'll be at work and I'll start hearing a riff or melody in my head. This happens out of necessity as I'm not able to listen to music while I'm working. Anyway, the idea will hit and I'll write it down and try to recreate it when I get home. Sometimes I dream up nothing but the drums which is frustrating as I have a hard time writing that out as something I can understand/duplicate later. The other 2/3 of the time I just happen upon things while playing, either focused sessions or simply wanking out.

A friend of mine has a method. He'll record an improvised jam of chord progressions and then listen to them later, looking for things he likes. When he finds them he'll separate them in his head and start mixing and matching looking for things that stand out as a verse or chorus and work on an arrangement. After he has something he likes he'll start looking for the melody. Sometimes his songs sound really stale while others not too bad at all.
Desert_Runner
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I just play what I hear in my head.
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sunai
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Desert_Runner wrote:I just play what I hear in my head.
I'm a teeny bit different....i'll play an idea and tab it out on guitar pro...then lay down on my bed, close my eyes and see what hits me!!!

This works, and i also remember Jordan rudess playing with me on an idea, that was a dream !!!!!!!!!
Mr. Supertron
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What I do is noodle around. When I come up with a solid riff or lick but don't know where to go from there I either turn my mp3 player on to the mic ( it sucks its only for trying things out) or I go to the computer and record what I did. I'll listen to it and I will play through in my head what I think should happen next. Recording Ideas is the best thing you could do because then you can listen to what you did instead of just playing it and listening to yourself as you play. Also recording an idea may inspire you to rum melodies or other chord progressions.
I don't always do it this way depends If I am in a rut or not.
guitarmanK1982
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notavirtuoso wrote:When you're writing a new song, where do you start? I've started songs from all sorts of places and don't seem to have a normal or preferred method. Sometimes I'll start with a bass line or a chord progression and let a melody develop (or not, depending on the tune), sometimes I have a simple melody and build everything else around it and other times I'll take bits of failed songs and make a new arrangement out of the bits I like. Anyone here have a set method or at least really seem to prefer one way or another or is everyone else as inconsistent as I am?

Notavirtuoso - thanks for the invite in the 'synthetic scales' section to comment in this thread.



My situation is quite different, since I write for something set down beforehand.

I may have to write something that expresses tension, horror, etc etc - all the ranges of human (and sometimes non-human!) emotion.

As such, certain idiosyncrasies of each style have to be understood first e.g. what makes horror music 'scary'? What can make horror music very effective is a sharp contrast i.e. at a moment of terror, childish-sounding music is often played (e.g. glockenspiels, simple melodies etc) - this emphasises the sheer inhumanity of the situation, since most childhood associations we have are of being 'safe' from danger - this type of music actually adds to the sense of dread, and leads to a greater sense of isolation.

The same thing is done with religious (i.e. choral) music and horror movies - religion is traditionally meant to be a safe haven - when placed in the context of a horror movie, it becomes the extreme opposite (please note that these are just a very few examples of what makes horror music effective, and are in no way exhaustive).

This is to such an extent that many youngsters nowadays associate choral music with dread/fear, since they have been exposed to this type of music more in horror films than actually hearing it in a religious (i.e. traditional) setting.

There are such 'tricks' for all styles/emotions.



The standard format when composing movie music is to see the actual video footage, and simply play/improvise over the top of it, and see what happens. However, some composers compose before footage has begun. Most of the knowledge of what is needed for each emotion is in the subconscious by the time one is writing for a movie, so there is no need to worry about things such as not creating something that won't 'fit', as it were.

However, foley artists/sound editors/designers also have a huge effect and input with movie music.





I'm sorry, but i'll have to add to the sentiment that there is no fixed way of writing music.


When I write music not for work, i'll usually do the same thing - just sit and play, and take note of anything I like that sounds good.

But i'm sure it all has to do with many things - one example could be what we have listened to in our past e.g. perhaps we heard something once that we thought was great, then haven't heard it since - in effect, forgetting about it - then we may play a comination of notes that subconsciously reminds us of that original tune.

There are a number of reasons why something may appeal, and probably as many on why something doesn't appeal.




I also write lots of choral music, but i'm never fully satisfied with things I write for solo voice and just one instrument (e.g. a singer and a guitarist) - the music I write for solo voice and an instrument would sound fine, but it just doesn't feel right to me.

I'd love to be able to write a simple, beautiful song with great words, such as Dolly Parton does. But wouldn't we all!!




RE the musical elements of a song - when at music school, it is common to be given the task of 'reinventing' a melody i.e. taking a known melody, keeping it exactly as it is (i.e. no jazz-like alterations to the rhythm), and trying to reinvent it in as many ways as possible - usually by altering the underlying harmony, or the instrumentation etc etc

It is akin to taking the foreground of a painting, and trying to paint as many different backgrounds for the painting as is possible (e.g. a nice day, a cloudy sky, a thunderstorm etc etc), and seeing the effect each one has on the foreground.

Another exercise was to take the harmony of a piece, don't alter it in any way, and try to write as many different melodies for it as is possible.

The beauty of this type of training is that you aren't starting with a 'blank canvas', as it were. There is always something to build from.

Eventually, doing both becomes far easier.



Sometimes a blank canvas can be very difficult - having the freedom to do everything/anything can be very restricting, as it can be difficult to know where to start.



If you are having trouble writing, you should try the above exercise - it won't reduce your creativity - it will actually help it, as it forces you to channel your creativity, rather than what can be the common way of floundering in your creativity!



Try taking the chord progression of a Vai solo, and writing your own melody over it, or try taking the actual solo itself, and rewriting the underlying harmony.

The most difficult part can be trying to forget the original part you are trying to rewrite!



It should also be noted that the guitar is a notoriously difficult instrument to compose for/on. Berlioz managed it well, but he is one of a select few. On the guitar, playing something such as a Gm11 can be difficult, but on the piano, this would be no more difficult than any other chord, due to the linear nature of the instrument.

I'd suggest learning the piano - not in a classical way - but simply learning the chords etc. It will probably make things far easier with regards to composing.

Another beauty of the piano is its' range - the reason for 88 notes is that this is the full range of the orchestra - anything you write on the piano can be played by something else.

With the guitar, the upper and lower ranges of the orchestral spectrum are omitted.
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notavirtuoso
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Thanks for the reply as I was genuinely curious. I'm not really having trouble writing, I was just interested in what other people do or have done. It could make for an interesting discussion.
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prman
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The most valuable lesson I`ve ever learned about writing music is: whatever you write, finish it! You only learn from the completed process.
Jon Gunnar
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Some of the best songwriters of all time do it differently each time. Some of them always use the same method. Clear proof of there is no single best way.
Hypnus9
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notavirtuoso wrote:When you're writing a new song, where do you start? I've started songs from all sorts of places and don't seem to have a normal or preferred method. Sometimes I'll start with a bass line or a chord progression and let a melody develop (or not, depending on the tune), sometimes I have a simple melody and build everything else around it and other times I'll take bits of failed songs and make a new arrangement out of the bits I like. Anyone here have a set method or at least really seem to prefer one way or another or is everyone else as inconsistent as I am?
Well, the beginning of the answer to your question is how many elements do you want to involve at the beginning? Do you want to start of with a simple or complex melody, or do you want to state the outline of the piece or song with the general chord progression alone? Or maybe you want to use something sonically abrupt, as Steve did with a pick scrape to begin "The Attitude Song." One method I would prescribe at the outset of your compositional career is to imitate other composers, whether rock'n'rollers or jazzers or classical composers. That usually is considered legitimate, and after you have imitated for awhile, then you can begin, after having a little familiarity with compositional devices and methods, making forays into the original. There is a saying, "Good composers borrow; great composers steal." To actually know what to do, try actually 'lifting" sections from someone else's work in terms of chord progressions, or in the way of a riff or lick, inverting or reversing it note for note, and see what you have.

If you'll recall, Steve did an apprenticeship with Frank Zappa for several years before he became an artist in his own right, and even great masters, such as Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti did aprenticeships with other masters , in their shops, before they were actually commissioned artists in their own right. and, not to leave anything out, Steve was a bandit for transcribing during his tenure at Berklee School of Music in Boston, learning other people's stuff.
Desert_Runner
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Hypnus9 wrote:There is a saying, "Good composers borrow; great composers steal."
I thought it was "If you steal from one person, it's called plagerism. If you steal from many people, it's called research." I'm not sure if we're thinking of the same saying though. Both are relevant.
Hypnus9
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Desert_Runner wrote:
Hypnus9 wrote:There is a saying, "Good composers borrow; great composers steal."
I thought it was "If you steal from one person, it's called plagerism. If you steal from many people, it's called research." I'm not sure if we're thinking of the same saying though. Both are relevant.
Hi, Desert_Runner. I like your version, too. It is maybe a little more thorough. You know, if I may use a food analogy, when you go to the supermarket, you purchase many different things. You buy things from all of the food groups: meats, breads and cereals, dairy and fruits, and vegetables. Everything is commercially avaiable. But you buy a variety of things commonly available. The same goes for music. If you consider, for instance, Instrumental Guitar Rock your "meat," You still need things from the other groups in order to round out your diet. Perhaps, if you're in the mood for something rich, you might try considering either some music from a different genre, such as an obscure music by a well known classical composer, such as Jean Sibelius. Or if you just want something to go along with your meat that you like that isn't so rich, but no less satisfying, you might go with something from the catalog of jazz music, like John Coltrane or Miles Davis. But I think the analogy of going to the market, with a few examples from different genres, will suffice. I believe you get what am say.

I believe that we as musicians ought to be eclectics, even if specialists. So, even if we specialize in one particular area, we still want to draw from a diverse palette and do a little "extra-curricular" research in order to come up with a certain recipe.
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