Songwriting processes

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hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
edited May 13 in Theory

Wonder if you guys can advise me. I’m having a go at songwriting and as I always ignored any kind of theory in my younger years I am now paying the price for that decision. So when I write guitar solos for a song, I’ve always used the Blues scale (caged box system), major and minor positions etc. This has always worked for me when there’s already been a track for me to play over I.e. melody and mood/sound etc. However, I’m starting from scratch, coming up with the chord progression etc. 

So my question is when writing do you just play around with the major scale to come up with a melody etc. Maybe embellish the chords later with nicer chord extensions etc. I suppose one has to be aware of Modes -  ol’ god I’ve said that word. Just wish I can fully use and understand them

What would your usual processes be in songwriting etc.

Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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Comments

  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 4383
    Usually I play around with chords, and try to throw in something unusual so there's something harmonically interesting, then try to sing over that and feel a melody out that is supported by what I'm doing.

    Rhythm plays a big part in it too. The groove you're working with matters.
    Captain Horizon (my old band);
    Very (!) Occasional Blog
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 1041

    Steal.
    Take a song you like.
    Use that progression
    Speed it up
    Slow it down.
    change the rhythm 
    mutter any old codswallop, just let it out.
    record
    rpt.
    start again. 
    rpt


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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    JAYJO said:

    Steal.
    Take a song you like.
    Use that progression
    Speed it up
    Slow it down.
    change the rhythm 
    mutter any old codswallop, just let it out.
    record
    rpt.
    start again. 
    rpt


    LOL Well I can certainly do that :) Thanks
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • JAYJOJAYJO Frets: 1041
    Ive just had a listen to Roses in the hospital by manic street preachers, ive never heard it before.Funny thing is i can hear  David Bowie sound and vision n there somewhere. Probably just me .. Whats going on? lol  steal steal orange peel.
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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    JAYJO said:
    Ive just had a listen to Roses in the hospital by manic street preachers, ive never heard it before.Funny thing is i can hear  David Bowie sound and vision n there somewhere. Probably just me .. Whats going on? lol  steal steal orange peel.
    If it makes me a million I’ll do it :). I won’t be performing it though as I’m too friggin old to sell anything now. I’ll enlist a very vivacious youngster to front it of course 
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 514
    Usually have a chorus made up of chords and build from there. Or a main riff. I don't think too much about theory when writing, I just go with whatever suits the song and what sounds good.
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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    Usually have a chorus made up of chords and build from there. Or a main riff. I don't think too much about theory when writing, I just go with whatever suits the song and what sounds good.
    Usually have a chorus made up of chords and build from there. Or a main riff. I don't think too much about theory when writing, I just go with whatever suits the song and what sounds good.
    Ahh that’s called talent though. You can’t learn that ;)
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 514
    Nah no talent here mate, just experience!!

    I also think about the arrangement of songs alot too, like section by section, as a guitar tutor I'm forever learning and teaching songs so I get used to how they're structured. Take one of your favourite songs and look at how its laid out, what does it start with, how many choruses are there and where's the main hook, etc.
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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    Nah no talent here mate, just experience!!

    I also think about the arrangement of songs alot too, like section by section, as a guitar tutor I'm forever learning and teaching songs so I get used to how they're structured. Take one of your favourite songs and look at how its laid out, what does it start with, how many choruses are there and where's the main hook, etc.
    The hook being the catchy memorable bit?
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1951
    edited May 13
    A little bit of theory goes a long way. I focused on the Key of C major/A minor. I learnt all the different chords and scales, then explored the modes, chord tones & non-chord tones, etc.. All the other Keys use the exact same theory, so keep it simple in the beginning, and you can transpose into any other Key.

    C Major Chords:

    C Dm Em F G Am Bdim = I ii iii IV V vi viidim

    C Major Scale:

    c  d e f g a b = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    So, C Major = c e g = 1 3 5, with non-chord tones d f a b = 2 4 6 7

    Everything is repetition after this, e.g. Dm = 2 4 6, Em = 3 5 7 etc..
    “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    Freebird said:
    A little bit of theory goes a long way. I focused on the Key of C major/A minor. I learnt all the different chords and scales, then explored the modes, chord tones & non-chord tones, etc.. All the other Keys use the exact same theory, so keep it simple in the beginning, and you can transpose everything into any other Key.

    C Dm Em F G Am Bdim = I ii iii IV V vi viidim
    That DIM chord is a funny one but I've viewed a few youtube videos is showing how one could use it. Quite a nice chord when used well. 
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    edited May 13
    Freebird said:
    Here are the cheat sheets..


    Thanks @Freebird yeah I have those and charts like these are a great help. It's when it Comes to soloing on the guitar I get lost and and have a danger in sounding like I'm playing scales all the time. I'm ok with the Blues scale I mentioned earlier as I base all my licks around it etc and I've been doing it for a while now I guess. I would just like to sound better more accomplished by adding more notes of the scale I could use. Modes, full major scale/ minor scale. I guess it alll comes down to just trying stuff out. Some will sound rubbish but may find something that works well
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1951
    edited May 13
    Thanks @Freebird yeah I have those and charts like these are a great help. It's when it Comes to soloing on the guitar I get lost and and have a danger in sounding like I'm playing scales all the time. I'm ok with the Blues scale I mentioned earlier as I base all my licks around it etc and I've been doing it for a while now I guess. I would just like to sound better more accomplished by adding more notes of the scale I could use. Modes, full major scale/ minor scale. I guess it alll comes down to just trying stuff out. Some will sound rubbish but may find something that works well
    In that case try some different scales, but seriously try to make some headway on the theory side. I was bamboozled for a very long time until suddenly everything fell into place. Things went from appearing abstract or random, into having a specific structure with repeating patterns, and I can now work out things in my head before picking up an instrument.

    Maybe download an app for your phone, so that you can have an easy reference close to hand. I use Chord! which is pretty good. When I play a solo I am mostly interested in the position of the tonic & the dominant notes (1&5), and I generally play around those by ear. This is also where the non-chord tones come in handy if you are looking for different flavours.

    You can reverse search with Chord! too, so find some notes that you like, do a scale search and then find the associated harmony chords. There are a lot of ways of doing the same thing!
    “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
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  • vizviz Frets: 5464
    @hotpickups said:
    Freebird said:
    A little bit of theory goes a long way. I focused on the Key of C major/A minor. I learnt all the different chords and scales, then explored the modes, chord tones & non-chord tones, etc.. All the other Keys use the exact same theory, so keep it simple in the beginning, and you can transpose everything into any other Key.

    C Dm Em F G Am Bdim = I ii iii IV V vi viidim
    That DIM chord is a funny one but I've viewed a few youtube videos is showing how one could use it. Quite a nice chord when used well. 
    Ooh I’d love to see some examples please, because dim chord (in a major key as chord vii) is really rare, at least I can’t find any - they’re always 1st inversions of the V. 
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 514
    Nah no talent here mate, just experience!!

    I also think about the arrangement of songs alot too, like section by section, as a guitar tutor I'm forever learning and teaching songs so I get used to how they're structured. Take one of your favourite songs and look at how its laid out, what does it start with, how many choruses are there and where's the main hook, etc.
    The hook being the catchy memorable bit?
    Yes, could be a vocal melody, or a guitar riff, etc.
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  • hotpickupshotpickups Frets: 1109
    viz said:
    @hotpickups said:
    Freebird said:
    A little bit of theory goes a long way. I focused on the Key of C major/A minor. I learnt all the different chords and scales, then explored the modes, chord tones & non-chord tones, etc.. All the other Keys use the exact same theory, so keep it simple in the beginning, and you can transpose everything into any other Key.

    C Dm Em F G Am Bdim = I ii iii IV V vi viidim
    That DIM chord is a funny one but I've viewed a few youtube videos is showing how one could use it. Quite a nice chord when used well. 
    Ooh I’d love to see some examples please, because dim chord (in a major key as chord vii) is really rare, at least I can’t find any - they’re always 1st inversions of the V. 
    Only really good for a passing chord and resolved with the route or I chord I believe 
    Link to my trading feedback:  http://www.thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/59452/
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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4741
    So my first process would be to forget about the guitar solo, its almost always a minor role in a song. I'd also very rarely start with the melody. I was actually listening to a podcast with Patrick Stump from falloutboy who said it really well that the melody is teh easy bit, its the fun bit and you only have a good melody if it relates to something else that's going on.

    So for me it starts with a riff, chord progression of bass line.

    Then once I have a few sections I'lls tart to think about the peaks and troughs in intensity I want to ahve in the song and try out a rough structure. Only then will I look at vocal ideas (although these days more often I'll work with my bands singer for that since he's way better).

    Stuff like the solo I wont think of in terms of modes or scales but first i'll chart it out in what major sections do I want. Like do I want long held notes here, or do i want fast runs to build into a crescendo. Once I have that outline ill just play random garbage in the right style and repeat until I iterate onto something I like..

    So while I might not have the most muscially accomplished solo, it will be one that has some direction and tells a story.
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  • FuengiFuengi Frets: 1032
    Would you base the riff off a chord shape or play within a pentatonic? 
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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4741
    It depends on the type of part, if its groove oriented then I typically start just improvising anything, there's definitely shapes that come under my fingers more often but an initial idea will often come from noodling and then picking something out from that. There's probably a high amount of pentatonic stuff but it could just as easily be totally chromatic. 

    For something that's more chord or arpeggio driven I might play around within the chord shape looking for notes that add the right "colour" to the basic progression.
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  • guitarfishbayguitarfishbay Frets: 7522
    I usually bank any riff I think of in a basic way (e.g. voice memo) then play them to bandmates to see what they're liking.

    At that point, usually me and the singer write with voice and acoustic guitar to get the basic chord progressions, rhythms, song structure.  When that's more dialled in then bring in drums and electric guitars, in the recording phase bring in programming/synths, harmonies etc.  I usually hear all the extra instrumentation in my head then work out how to make it happen.

    I listened to the same podcast as @PolarityMan and while I can see where he's coming from that's not what I find works for me.  I remember reading an interview with a pop producer who writes with the artist, and IIRC he just played root notes on bass as they worked out the song and melody, everything else got fleshed out later.  He didn't even want to imply chords in case it pulled the vocalist away from the natural melody for the lyrics.

    The way I see it is the music could be anything, you only have to type on "(pop) song title - metal" and you'll find multiple metal covers of pop songs on YouTube with vastly different instrumentation, still the same song though.  That's not to say the music doesn't matter, of course it is hugely important, but my own methodology is song first instrumentation later.
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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4741

      That's not to say the music doesn't matter, of course it is hugely important, but my own methodology is song first instrumentation later.

    I'm definitely advocating a song first approach, just not necessarily vocal melody despite it's strong resonance with the listener. We have written a few songs working back from cowboy chords and vocal melody but it seems easier to find a strong vocal melody by improvising over existing music (like a solo) than to come up with a really strong instrumental off the back of the vocal melody.  Of course the whole thing is iterated on so if our singer says " I really want to go to this note but its clashing with something somewhere else" then we might adjust the other parts around a bit.
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  • jpfampsjpfamps Frets: 1691

    I think you need to find an approach that works for you.

    I generally write without any instruments, eg coming up with a vocal line, or hook. I'll then arrange the song around this.

    The great advantage of this approach is that you can do it anywhere, eg on a train. Carrying a notebook is a good idea too.

    Occasionally I might do something more riff based, in which case I would probably develop that from playing an instrument, usually, but always, guitar.

    To be honest I would say I'm much better at arranging songs than coming up with the original idea.

    It really worth looking at well-written songs to see how great writers structure songs. The Mowtown catalogue is a good place to start.




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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1951
    edited May 29
    I should have mentioned earlier that a piano is a songwriters best friend, and it can be a real one or digital. I've even gone a stage further and found some music software that can play every chord imaginable, which I use as the foundation for a melody that I tap out using a piano VST. I can easily get decent song starter ideas in a minute or two. The process could also be reversed, and you could start with a melody before finding a complementary harmony. You have to know the basics of music theory though, which I set out above.
    “When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
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