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Old 10-05-2013, 06:05 PM   #1
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I can make nice riffs, but I don't know how to structure songs?

I'm transitioning from just jamming to making music, but I've noticed I'm not really good at making transitional material, and generally can only just write a part to a song, but not a whole song.

Any tips on how to get over this hump? I'd like to do some actual demos, but I'm just really not too well with thinking of transitions and building riffs upon core riffs.

Here's some small demos I did a while ago.

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Old 10-05-2013, 08:24 PM   #2
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Learn how to figure songs out by ear it teaches you how to compose music. Trust me on this one I'm a beast at improvising just because I've learnt so much songs by ear it really develops your ear musically with mixing notes chord sequences everything man.
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Old 10-06-2013, 03:59 AM   #3
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Most of my song ideas are just one or two riffs. I think your problem is really common. Writing songs is hard.

I liked your second idea. It could have some vocals over it (or a guitar melody if you prefer instrumentals but IMO the riff sounded more fitting to a song with vocals - but just write a melody) - that could be the verse riff. Then add a distorted riff that has more energy to it and make that your chorus. You could try thinking like that - what do you want the next part to sound like?

I have an idea (I'm talking about your second idea) - after you have repeated that riff enough times, switch to distortion, play the dominant chord (in this case B major) (maybe palm muted 8th notes and drum fill over it) and then start chorus riff. It could be in the relative minor key or just stay in the same key (maybe start the riff with the IV chord, in this case A major chord - or if you want to go to the relative minor, start it with C#m chord). Just some ideas. IMO modulating to C# minor could add something to the song. But if you want it to be really upbeat, just stay in E major. But as I said, maybe start the chorus with the IV chord. You have many different options, maybe play the whole song with clean sound.

So try to think about the sound - what do you want it to sound like? Not necessarily individual notes or chords but more like feelings. Distorted sound vs clean sound? Energetic vs calm feeling (or something in between)? Maybe depressing feeling? What kind of rhythm (though this has a lot to do with the feeling)? Now how could you achieve these feelings? This may help. Though how I usually write songs is I just come up with some cool sounding part and then listen to it, maybe analyze it (rhythm, chords) and then I may try using something in common with the first idea in my second idea.

Oh, and maybe try using drum fills and sustained (or palm muted) chords in part changes.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine : 10-06-2013 at 04:06 AM.
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Old 10-06-2013, 04:36 AM   #4
Phil Starr
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Riffs alone don't make a song. They make it original and distinctive but you need a chord structure, verse chorus middle eight. etc.

As I always look for shortcuts have a listen to this if you go on Youtube there are many more like this, Just about every other song made uses these chords or fewer. There's a few ways to mix this up like key changes, and it is all there in music theory.

Just in case you don't think you just want to write simple pop songs this goes way deeper than that. Have a look at this about 14 mins in and see how it applies to classical music too. If it was good enough for Vivaldi and Mozart it'll do you for a while yet.
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Old 10-09-2013, 08:49 AM   #5
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....I also have issues with basic song structure.....I wish there was an app like google maps....."turn to Chorus now"..."3 bars straight ahead and then proceed to verse".... or a dummies how to book out there!!
I believe in god, jesus and the holy ghost.....or as i call them Angus, Kirk and Lemmy
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Old 10-09-2013, 09:11 AM   #6
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As someone said earlier, you can make a song with just a few riffs.

I'm not obsessive about structure. I don't mind songs that just progress through parts (A-B-C-D) instead of repeating forms (A-B-A-B-C etc).

If you build a library of riffs (in the hundreds) you notice that some go together easily: same key, tempo, meter, and / or feel. It's relatively easy to combine these to make a song, and it's easy to repeat units to get a conventional structure. One thing I like to do is inject a far-out middle section which can be musically unrelated to the rest of the song.

If you have a large number of riffs you should be able to judge which ones would make a good intro, which ones (being a little dull in themselves maybe) could carry a solo or a verse melody, and there could be lesser riffs (perhaps written on the fly) to link them. Not every part of the song needs A+ riffs.

Last edited by Jehannum : 10-09-2013 at 09:12 AM.
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Old 10-11-2013, 11:32 AM   #7
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Write out the chords in that key and play around with it...you can't just riff your way through a whole song, gotta give listener a break. Vocals do have a tendency to help figure things out as it leads you in a "natural" direction. Also listen to similar songs and copy their structure but with your own riff and chords. A friend to listen also helps, sometimes you will get in your own way and add too much.
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Old 10-11-2013, 11:41 AM   #8
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After I have written two or more parts to a song, it gets a lot easier. IMO writing the second part is the most difficult part of songwriting. I don't usually plan my song structure, it kind of writes itself. I hear which part would fit as the next part and if some parts need to be repeated. Actually after I have written the first and second part of the song, the song kind of writes itself.

And @ people who didn't listen to the ideas TS posted - they aren't just riffs. They are more like chord progressions with a rhythmic idea. I mean, they are more than just riffs, they are song ideas. They have all instruments and stuff added to them. I think people should first listen to the ideas to give proper advice.
My motto: Play what the song needs you to play!


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Old 10-11-2013, 12:44 PM   #9
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Two things:

As always, what you need to do is develop your ear, and then play your "A" section, and then listen to the silence until you hear, in your mind, what you want the "B" section to sound like. Then find that on your guitar. This should be your go-to method when your stuck. Sometimes, however, layering a bunch of parts together as you've done in these examples makes this harder.

Secondly, listen to a bunch of music you love and internalize it. Transcribe it. Do the work of figuring it out without looking up tabs. You don't need to get it perfect. But if you go and internalize 20 section transitions in songs you like, you'll start to program that part of your brain so that you understand transitions.
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