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Old 11-23-2012, 05:25 PM   #1
CryogenicHusk
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Write with your ear and improvising

Besides the miles.b ear trainer, I've tried to make it a habit to try figure out things from my ear with my fingers as is constantly suggested here. I've done it with happy birthday, and a couple of nursery rhymes, as well as whatever I hear in my head at that moment. Problem is sometimes I want to work on something original, and just keep hearing bits of other people's melodies or solos, which isn't that bad... the real problem is when sometimes I don't hear anything AT ALL.

What I try to do in such situations is I loop 1 or more chords on guitar pro and see if my ear comes up with a melody and sometimes it works. It works sometimes but it's been happening more and more often that nothing works (not even 1 simple chord). Even when playing the loop, I can't hear anything... like my ear decides to focus on the chord(s) but doesn't want to come up with a melody. Sometimes it just wants to add more chords to the progression or something, like I loop a simple E major and instead of hearing a short melody in E major in my head, my brain insists on instead thinking about other chords that can follow it, and then maybe that same progression in another key. Like I completely lose control of my own ear when what I just want to hear a simple melody.

I think being able to hear SOMETHING (even if it's not that great, anything counts to me, just like the many failed attempts to create the light bulb) whenever I feel like it/need to, will be essential in the long run when trying to improvise. How do I train myself to do this? Is it a relaxation thing? Do I just let it go and accept that maybe I'm not very inspired at that particular moment/day and put the guitar down or practice/learn a song written by somebody else? Or is there a way to just close my eyes and do something with my mind so that I can let those melodies start surfacing like some sort of meditation, lol?

tl;dr - It has happened fairly often lately that I hear nothing in my ear: no melodies original or already existent. I wanna know if others ran into this and how they overcame it...

Last edited by CryogenicHusk : 11-23-2012 at 05:26 PM.
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Old 11-23-2012, 05:32 PM   #2
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Listening to and learning to play various different types of music is always helpful, but that is obvious. You said something about accepting that you nay not be inspired that day. That is a very very GOOD thing to do. Forcing a song doesn't usually yield the best results. The only way to "train" yourself is to practice at it constantly. You're going to hear other songs for a while. I find that messing around with other songs is a great way to come up with something of your own, especially if you aren't 100% on how to play said song. John from the RHCP meditated and he said it helped a lot. There are too many ways to get inspired for a new song. The only rule is to do it.
In my own experience, playing more than one genre is the key to making interesting songs. I'm in a metal band, but I have an enormous R&B and trance influence in addition to loving SikTh Not being afraid to mix genres helps a lot. Some people use it as a gimmick, but when done tastefully, others will barely even recognize what you're doing.
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Old 11-23-2012, 06:25 PM   #3
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If the backing track is only E major chord, maybe start with playing an E note (or whatever note, just play something). Maybe some ideas will come to your head. It's easier to hear something in your head when you already have played something. I mean, you might get inspired if you first play some notes.
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Old 11-23-2012, 09:46 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sonny bb
Listening to and learning to play various different types of music is always helpful, but that is obvious. You said something about accepting that you nay not be inspired that day. That is a very very GOOD thing to do. Forcing a song doesn't usually yield the best results. The only way to "train" yourself is to practice at it constantly. You're going to hear other songs for a while. I find that messing around with other songs is a great way to come up with something of your own, especially if you aren't 100% on how to play said song. John from the RHCP meditated and he said it helped a lot. There are too many ways to get inspired for a new song. The only rule is to do it.
In my own experience, playing more than one genre is the key to making interesting songs. I'm in a metal band, but I have an enormous R&B and trance influence in addition to loving SikTh Not being afraid to mix genres helps a lot. Some people use it as a gimmick, but when done tastefully, others will barely even recognize what you're doing.


I like several genres. Actually, I've been learning some R&B lately. I'm terrible at mixing genres and would love to get better at that too, lol. So you're saying hearing stuff in your head can be practiced too?

Quote:
Originally Posted by MaggaraMarine
If the backing track is only E major chord, maybe start with playing an E note (or whatever note, just play something). Maybe some ideas will come to your head. It's easier to hear something in your head when you already have played something. I mean, you might get inspired if you first play some notes.


Ok, I'll try that next time, just playing the root note and seeing if I hear something from that. Thanks
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Old 11-23-2012, 11:40 PM   #5
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You should try to learn to hear how all the notes sound in the context of the song.

Also, most importantly, if you're hearing chords, play the chords. Solo's don't have to be only single notes. And besides, if you're hearing chords and shit, then that's what your heart/brain/toes/whateverthe**** feels like playing at that moment. THATS what improvising is; playing what you feel in the moment.
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Old 11-26-2012, 10:29 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by macashmack
You should try to learn to hear how all the notes sound in the context of the song.

Also, most importantly, if you're hearing chords, play the chords. Solo's don't have to be only single notes. And besides, if you're hearing chords and shit, then that's what your heart/brain/toes/whateverthe**** feels like playing at that moment. THATS what improvising is; playing what you feel in the moment.



hadn't thought of it like that... That's an interesting observation. I still suck at hearing chords over chords which is partly why I hesitate to delve too much on chords. But this might actually help explore that territory. Thanks!
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Old 11-26-2012, 05:03 PM   #7
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If you hear the chords, you also hear part of the melody because the chords if you hear em first, are the underlying "melody", subconcious if you will. I would've found all the chords until i was satisfied with the progression, and Then try to find a melody to go over it. it seems to me like thats what your mind wanted to do.
It might be good training to try to hear melodies to a one chord vamp, but in my opinion singing and hearing over a chord progression you like or know is way more exciting, fulfilling and pleasing to myself.

Last edited by Ignore : 11-26-2012 at 05:32 PM.
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Old 11-26-2012, 06:45 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ignore
If you hear the chords, you also hear part of the melody because the chords if you hear em first, are the underlying "melody", subconcious if you will. I would've found all the chords until i was satisfied with the progression, and Then try to find a melody to go over it. it seems to me like thats what your mind wanted to do.
It might be good training to try to hear melodies to a one chord vamp, but in my opinion singing and hearing over a chord progression you like or know is way more exciting, fulfilling and pleasing to myself.


I'm still really bad at recognizing harmonic intervals, unfortunately. When focusing on chords I can only do regular maj/min, none of the more interesting chords. Will work on that too.
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Old 11-27-2012, 05:41 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CryogenicHusk
I'm still really bad at recognizing harmonic intervals, unfortunately. When focusing on chords I can only do regular maj/min, none of the more interesting chords. Will work on that too.

Most of the chords you hear in popular music are regular maj/min chords. You can make whatever progressions sound interesting without any EmMaj7#11 chords. It's about how you use them, not what chords you use. I mean, a simple I-IV-V-I can sound awesome but it can sound bad too.
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Old 11-27-2012, 09:27 AM   #10
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there's far more to the music than the melodies

also, work on new rhythms. experiment. take a chord progression and move it around, change the pulse, make it 7/4 and make it feel like salsa. zappa was wonderful at inventing innovative phrasings in this way and it's a great exercise to see now only how versatile you are, but how well you can take something like that and still make it feel like "yours"

but being able to write isn't going to come overnight. artistry and inspiration is something people work their whole lives and sometimes never grasp. just keep at it and do what you enjoy and it'll come to you.
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Old 11-27-2012, 11:37 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaggaraMarine
Most of the chords you hear in popular music are regular maj/min chords. You can make whatever progressions sound interesting without any EmMaj7#11 chords. It's about how you use them, not what chords you use. I mean, a simple I-IV-V-I can sound awesome but it can sound bad too.


Thanks. Yeah I know most of the chords in popular music tend to be regular maj/min chords. I guess I was too focused on trying to go beyond typical 4/4 guy strumming away regular maj/min chords on his guitar, by at least have an attempt at interesting melodies on top of it to make it stand out. But I get what you're saying. There's plenty more ways to make give it a more interesting sound and/or making it sound original. Gotta start somewhere. I'll try to play with dynamics and rhythms instead until I get better at using other chords. Not sure what else I can play with right now. I don't think I'm well-versed enough to start playing with passing tones and other ornamentation that I still haven't put in the focus or time to fully understand yet.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail
there's far more to the music than the melodies

also, work on new rhythms. experiment. take a chord progression and move it around, change the pulse, make it 7/4 and make it feel like salsa. zappa was wonderful at inventing innovative phrasings in this way and it's a great exercise to see now only how versatile you are, but how well you can take something like that and still make it feel like "yours"

but being able to write isn't going to come overnight. artistry and inspiration is something people work their whole lives and sometimes never grasp. just keep at it and do what you enjoy and it'll come to you.


What I like about Zappa is how diverse his music is. Ranges from 20th century classical to several kinds of jazz, funk, rock, prog, etc. It's definitely a goal of mine to, not only be versatile, but to also be able to mix genres subtly and efficiently (whenever I try, it just ends up sounding like a cluster****, lol. In my old band I tried to mix hardcore punk/power violence with a bit of technical/prog death metal, and VERY rarely did the techy parts not sound forced and I'd just give up on those parts and stick to straight up noisy hardcore punk/power violence. It's been over a year and I have a MUCH better understanding of things now, but I don't quite feel like I'm good enough to mix radically different genres yet) while having a sound of my own.

So I've been learning more about rhythmic figures and such... My r&b and funk are coming along alright (like I can actually make a progression sound funky in more than just one rhythmic pattern). Still working on a good swing to my jazz and understanding syncopation. I mean I am having a tougher time understanding jazz rhythm in harmony than I am in melody... I've found quite a few sites that talk about jazz rhythm in melody, including one explaining that melody and harmony have accents on different beats or parts of the beat. I'll keep looking to see if I can find some resources that focus more on the harmony rhythm.

I'd definitely also love to be able to play in time signatures like 7/4 without having to think too hard about it too. Like playing 4/4, 3/4 is already second nature to me for example, but 5/4 and 7/4 I have to put on a metronome or drum loop first and think about it from there. I guess the more I do that, the more I'll get used to it until I don't think I have to think about it so much.

Thank you guys for putting things into a better perspective. I know what I'll put more focus into now. I have one question, though: I know nothing about drumming... Yet drummers seem, to me, some of the musicians that are best at mixing genres and taking in influences from other instruments and genres. Like I've heard punk bands where the guitarist and vocalist are doing nothing extraordinary but the bassist and drummer make it stand out from the pack, by bringing in stuff you wouldn't typically expect to hear in the genre. Example , where I think I hear some country-influenced drumming of sorts. I've been in a band with a good drummer, and I think that if only I had understood better what he did, as well as a better understanding in what I did, we could've had so many more possibilities with our sound. I'd definitely like to improve my understanding of what they do, and maybe learn to program good drum tracks. Anybody got any suggestions on literature?

Last edited by CryogenicHusk : 11-27-2012 at 11:47 AM.
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Old 11-27-2012, 01:15 PM   #12
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Many times people try to make something too fine. If you have simple ideas, you can make them sound better when you add more instruments. And you can always change the riff to make it sound more complicated (if you want it to sound complicated). But IMO best songs have simple ideas.

And what you said above: Yeah, mixing some genres is always cool. Actually drums do a lot to the song. You can play the same riff and just change the drums and the feeling is completely different.
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Old 11-27-2012, 01:27 PM   #13
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complexity for the sake of complexity is juvenile
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:05 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaggaraMarine
Many times people try to make something too fine. If you have simple ideas, you can make them sound better when you add more instruments. And you can always change the riff to make it sound more complicated (if you want it to sound complicated). But IMO best songs have simple ideas.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail
complexity for the sake of complexity is juvenile



I don't necessarily want to make "technical" or "complex" music per se. I am just kinda tired of every progression I make sounding almost the same as either "Louie, Louie" and Wonderwall or something by the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag. Ok, that might be exaggerating it a bit because I can do a bit more than that, but I definitely want to get a better ear for rhythmic concepts. I've actually kind of lost interest in Tech Death and would like to just learn to be able to make music with a groove that is more likely to get an audience to dance or move their heads or at least something they remember later at home, without putting all that responsibility on the lyrics/vocals... If that's a type of complexity, then I guess I do want to make more complex music in that way.

My teacher explained to me how this piece is kind of a conga. It is still classical but it has rhythmic elements that kind of make the conga what it is. Both him and the composer are Cuban, which is the country the conga is from. I can definitely hear a latin groove to it when it is played properly (some videos rush through it and play it too fast, in others you can't hear the bassline very much), can move my head to its rhythm, and can picture people dancing to it, but it is still a classical piece (I'm not at all implying that people can't dance to classical btw... I mean the waltz and the gigue were also written for dancing, as were many other kinds or genres of classical pieces for many eras). And although I recognize a groove, I wouldn't be able to write it on paper (without copying it from this piece's sheet music and thus sounding too much the same, lol), or to explain it in words to somebody else. I wouldn't be able to write a conga myself, or even borrow from this style, basically.


Quote:
Originally Posted by MaggaraMarine
And what you said above: Yeah, mixing some genres is always cool. Actually drums do a lot to the song. You can play the same riff and just change the drums and the feeling is completely different.


Exactly why I want to learn a bit about drums so I can play around with a drum machine and see what interesting things I could come up with. Also, so next time I'm in a band with a good drummer, I can not only play more interesting things that are more mindful of what the drums are doing, but also communicate better with the drummer.
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:17 PM   #15
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Anybody got any suggestions on literature?


I just watched drum lessons on youtube when I wanted to find out how they worked.
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:48 PM   #16
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^I guess that will be where I'll start. Thanks
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Old 11-27-2012, 07:51 PM   #17
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technicality isn't just playing fast. you can do a lot with a simple progression. you don't need to try to mix genres and stuff. that should come naturally, or it'll just sound forced and impersonal
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Old 11-28-2012, 02:58 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CryogenicHusk
I like several genres. Actually, I've been learning some R&B lately. I'm terrible at mixing genres and would love to get better at that too, lol. So you're saying hearing stuff in your head can be practiced too?

Well, you don't have to mix genres if you don't want to, but If you want to learn the craft of songwriting, it helps to learn how. There's no right or wrong for this. Once you get more into the history of the music you enjoy, you'll see that they're just notes and rhythms meant to be splayed in every which way. As far as hearing something in your head and playing it, that comes natural to some people but it can still be learned, but what I meant was if you find yourself just rehashing someones songs, then don't stop, work with that song, you might find some way of making it your own and if not, then on to the next one. I mess with other bands riffs all the time and I usually come away with something that doesn't sound like the initial influence. I'm not advocating blatant song stealing, but messing with songs is fun to do and it can inspire you do make something better.
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Old 11-28-2012, 10:59 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hail
technicality isn't just playing fast. you can do a lot with a simple progression. you don't need to try to mix genres and stuff. that should come naturally, or it'll just sound forced and impersonal


I see what you're saying. I've never done it well so I guess I don't know how to make it come naturally. I guess I'll find out when I've written and played more. Once I thought more about what you and MaggaraMarine said, it occurred to me that maybe I'm overthinking. I'll just keep learning songs, cleaning up my technique and listening to music. Whenever I try to write, I'll just treat it as practice (so whatever the outcome is, whether it is a simple chord progression or an awesome idea that keeps evolving, I'll just keep at it even if it ends up sounding like a blatant ripoff of something else) with the goal of getting better at writing. Thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sonny bb
Well, you don't have to mix genres if you don't want to, but If you want to learn the craft of songwriting, it helps to learn how. There's no right or wrong for this. Once you get more into the history of the music you enjoy, you'll see that they're just notes and rhythms meant to be splayed in every which way. As far as hearing something in your head and playing it, that comes natural to some people but it can still be learned, but what I meant was if you find yourself just rehashing someones songs, then don't stop, work with that song, you might find some way of making it your own and if not, then on to the next one. I mess with other bands riffs all the time and I usually come away with something that doesn't sound like the initial influence. I'm not advocating blatant song stealing, but messing with songs is fun to do and it can inspire you do make something better.


I don't always want to mix genres, you're right. But there are times when I wish I could because I don't usually like to be limited to a single label that is set in stone. I've also tinkered with other artist's riffs/songs and come up with something that sounds original from it, and that is cool sometimes, but it still feels a bit mechanical to me, when I do it. Like I'm still writing more with my hands instead of my ears. It's why I want to improve the skill of hearing stuff in my head and writing it (or eventually being good enough to just play it without having to "figure it out with my fingers" first). BUT, it would be really cool to take a riff or song apart and rearrange it into a very different genre. That's something I'd like to be good at at some point too. Thanks

Last edited by CryogenicHusk : 11-28-2012 at 12:37 PM.
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Old 11-28-2012, 03:22 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CryogenicHusk
I see what you're saying. I've never done it well so I guess I don't know how to make it come naturally. I guess I'll find out when I've written and played more. Once I thought more about what you and MaggaraMarine said, it occurred to me that maybe I'm overthinking. I'll just keep learning songs, cleaning up my technique and listening to music. Whenever I try to write, I'll just treat it as practice (so whatever the outcome is, whether it is a simple chord progression or an awesome idea that keeps evolving, I'll just keep at it even if it ends up sounding like a blatant ripoff of something else) with the goal of getting better at writing. Thanks.



I don't always want to mix genres, you're right. But there are times when I wish I could because I don't usually like to be limited to a single label that is set in stone. I've also tinkered with other artist's riffs/songs and come up with something that sounds original from it, and that is cool sometimes, but it still feels a bit mechanical to me, when I do it. Like I'm still writing more with my hands instead of my ears. It's why I want to improve the skill of hearing stuff in my head and writing it (or eventually being good enough to just play it without having to "figure it out with my fingers" first). BUT, it would be really cool to take a riff or song apart and rearrange it into a very different genre. That's something I'd like to be good at at some point too. Thanks

If you hear a pop song in your head, then write a pop song. It doesn't need to be metal or whatever. You can start developing the idea and the simple pop song might turn out to be a great pop song. It's good to be able to write different styles.

I know what you mean by mixing genres. Sometimes you feel that "this part needs a bit more reggae." You just need to find out what makes a song sound like reggae. You might have some kind of sound (maybe a song) in your head but you can't get it out of your guitar because you don't know how reggae bands play. Listen what drums, bass and guitar (and other instruments) do in a reggae song (or whatever the style is).
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