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Old 01-15-2013, 05:13 PM   #1
robbit10
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Trying to write a guitar instrumental, but i'm stuck

I've been trying to write a guitar instrumental for a two days now (I think I total at about 6 hours). But i'm having a hard time making an instrumental that is not boring. I can lay down a basic song structure with chord progressions, and if I had a singer, it would be much simpler. But I don't, and a song that consists of only chord progressions without any vocals is utterly boring.
I've studied other guitar instrumentals and noticed that they always have one or more repeating melodies that are used a lot throughout the song. So I tried creating two melodies for repetitive use and one part that serves as an interlude between the two, and would then add one or two completely different parts in there. But.. No matter what I play, I am not pleased with the melodies I come up with. They all sound way too pentatonic for my taste and more like something Kalmah would play, than what I want to express. I'm currently using the natural minor scale. I want something that lifts you up, kinda like John Petrucci's Glasgow Kiss or Joe Satriani's stuff. I don't like the sound of the Natural Minor scale for my guitar instrumentals. I'm not running up and down the scale, i'm actually composing melodies using about 4 to 5 notes of the scale. But the sound of the natural minor scale doesn't fit what I want to express.

I want to learn how to express these kinds of things:
- I want to express bliss, dreaminess, happiness, etherealness, love.. A bit like Joe Satriani's "Flying in a blue dream".
- I also want to learn how to express speed, movement, "you're gonna make it", "you can do it", encouragement, glory.
- But also "danger is near", "you better watch out"
- And then, finally, I want to learn how to express extreme sadness and melancholy.

Composing within the Natural Minor scale doesn't seem to cut it for most of these. And the Major Scale is too happy, not the ethereal bliss I am talking about.
What scales should I learn to better invoke these emotions in my songs, and what other musical tools should I learn for this?

Last edited by robbit10 : 01-15-2013 at 05:23 PM.
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Old 01-15-2013, 05:18 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robbit10
I've been trying to write a guitar instrumental for a few days now. But i'm having a hard time making my instrumental non-boring.


well there's your problem
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Old 01-15-2013, 05:32 PM   #3
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Sounds like the ts needs to actually learn about music and figure out what he wants to say musically before saying it.

Hey ts, ever try to write an eloquent well thought play in a language you barely speak?
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Old 01-15-2013, 05:33 PM   #4
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Try ditching the whole scale thought. Then try hearing a fitting melody in your head, find it on the guitar. It's the only way you'll achieve what you want without spending ages testing out every single scale in the world, until you randomly slump across that melody you probably had somewhere in the back of your mind the whole time anyways.
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Old 01-15-2013, 05:49 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robbit10
I've been trying to write a guitar instrumental for a two days now (I think I total at about 6 hours).


Oh em gee. "Jenny Lee" took me weeks - and it's not even the most awesome, complicated instrumental you can write. Most of the prog snobs here would probably find it "boring" and "predictable".

It gets easier as you do it more, but if you want something that doesn't sound like you farted it out in an afternoon, it's gonna take longer than an afternoon.

Quote:
I want to express happiness

Quote:
And the Major Scale is too happy


Wat.

Quote:
- I also want to learn how to express speed, movement, "you're gonna make it", "you can do it", encouragement, glory.
- But also "danger is near", "you better watch out"


While my way is far from the only (or even best) way, how I generally do translate these things to melody is to use the syllables of the words themselves as my rhythmic guide. Going back to Jenny Lee, note that the melody sounds like someone singing "Jen- ny Lee", over and over again. For your example of "You're gonna make it", I'd probably do exactly the same thing; convert it to eighth notes and gradually increase the tempo and transpose the motif up until it resolved. (And if none of that made any sense to you... you have a bit of studying to do, I'd wager.)

Quote:
- And then, finally, I want to learn how to express extreme sadness and melancholy.


Same thing. I tend to do sad/slow/melancholy pieces in a minor key, slowly, with lots of lengthy, drawn-out notes. But that's just my style; I try to write sad songs that sound like someone is actually crying. It may not work for you. You have to find your own way of expressing it. There's no "use this scale and you will write a sad song" rulebook, although everyone agrees that Dm is the saddest of all keys.
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Old 01-15-2013, 06:08 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CarsonStevens
Oh em gee. "Jenny Lee" took me weeks - and it's not even the most awesome, complicated instrumental you can write. Most of the prog snobs here would probably find it "boring" and "predictable".

I didn't mean I wanted to write an instrumental quickly in one day and be done with it. I meant that this is the first time I am actually composing instead of improvising on a backing track or chord progression or writing a chord progression and then building a song out of that in 10 minutes. But I just feel stuck because everything I play doesn't invoke the feelings I want them to. I am making this instrumental, by the way, because I want to learn how to create moving compositions and songs.
And since I improvised to backing tracks a lot, I must watch out and make sure the song doesn't sound like one big solo so I need a good repetitive structure.

Quote:
Wat.

Yeah.. I contradicted myself a bit there. What I mean is, I want an ethereal, dreamy kind of happiness - but the major scale usually provides a kind of happiness that is very peppy, and very remeniscent of pop music. I want happy, but not "peppy happy".

Quote:
While my way is far from the only (or even best) way, how I generally do translate these things to melody is to use the syllables of the words themselves as my rhythmic guide. Going back to Jenny Lee, note that the melody sounds like someone singing "Jen- ny Lee", over and over again. For your example of "You're gonna make it", I'd probably do exactly the same thing; convert it to eighth notes and gradually increase the tempo and transpose the motif up until it resolved. (And if none of that made any sense to you... you have a bit of studying to do, I'd wager.)

Just listened to Jenny Lee. Yep, I can hear what you mean, the main theme does sound like "Jenny Lee, Je-nny lee-ee"
I understand most of what you said except transposing the motif up until it resolves. Yes, I still have a lot of studying to do. I learnt the basics of Music Theory (Intervals, scales, harmonizing the major scale) from UG's lesson section and my guitar teacher. That was enough for many years, but now that i'm trying to compose, it's not. I'll look for lessons on this stuff on UG and the net.

Here's something I made about 2 years ago, notice how basic and boring it is:

This also completely didn't express what I wanted it to. I wanted to make something that would boost someone, kinda like Glasgow Kiss or F-zero's theme. Basically the "you can do it" thing.

But what I got was boring, generic, devoid-of-emotion "metal".

Last edited by robbit10 : 01-15-2013 at 06:16 PM.
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Old 01-15-2013, 06:14 PM   #7
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Development. Take a theme and screw with it, from little tweaks here and there to twisting it into something almost unrecognizable as the original theme.
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Old 01-15-2013, 06:21 PM   #8
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If you add a good bass, fix the overly fake drums, fix the mixing a bit, it would sound a lot better.
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Old 01-15-2013, 08:19 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robbit10
I didn't mean I wanted to write an instrumental quickly in one day and be done with it. I meant that this is the first time I am actually composing instead of improvising on a backing track or chord progression or writing a chord progression and then building a song out of that in 10 minutes. But I just feel stuck because everything I play doesn't invoke the feelings I want them to. I am making this instrumental, by the way, because I want to learn how to create moving compositions and songs.


Yeah, that probably came out a bit snarkier than I intended it. Unfortunately, a lot of people do seem to have that attitude.

Regardless, what I said still stands. Sometimes I'm lucky and can hit on the right melody in one try. Sometimes it takes ages. More than one of the songs I've written have sat around unfinished for a very, very long time (read: years) because I couldn't finish it to my satisfaction.

Quote:
Yeah.. I contradicted myself a bit there. What I mean is, I want an ethereal, dreamy kind of happiness - but the major scale usually provides a kind of happiness that is very peppy, and very remeniscent of pop music. I want happy, but not "peppy happy".


Hm. I think in such a case the scale isn't the thing, it's more the intervals. When I think "bliss", I think something very even, that doesn't bounce up and down a lot. You may want to experiment with transitioning from the root to, say, the third (or even minor third) with the second as a passing tone. Like the waves of the ocean in a melodic contour.

Or, just smoke a lot of weed, you dig?


Quote:
I understand most of what you said except transposing the motif up until it resolves.


Simplest example is to go back to Jenny Lee and listen to the bit before the chorused guitar kicks in, where the main melody repeats three times, but each repeat is "higher" than the last.

Quote:
But what I got was boring, generic, devoid-of-emotion "metal".


I don't know if I'd go that far. I agree with Keth in that the drums sound really flat, but I think it'd work very well as background music for a video game, for example.

You're right, though, that the biggest problem with that piece is a lack of melody. Something driving, harmonized over the chords, would do wonders for it.

I guess what I'm getting at is that you should give it some time, write a lot of stuff, and never throw any of it away. You never know what's going to be useful.

Matter of fact, I just uploaded a new track a few minutes ago that came about solely from dicking around with a new pedal.

Also, you should check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Composition. The sections on creating melodies are invaluable, but the whole book is quite good at laying out the basics.
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Old 01-16-2013, 01:55 AM   #10
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It seems to me that your problem is a lack of vocabulary. You have the basic elements (scales and chords), but you don't have the experience to know how to put them together in an effective manner.

Going off of the "language" metaphor, you know how to put together a subject and a predicate to form a basic sentence, but that's the extent of your linguistic skill. You need dem adjectives, adverbs, articles, etc.

These parts of speech are NOT scales and chromatic notes though. These things are not your solution. You just need to read more literature, study what's going on and learn to do what these writers do.

The ONLY way to learn how to write a good melody is to learn as many melodies as you can and, more importantly INTERNALIZE them. Don't just learn a melody and say "done!" and forget all about it. Play it (AND sing it) in all twelve keys, and in as many different ways you can. Incorporate a little segment into a different melody, or just take the one melody and keep adding embellishments, changing rhythms, and just developing it.

Check out this video:

There's a little bit at the end where he talks about that. Here's another good video from the same master class:

You should really watch all of the videos from this master class. Hal Galper has so much incredible insight.
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Old 01-16-2013, 04:18 AM   #11
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The simple question for the TS would be: Exactly how long have you been composing?
Followed by another with equal intensity: How many songs have you composed within that time frame?

Like all things in life, it takes time. And many repetitions. For starters, you can make a skeleton outline of your song and dictate to yourself the various sections that must have these emotive ideas. It is a story, and like all stories it needs various points of intrigue before the climactic end or climactic 8/10ths of the way through.

Your song will have repetitive sections, but that doesn't mean the melody must be exactly the same... that would be the boring part. Your melody will change and expand on the original idea. Or you can build up into your melody, by making that the focal point with the climax - in this case you will have fragments scattered around your piece, and like a jigsaw puzzle they all make perfect sense at the end.

There is a slight problem with the sectioning off though - that is, that you might drift away from your original idea and create something that surprises you. If it surprises you, it will surprise the listener. Be a story teller when you compose.

On to your emotive angles - what are your chords when you want these emotions present? Section off those chords alone and work out something that fits your interpretation of it. Still like the puzzle pieces being put together, if you have done this for your entire song in sections - listen to it. Listen to where you would need to join the sections with different lines or different approaches. Would you need a speedy collection of dots to transition between your emotives or would you need a note that lingers and takes off in the following sectioning?

After a while this all becomes seecond nature and you don't have to section it off as much... everything just starts to flow. Good luck
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Old 01-16-2013, 05:54 AM   #12
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Quote:
The ONLY way to learn how to write a good melody is to learn as many melodies as you can and, more importantly INTERNALIZE them. Don't just learn a melody and say "done!" and forget all about it. Play it (AND sing it) in all twelve keys, and in as many different ways you can. Incorporate a little segment into a different melody, or just take the one melody and keep adding embellishments, changing rhythms, and just developing it.

Check out this video:


Ah! So basically, I would learn to play the melodies that have the most emotional impact on me.. Then play with them, play them in different keys, modify the embellishments, the rhythm, and so on.. And then perhaps use such a modified melody in one of my songs? Instead of trying to come up with a melody out of thin air?

Quote:

Like all things in life, it takes time. And many repetitions. For starters, you can make a skeleton outline of your song and dictate to yourself the various sections that must have these emotive ideas. It is a story, and like all stories it needs various points of intrigue before the climactic end or climactic 8/10ths of the way through.

Your song will have repetitive sections, but that doesn't mean the melody must be exactly the same... that would be the boring part. Your melody will change and expand on the original idea. Or you can build up into your melody, by making that the focal point with the climax - in this case you will have fragments scattered around your piece, and like a jigsaw puzzle they all make perfect sense at the end.

Yep. I tried this today, after reading this yesterday: http://www.guitar9.com/satch2.html (look at the table)
I'm gonna record the instrumental I sketched out using this method today.

As for the part about melodies, yes, you have a point.. Constantly repeating the same melody without any changes to it IS boring. So a solution to that is to simply change the melody slightly each time it returns in the song?

Last edited by robbit10 : 01-16-2013 at 06:00 AM.
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Old 01-16-2013, 06:25 AM   #13
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How long have you been playing?

Let's say, for example, it's 4 years...now you've been learning to read, write and speak in your native language pretty much since you were born, but what kind of stories were you writing in school at the age of 4, or even 5 and 6?

As far as music goes you're still an infant, you're not going to bang out a stunning, complex instrumental in your early attempts and there's no reason to worry that you can't. Just figure out what you want to *say* musically speaking then figure out if you've got the technical ability to make it happen, and if you don't just scale back your expectations a bit until it's manageable.

Like everything in life you get better with time and experience, there's no shortcut to those things, you just need to start doing stuff.
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Old 01-16-2013, 07:39 AM   #14
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I'd like to share one of the most important songs I've ever heard, because it got me out of a bad spot when I heard it and I hope it can help others who are stuck in a musical rut.

Listen:

http://grooveshark.com/s/Lost+In+A+...ol/3FTTty?src=5

Not very good, huh? That lead line is pretty aimless, it's dull, the bends aren't in tune, and there isn't much compositional consideration going on. It sounds, in my opinion, like mindless notes for much of it. That's Frank Zappa performing, age 18. He'd been playing guitar for 1-2 years and learning music for 6.

Let's check in with Frank at age 40, after 22 years of touring, composing, recording, improvising, jamming and what have you:



Holy hot damn! That's quite a change, isn't it? That kid playing shitty blues lines in his bedroom became one hell of a player/improviser/composer. All he needed was experience. Extensive amounts of time and effort to hone his skills down into the sharp point they became. There's nothing stopping anyone from doing this.

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Old 01-16-2013, 10:35 AM   #15
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why didn't you play the video of him performing on the bi-cycle on live television

btw, you do know that song is a parody right? as in, like, it's supposed to be really shitty?
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:35 AM   #16
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why didn't you play the video of him performing on the bi-cycle on live television

Because it's awesome, and therefore counter-intuitive to the point.

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Old 01-16-2013, 10:37 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by TheHydra
Because it's awesome, and counter-intuitive to the point.


Quote:
Lost in a Whirlpool", a blues parody from around 1958Ė59 in which Beefheart sings of being flushed down the toilet;


i thought you like legitimately had a shitty zappa song, but it was just one of the many that was shitty because he wanted it to be shitty
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:39 AM   #18
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i thought you like legitimately had a shitty zappa song, but it was just one of the many that was shitty because he wanted it to be shitty

I'm not so sure. It's certainly a silly song making fun of the blues form, but even his parodies had a genuine element to them, especially when it came to him playing guitar solos.

One example that springs to mind is "Truck Driver Divorce". Pure country parody, but was performed with an improvised solo in the middle sometimes. The song itself also had some interesting rhythmic elements to it, just like everything else he did.

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Old 01-16-2013, 10:42 AM   #19
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you try sounding good in a blues parody

like, really, it's not possible. it's physically out of bounds
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Old 01-16-2013, 10:48 AM   #20
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