Song 'Making' Theory 101

A look into how songs are formed in the majority of genres and how you can use this information to help you write your own and not fall into the traps many bands do.

Ultimate Guitar

Well guys this is my first article so i thought id post something on a topic thats not usually touched upon. Basically this article will look at different areas of songs, some misconceptions and some truths of what I hae to say both me and my friend here want out of all the songs we listen to and how id reckon you could give us it ! ;) lets begin...

Ok, if we start at the beginning almost all songs have a set beginning.

Basically usually this is an introduction or a melody (tune) which gets touched on later in the song or is somehow relevant to the coming lyrics, no band that ever got anywhere had a giant shredathon before going into a heartfelt verse or country and western style singalong. Examples of this may be found in almost all genres from heavy metal to ska and punk, remember Guns 'N Roses?, look at Sweet Child 'O Mine, the guitar is practically the backing singer, anybody reading this listen to God Forbid?, theyre nothing like guns and roses but in their introduction they pretty much just introduce the chorus, play the tune for the chorus then start a verse.


Make sure you start at the beginning, trying to start a song without having any foundations set will usually lose the attention of the crowd, you want something which is going to appeal to those your aiming at, if your playing heavy metal then start with something noticeable, examples being harmonised riffs, pinch harmonics in Drop A or somethingjust to turn their heads for that split second you need, If your a blues player, good ideas can be to just burst in with a lively lick to convey what you wish, could be a lively up-beat major scale climb or a gradually sadening minor decent into a song about self-pitty, just the start is what turns the heads, so the first thing you need to do is flaunt your talent and get those lazy people of their back-sides!

After The Intro!

After this spectacular initial display you will want to either:

01. Embed the melodie or 02. Get the audience to feel like theyre part of the show OR 03. Just make em wanna headbang till their heads fall off

But theres not many ways of doing this, asides from essentials like a tight performance and a degree of skill you need that extra something to get all those kids up moshing or to get a whole crowd screaming (or singing ;)) along to one of your latest songs, so you need something memorable, something which either sticks in your head (The kind of performance where you go home humming the tune and keep your parents awake whistling it all night), Something with a rythem you could headbang (or tap your feet to) or something you just notice again, however so early in the song you shouldnt blow away the audience with your 6 string sweeping over 7 scales in 3 seconds for 20 minutes, but rather get more interaction, its a fact bands get bigger and stay bigger longer when the audience has participation, examples being Iron Maiden, Guns 'N Roses, AC/DC, Creedence Clearwater (for all your blues lovers!), and even Slipknot, all these bands had something in common, their fans instantly knew the lyrics and started screaming away at the stage. That gives people a big boost and they enjoy the performance much much more.

After This!

Get technical, Show them some of your fretboard wizardry! After showing you can write a good melodie, you have a tight performace, you have the crowd and furthermore youve achieved all you want to, you should show that theres some hidden skills. Remember though keep it relevant! Dont go doing a John Petrucci and running over the fretboard at 150 mpf (per finger!), although he is an amazing guitarist and thought of as one of the best, he never really got far because (among other things) he is a solo guitarist, their songs go on for about 25 minutes and only have sometimes 5 or 6 minutes singing in them, even then its being soloed over, just keep everything relevent, base your melodie on what the singer is either saying, or talking about, or whatever, just stay "mainly in the box", this means stay in key, keep it good and if you have any need to alter scales or swap keys for what ever reason make it natural, remember riffs and the like are almost always "resolved", this means the end actually feels like the end, for example image hearing an awesome solo or fill/bridge whatever, and its going great untill what feels and sounds like half way through, the singer waltzes in with the chorus, the cheek.

It is said that root notes tend to be very good at making a solo sound resolved. Looking at what a guitar is really there for it seems strange to have insanely long solos (Unless its a full solo song) as guitars are just there to back up the vocals and fill in where the vocals cant, the guitar adds a certain feel sometimes where it will bring back flooding memories of past experiances or will convey an emtion you can connect with and empathise with, personally lyrics dont really make me feel much but a good guitar solo can bring me to tears, like Brothers In Arms by Pink Floyd reminds me of a friend i lost a few years ago, it doesnt have to be epic, it doesnt have to be a sell-out but so long as there are people who can listen to your music and either relate to it, head bang to it, or just stand in amazement at your ability its a job well-done =)

75 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This was OK. There wasnt anything in there that i didnt know. Its preety short too. Two stars. 1st?
    Juneau: Grammer and spelling wasn't the greatest, and you didn't patch up on many issues on what to write about. UG could really do with a article like this, but not this. [POSTED: 27 July 2005 - 04:50]|
    Yes, his gramma was horrible.
    This was a terrible article, but whatever. Misspellings, bad grammar, worse advice. Spam deleted, btw.
    I found this poorly writen, and then you talked down about Petrucci. Hasn't gotten very far?!?!? He's in an extremely succesfull band with a dedicated following and tours around the world with bands like Megadeth... Thats not very far at all, eh? It also doesn't help that you didn't put this through the Contribution forum and didn't even spell check it (yes... its melody )
    Steph Bets
    "song 'making' " i believe its called composing. a few typos and such but not bad although i sorta disagree with the whole" heres how to write a song" approach. in the words of napoleon dynamite- ' listen to your heart- thats what i do'
    dude this only talkes about how you should put to together a song for a concert not how to write a song or write parts to go along with it basically it's juss tips, ones which did not help 1 star
    Doesn't really tell you that much details on writing a song...
    i just want to say that impressed with your article. many of those things you have said i have already come about but still it gives a sense of motivation for me to go over to my guitar and try to write some catchy riff. that was a good job. keep up the good work.
    Credence Clearwater for all you blues fans? Yea, and Frank Sinatra wrote Sgt. Peppers. Too bad there isn't a zero star category. This slapped together, unedited, narrow opinion is in no way music theory.
    cravin morehed
    By the way i give you 3 stars for effort. really the only thing that pissed me off the the petrucci thing. I dont really care about grammar or whether you mixed up dire straits and pink floyd. You obviously are trying to become a successful (i dont think i spelled the word right) guitarist and think enough about music to try and articulate your thoughts towards it and (in a sence) help yourself understand it better by righting it down. Good job, and sorry for the looonnnggg responce towards petrucci. but really..... didnt get far...? cmon. Have a good night.
    cravin morehed
    WHAT?! Okay, I can understand that you dont prefere long solos or intrumental songs, but you cant say that they are bad. Its all a matter of opinion. Petrucci happens to be an incredible artist and very creative. And if you've ever listened to Dream Theater or Liquid Tension Experiment you'll know that theres more too it than just long sweep picking solos and everybody going crazy. They work as a team. And Petrucci isnt the only star, Portnoy also happens to be an incredible drummer, but like i said, they work as a team and nobody tries to steal the show. And as far as singing goes, who the hell said that a song had to have singing? What if i've heard people talking all bloody day and i dont want to hear somebody's voice? What if i want to hear a 3 hour song with no words? You can't say , 'Dont go pulling a Petrucci' because thats bias. And tell me if you ever find a more artistic guitarist. He (and the whole band) totally understand playing in different odd time signeatures and making interesting riffs and rhythems. If i were you i would have used John Petrucci as a good example of a guitarist who knew how to make an interesting song that grabs the audience's attention, makes them feel as if they're living the song, and makes them wonder how its possible that someone can be so good at something. He manages to relate every part of the song to every other part WITHOUT making it TOO longwinded. When he brings a part to a stop it stops! The only difference is that he knows how yo make a story with his guitar, not just a riff or a solo. and it happens to take a long time to do that, which is why his songs are so long. And man, you cant be mad that so many people are bugging you about the pertucci thing, honestly, you had to see it comming. But aside from that i liked the article. Keep up the good work! just next time dont knock a good guitarist and an entire genre of music (prog rock). You can say you dont like it, but dont say 'dont go pulling a petrucci' because thatll just piss people off.
    erm yeah, sorry my grammar may suck, and yeah, you guys know what the basic idea is, like I said, its not for good guitarists, however, Petrucci did get far in ways of his ability but however over the wide spread longevity of his career will never amount to what some people manage with half of his ability for the fact that they actually have definition and have dynamics to their notes, to be honest I like a good solo but when they last over 20 mins it gets stupid, bands should work as a whole, not one guy trying to make a song of his own in each solo. And for another thing, the idea of this "theory" is just not to be too cliche' cause to be honest im sick of seeing guys who are amizing in their techinque be diabolical when it comes to half their songs, i respect what all of ya say but still, in 30 years time petrucci and the likes will all be fogotten to most of us, as good as their shredding is, but we will still remember those songs that hit the soft spot inside... And yeah, brothers in arms was dire straits HAHA, sorry, bad day
    i must say that i think that this tip only works for people who dont mind being really.. umm.. catchy-but-annoying after a couple of time u lsiten to it..
    i must say that i think that this tip only works for people who dont mind being really.. umm.. catchy-but-annoying after a couple of time u lsiten to it..
    Fair enough, the spelling sucks, and the article may not have concentrated on theoryas much is the title might suggest, but 3 stars because the opinions and advice are sound and some effort has obviously goine in here.
    When I saw the title I expected an article that would describe how to write a song with key signature, chord progressions, what scales to use for different styles, etc. All I got was basically "have an intro then a verse and a chorus with some vocals and make it sound cool". Sorry, that's not theory. And the dire straits and floyd thing... nevermind, it's been pointed out enough already.
    lol, people are going to come in and defend petrucci... But decent article, not great, not bad.
    that didn't tell me one thing. no tips, no advice, and i'm a newb! i've been playin for just under a year and it didn't tell me anything. and you ***ed up with the pink floyd/dire straits thing. and i've heard a dream theater song, it was like 20 min! 2*'s if anyone wants a good dire straits song, it's money for nothing, that song kicks ass.
    Haha, my vote got the rating from 2 star to 1. I can die happy now.
    Terrible article. John petrucci never got far???.. hes one of the key elements to the most succesful prog bands ever. hes amazing. better then everyone out there and there are only 2 songs that go on that long and the singer happens to sing alot and there is more to Dream Theater then just Petrucci. all of the other plays are amazingly talented.
    Petrucci error - Dire Straits error - Some typo's - Kinda pointless information, plus I still don't know what you're wanting to say. 1 Star.
    haha you suck... how could you confuse Dire Straits and Pink Floyd? And have you listened to Dream Theather? There are songs with barely a solo in them... and when he does solo it's good too thats why people like him... good day to you sir!!!
    I liked it. And cmon, he didn't say anything that bad about petrucci 4 Stars I say, great article
    Ok, admittedly you danced with death (john petrucci) and stated the obvious most of the way through, cut cheesey jokes (miles per finger?) I still feel obliged to defend you. 2 stars.