#1
ive been really wanting to write for a long time. ive been taking music classes at school and know an ok amount of theory, and can play guitar and keyboard. i just bought two midi controllers (keyboard and drum pad) and already have an interface. im just using garageband for now (till i can start making things i actually like) and know the program pretty well.

but now that ive been trying to put it all together to actually produce something i cant come up with anything. i know the theory and how to use it and can play the instruments but i write anything at all. ive been playing with a couple riffs and chord progressions but the riffs are basically just stepping through the chords im playing over, and the beats are crap. i dont know if i should call it writers block or what but im at a complete stand still as to how to actually put together a song.

ive looked all around the internet and read books on it and know the different processes to make songs and everything. and know at first its gonna suck till ive been doing it a while but what i have now arent even songs. ive been trying to just keep it simple and work from there but i cant even do that.

how can i use the theory i know to write? and what am i doing wrong?


-
im looking to make some kind of electronic solo stuff like postal service/owl city while incorporating my guitar (basically something i can do full deal by myself)
#2
You're trying too hard to write a song. Just let it come naturally. If not your song will sound forced.

One thing you can work on is when you're just bored coming up with riffs, take one you like and expand upon it.
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It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything.

Erowid
#3
take some time and learn other songs

get a feel for different things

all the little experiences with music you have will help you write songs
song stuck in my head today


#4
Quote by spacedoutbad
ive been really wanting to write for a long time. ive been taking music classes at school and know an ok amount of theory, and can play guitar and keyboard. i just bought two midi controllers (keyboard and drum pad) and already have an interface. im just using garageband for now (till i can start making things i actually like) and know the program pretty well.

but now that ive been trying to put it all together to actually produce something i cant come up with anything. i know the theory and how to use it and can play the instruments but i write anything at all. ive been playing with a couple riffs and chord progressions but the riffs are basically just stepping through the chords im playing over, and the beats are crap. i dont know if i should call it writers block or what but im at a complete stand still as to how to actually put together a song.

ive looked all around the internet and read books on it and know the different processes to make songs and everything. and know at first its gonna suck till ive been doing it a while but what i have now arent even songs. ive been trying to just keep it simple and work from there but i cant even do that.

how can i use the theory i know to write? and what am i doing wrong?


-
im looking to make some kind of electronic solo stuff like postal service/owl city while incorporating my guitar (basically something i can do full deal by myself)


Start with the key that you want to compose in.

Map out the chords, preferably to 7ths within that key.

Start the progression out on the tonic.

Allow your ears to tell you whether you want to go up or down sound wise.

Avoid the 1 4 5 initially it tends to sound generic and lacks inspiration.

Avoid playing the I vi together because thats too close to a generic I vi IV V, plus a vi is a chord sub for a I which doesnt lend to as much harmonic variation.

Use any chords within that key avoiding those groups as I stated above to find some outside ideas, Maybe a I iii V vi ii or something.

Improvise melody over that progression for example (thinking melody and not scales and notes).

7ths tend to lend towards more harmonically rich melodic content, use them over straight triads.

Take something that's medium tempo, and syncopate it so that there might be a tie between the and of 2 and the 3....so you have two upbeats, and avoid straight 8th notes, plodding arpeggios etc.

Take the viim7b5 and lower it a half step and make it a major chord, and incorporate that in some of the ideas within the key you are composing in. Now you have a bVII in play, which is common and interesting, (such as the bVII in the progression of Freebird, F takes the place of the diatonically correct F#m7b5)

Experiment with inversions. D/F# instead of D for example. Look at voice leading bass lines, such as a C G/B to Am idea.

Find a theme and repeat it, varying the melodic theme as far as how you resolve the passage each time.

Experiment with pedal tone ideas

This hopefully will spark some ideas for writing.
Last edited by Sean0913 at Dec 12, 2009,
#5
Learn other people's music. Really learn, don't just learn the tab. Actually figure out what's going on and why things sound how they sound. It takes a very long time to get decent at songwriting.
#6
ok that helps and i get all the theory youre talking about except this

Take the viim7b5 and lower it a half step and make it a major chord, and incorporate that in some of the ideas within the key you are composing in. Now you have a bVII in play, which is common and interesting, (such as the bVII in the progression of Freebird, F takes the place of the diatonically correct F#m7b5)


are you trying to say a vii minor 7th flat 5th, and flat VII? idk how a chord can be flat but i see people saying stuff like that all the time.

and the hard part for me about just picking a key and progression to base the melody off of is just like, ill play through the scales and then through some different progressions thinking about which one i want to work with but theres so many different melodies that can be made out of each one that i cant even decide which one to use, and then half way through working on a melody ill be like "damn i should have used em" and then scrap it and get no were.

for now im trying just to stick with cM though cause i figure itll be easy as a starting point.
#7
Maybe the trick you need to do is simplification. Try this... strum around on the guitar or make some riffs... pick one to start with. All you need is a start.

Seeing as you said you know your theory and stuff... i don't think i need to go into progressions. From that start, build your song in a cut and paste format. Have a definite chorus, have a definite verse. These two will be your most important. All you are looking for is a skeleton of a song... no melody is needed just yet. Your bridge can come later... same as your intro, save it for later.

Once you have your skeleton track... listen to it. Because of the order you put it in, you should have a connecting melody going thru your head right now. Use it...

Its a start, but remember it all starts simply. The https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.ph p?t=1189269&page=1&pp=20 could help you out in this regard. You get to compose in a 16 bar format. This way you can work on sections at a time before you compose a whole piece from scratch and maybe hate it. There's about 5 useable drum tracks there. By limiting yourself to two, you kinda kick your songwriting process into overdrive by being as creative as possible.

Simplicity rocks dude... think about it. I wish you luck.
#8
Quote by spacedoutbad
ok that helps and i get all the theory youre talking about except this


are you trying to say a vii minor 7th flat 5th, and flat VII? idk how a chord can be flat but i see people saying stuff like that all the time.

and the hard part for me about just picking a key and progression to base the melody off of is just like, ill play through the scales and then through some different progressions thinking about which one i want to work with but theres so many different melodies that can be made out of each one that i cant even decide which one to use, and then half way through working on a melody ill be like "damn i should have used em" and then scrap it and get no were.

for now im trying just to stick with cM though cause i figure itll be easy as a starting point.


Yeah In simple terms a flat (b) is moving down a half step motion wise. In terms of a chord formula going from a m7b5 with is the vii in a major key, lower that chords root one half step flat or bVII - and change it into a major chord.

Youre trying to play through scales to determine a chord progression? Hard way to go, because then you are stuck with the melody dictating the chords. However if you build the key and the framework with chords, then youre free to improvise over that chord progression.
#9
Youre trying to play through scales to determine a chord progression? Hard way to go, because then you are stuck with the melody dictating the chords. However if you build the key and the framework with chords, then youre free to improvise over that chord progression.


no i meant im playing through the scales to hear the sound of each key, then picking a key based off whichever scale i liked, then taking the chords of that key and play through their possible progressions and picking one i like. then use that progression and build the melody off it.


Have a definite chorus, have a definite verse. These two will be your most important. All you are looking for is a skeleton of a song... no melody is needed just yet. Your bridge can come later... same as your intro, save it for later.


thats good and ill try to do that, but progression wise im not really sure how the verse and chorus are supposed to relate. obviously theyre in the same key but i dont have to necessarily have to be based off the same chord progression do they? if im not should i be trying to keep them similar or just keep them with the same start / finish chords?
#10
Quote by spacedoutbad
no i meant im playing through the scales to hear the sound of each key, then picking a key based off whichever scale i liked, then taking the chords of that key and play through their possible progressions and picking one i like. then use that progression and build the melody off it.


thats good and ill try to do that, but progression wise im not really sure how the verse and chorus are supposed to relate. obviously theyre in the same key but i dont have to necessarily have to be based off the same chord progression do they? if im not should i be trying to keep them similar or just keep them with the same start / finish chords?


If they are in the same key you can write them any way you like...no rules. Just what sounds good to you or doesnt. The only thing that I guess Id point out is that the V wants to pull back to the main tonal center (Root or I chord)
#11
Try and have them in the same key, they do not have to be based on the same chords though. The ending chord to the verse could be the tension chord needing resolution in the chorus.

Think of it this way... your verse could ask the question and your chorus will be the shining light at the end of the tunnel. Two themes at play here if you will... that of despair leading to hope. By sorting those two out... when you eventually get to your bridge, you'll know if you want it to be a super climax leading to another verse or an outro chorus, etc or whatever you may need it to be.

I'll record this example in a few minutes for you which might help. Bear in mind this is the way I think when I'm composing something.
For the verse I'm using Em add9, G, Dsus2, C which would be a vi-I-V-IV if you want the theory of it. For the chorus I'm using A5 (passing note to B) Csus2, G, Dsus2. I've changed one chord which changes the way the progression sounds as well as moving the chords to a different order. Each one in the chorus has a linking factor. The A5 which is Am is related to C major (shares two notes, of which i'm only counting on C at this point although the E is present in both), the 5th of C is G and the 5th of G is D. Seeing as I'm ending on Dsus2 the 2 is E which is present in Am as well and it also helps in leading back to the Em of the verse.

Its a long explanation, I know... but once you look at the chords and work out a way in why they go together it sort of makes sense. Also, my explanation is rather simplified and should not be taken as "thats the way its done".

If this helps then I'm glad.... if it doesn't... my apologies then
#12
Ok, this might not be your style you going for but the concept is still the same.
http://www.box.net/shared/66xp4q16zn

The melody I kept real simple in the verse... the chorus has a repeating phrase in the first half, moving to the climax and returning to the verse... (my climax here is not great though... its just to plant a seed of sorts)

I hope this helps
#14
what about multiple instruments, obviously in the same key but should they each be playing off the same progressions too?
#15
Well, thats entirely up to you... you can have your bass walking around if you wish. You can have keys lay an atmospheric blend to chords... complimenting without playing the same thing. So either the keys can think in terms of the melody or adding a background to the melody... or if you have a good synth then a subsonic bassline would do well on this track but u'll have to obviously see what works for you. This is an outline of a guitar driven song... maybe you want something completely different.

Start somewhere and work on it... if you need help once you have your track started, you can pm me if you wish . Otherwise, just think of simplicity and aim for one movement before adding another.
#16
Bottom line is, you don't so much "use theory to write", rather you use theory to help you understand what you've written.
Actually called Mark!

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#17
Start somewhere and work on it... if you need help once you have your track started, you can pm me if you wish . Otherwise, just think of simplicity and aim for one movement before adding another.


yea maybe ill send you the track for advice. idk how long its going to take though
#18
take all the time that you need bro... music's not a race... some people write quickly, but when you starting out... take your time.

Good luck man
#19
I sugggest you don't think to yourself, 'I'm going to write a song now' I think it's way better to literally play anything that comes to you like when you are just messing around, write down things you like and develope riffs and chord progressions later once you have the basic sound. When it comes to putting all your song sections to together just think of it like a story. You can do anything you like, it is your music.

This may sound mad but you could watch a movie you like, mute it and play your instrument over it, trying to play music that matches the mood of the movie, I haven't done this before and only thought of it now, I might try it.
I will shred in the end!!
#20
Quote by steven seagull
Bottom line is, you don't so much "use theory to write", rather you use theory to help you understand what you've written.


Exactly. All music is theoretically correct. Theory just dictates what you call what you played.
#21
Quote by Sean0913
Avoid the 1 4 5 initially it tends to sound generic and lacks inspiration.

Avoid playing the I vi together because thats too close to a generic I vi IV V, plus a vi is a chord sub for a I which doesnt lend to as much harmonic variation.

Use any chords within that key avoiding those groups as I stated above to find some outside ideas, Maybe a I iii V vi ii or something.


While you offered a lot of good advice, the above is just is blatantly stupid.

The reason a I-IV-V progression is a common or 'generic' as you put it chord progression is because it works. How many countless songs have made millions from that simple progression?

Any writer worth his salt should be able to make a decent song with a common chord progression and if you can't find a combination of melody and rhythm that's inspiring and unique then you've really got to stop and ask yourself if you're really as creative as you think.

I think putting any kind of limitations on your writing is just silly.
#22
Quote by icronic
While you offered a lot of good advice, the above is just is blatantly stupid.

The reason a I-IV-V progression is a common or 'generic' as you put it chord progression is because it works. How many countless songs have made millions from that simple progression?

Any writer worth his salt should be able to make a decent song with a common chord progression and if you can't find a combination of melody and rhythm that's inspiring and unique then you've really got to stop and ask yourself if you're really as creative as you think.

I think putting any kind of limitations on your writing is just silly.


+1

The common progressions are great learning tools. He's just starting to write, and often its best to start with most things simple and work on only one aspect of writing. He needs to get used to coming up with melodies over chords, and playing over complex progressions. I-IV-V progressions work so well because they are very strong cadentially, so there is a very well defined key, and improvising with the major scale over it will be very easy to sound good (read: consonant). It is a great learning tool. You shouldn't avoid it so you don't sound generic. First learn what others have already done before you, and then build on it. I-IV-V progressions are the typical starting place for composition.
#23
Quote by icronic
While you offered a lot of good advice, the above is just is blatantly stupid.

The reason a I-IV-V progression is a common or 'generic' as you put it chord progression is because it works. How many countless songs have made millions from that simple progression?

Any writer worth his salt should be able to make a decent song with a common chord progression and if you can't find a combination of melody and rhythm that's inspiring and unique then you've really got to stop and ask yourself if you're really as creative as you think.

I think putting any kind of limitations on your writing is just silly.


That's an opinion you're entitled to have, however disrespectful you want to be in asserting it. I think you are out of bounds.

The point in avoiding generic, is to think out of the box in terms of creativity. Its very easy to fall into a derivative sounding generic idea in 1 4 5 - and this was just one suggested approach to break out of any creative ruts. There are no absolutes, and as far as I know I haven't broken any rules.

It wasn't a diatribe against the evils of 1 4 5.

I'll let you determine writers worth their salt and set the prerequisite standards for that. I'll defer to you in such matters.
#24
Quote by Sean0913
That's an opinion you're entitled to have, however disrespectful you want to be in asserting it. I think you are out of bounds.

The point in avoiding generic, is to think out of the box in terms of creativity. Its very easy to fall into a derivative sounding generic idea in 1 4 5 - and this was just one suggested approach to break out of any creative ruts. There are no absolutes, and as far as I know I haven't broken any rules.


I apologize for coming off as disrespectful. Also, I'd like to clarify that I wasn't referring specifically about you in any regard other than I thought what I had quoted was bad advice.

Anyway, I have a bit of a pet peeve about people labeling things generic. There are just so many ways to take a really common chord progression and turn it into something incredibly unique, and far too many people will avoid that and resort to weird chord progressions and clever tricks to try to be different.

Now for someone trying to break out of a rut, your advice would be far more applicable, but in the case of someone just trying to write songs I couldn't possibly disagree more. I think for someone in that position the best advice I could give is, forget everything you know about theory, put down your instrument, and get a strong feel for the sound you want in your head and then try to translate that to your instrument.
#25
Quote by icronic
I apologize for coming off as disrespectful. Also, I'd like to clarify that I wasn't referring specifically about you in any regard other than I thought what I had quoted was bad advice.

Anyway, I have a bit of a pet peeve about people labeling things generic. There are just so many ways to take a really common chord progression and turn it into something incredibly unique, and far too many people will avoid that and resort to weird chord progressions and clever tricks to try to be different.

Now for someone trying to break out of a rut, your advice would be far more applicable, but in the case of someone just trying to write songs I couldn't possibly disagree more. I think for someone in that position the best advice I could give is, forget everything you know about theory, put down your instrument, and get a strong feel for the sound you want in your head and then try to translate that to your instrument.


I think you've made some very solid points. Thanks for the clarification.
#26
Quote by spacedoutbad
ive been really wanting to write for a long time. ive been taking music classes at school and know an ok amount of theory, and can play guitar and keyboard. i just bought two midi controllers (keyboard and drum pad) and already have an interface. im just using garageband for now (till i can start making things i actually like) and know the program pretty well.

but now that ive been trying to put it all together to actually produce something i cant come up with anything. i know the theory and how to use it and can play the instruments but i write anything at all. ive been playing with a couple riffs and chord progressions but the riffs are basically just stepping through the chords im playing over, and the beats are crap. i dont know if i should call it writers block or what but im at a complete stand still as to how to actually put together a song.

ive looked all around the internet and read books on it and know the different processes to make songs and everything. and know at first its gonna suck till ive been doing it a while but what i have now arent even songs. ive been trying to just keep it simple and work from there but i cant even do that.

how can i use the theory i know to write? and what am i doing wrong?


-
im looking to make some kind of electronic solo stuff like postal service/owl city while incorporating my guitar (basically something i can do full deal by myself)


Good music is all about contrast.

There are lots of ways to involve an interesting contrast in your music.
One common way to bring about contrast might through the use of predictability versus surprise, for example the way Lucy in the Sky starts with this wafting 3/3 tonally ambiguous sound that is totally psychadelic but when the verse comes it's a straight out I IV V in 4/4.

When Jimmy Page set out to form his own band to bring his musical vision to life he described his artistic vision as a balance of light and dark. Look at Babe I'm Gonna Leave You as an example, starts with the nicely picked passage that represents "light" and then explodes (rather unexpectedly and with great contrast) into a I iv vamp that represents "dark".

Nirvana and the grunge scene of the 90's was all about contrast. The formula was often play quiet and soft in the verses, hard and loud as hell in the chorus.

The Beatles are often described as the best band of all time and commonly accepted as brilliant songwriters. They did this by placing the commonplace chord progressions that people had heard a million times and introducing some new element to surprise and capture interest. Their modulations were out of this world sometimes and their use of chords phenomenal. Yet they could also write some amazing songs with two chords - Eleanor Rigby.

You should keep in mind though that theory helps you with understanding musical devices better, through understanding music devices better you get a different level of insight into how music works, this in turn may improve your ability to compose music. It's not necessarily a foolproof chain and theory itself won't tell you what to write.

To paraphrase Walter Piston - inevitably all composers come to a point where they ask - where to next. Theory won't tell you where to next. Theory doesn't write a song for you it tells you about what's been written not what to write. (At least I think it was Walter Piston - it a while ago and I didn't read the whole book.)

You need to figure out where to go on your own man. That's what being a songwriter is all about. Play out what you've got in your head and think on it for days if you have to. Try to find where it goes next and work it out, does it explode? Does it slow down? Does it change keys, does it build to a climax by adding layer after layer with each verse?

Don't rule out any chord progressions or changes. Use the familiar to make your unfamiliar more interesting. It gives people a grounding.

Best of Luck
Si
#27
I had a music teacher tell me that theory teaches you the rules so that you can know which rules to break. Really, you don't need theory at all. The most talented songwriter I've personally met didn't know an inkling of musical theory, he just knew what he wanted to hear and knew how to play it. So basically, use theory to make you aware of the options and such, but play primarily by ear when writing. At least, that's my advice.
#28
Quote by theoneandonlyq
I had a music teacher tell me that theory teaches you the rules so that you can know which rules to break. Really, you don't need theory at all. The most talented songwriter I've personally met didn't know an inkling of musical theory, he just knew what he wanted to hear and knew how to play it. So basically, use theory to make you aware of the options and such, but play primarily by ear when writing. At least, that's my advice.


All theory does is provide a language so that musicians can tell eachother quantitatively what they are playing or want to play. It doesn't tell you what to play, only what to call that thing.
#29
I would say that, for the most part, if you play guitar you *do* need theory, in terms of answering the ultimate question "Is theory important?".

But theory in itself is not the sole go to tool, but it serves enough useful purpose, that I would suggest that someone with theory has a lot more tool wise, to be a more consistent communicator, musically speaking.

But theory in a way gives us a system of organization of a known set of musical ideas. A good ear is important also, and this allows for people to also create effective compositions many times without the use/knowledge of theory.

When you look at music and start determining what is "good" you enter into subjective territory. What sounds good to one may not to another, but the ear is an important part of discovering what sounds good to *you*. Theory presents more options and possibilities and approaches that you might not have found or isolated on your own, without theory.

One could communicate in many ways, and I think using your ear and theory together ultimately opens up more possibilities for guitarists.

This opinion however is subjective.