I've been getting into 10 or more minute rock opuses and I want to write some. Any tips for keeping the song going without getting boring?
progression. write a good riff and write more riffs stemming off those riffs. they should all sound pretty good together since you wrote them off of eachother. once you have a few good riffs and runs, stack em up in a sequence that sounds good.
For long songs, use effects. Lots of effects. Listening to a guitar is cool, but to keep me entertained for 10 minutes, I want to hear a clean chorus section, a crazy whammy solo, etc. Also, on the topic of solos, it helps to have several.

Ever hear this song? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LH_9lJxeiXg

Dream Theater - Octavarium

This song features heavy chorus and delay in the beginning, but soon turns into a soft melodic song, again heavy on effects, and then, at about 11:30, it turns into an epic experience. 12:30 it turns into an amazing keyboard solo.13:50 it turns into a metal song. 16:00 shows their progressive prowess. And from there it goes on into a spoken word segment and more solos.

Dream Theater is a plethora of epics.
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This is an old version, but the idea is to keep interest by having meaningful transitions from part to part. You can mash up six or so songs into eachother, but each time you have a jarring transition things get a bit meh. You should also consider having motifs in there, so that each time its repeated there's a little roadmap for the listener.
Tempo changes help to. I have also recently been listening to a lot of long songs (thanks to my recent fascination with the Mars Volta). One of my favourite songs ever is Paranoid Android, which is about seven minutes, and because of the tempo changes, its almost like 3 songs in 1, so it doesnt get boring.
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The best way to write a long song is to not worry about how long it is.

If you try adding parts to a song just to make it longer, you'll ruin it.

If the theme of the song is strong enough and tells enough of a tale to require it, a song will just become that length naturally.
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The key is to have one or two (possibly three) defining riffs/motifs that can always be used to pull the listener back to the center, so to speak. Keep in mind, if you write a modal song, you won't have a tonal center, but you still need a center. You need that snap back to, "Oh, yeah...I remember that part" that helps define the overall feel of the song.
Take it from the guys in Neurosis and Sleep. don't FORCE a song to be long or short. Play your riffs, play your licks, play your solos, if you feel like the riff should go on for another 2 minutes, do so. if you feel like you should shred for another 4, ****in' do it. The song should be saying something via sonic waves, dude. If you're trying to torture it and whip it into saying what you think it should say, it'll just lie to you to end the pain. Nurture it and let it naturally tell you it's life story.

This has been a hippy post.
Last edited by Patty-cakez at Apr 26, 2012,
I'd say that dragging things out is a poor idea. Vary things up, especially with the drums.

The key to making similar things sound very different is by changing up the drums.

This is how BTBAM sometimes dwells on a certain riff for 2 minutes, yet it sounds fresh.

Also, think of any previous ideas that you haven't put towards a song and try to think of ways to tie it all together.
Here's my take on long songs: you have to use EVERY songwriting trick in the book. Include every component of a song that you can think of; not just verse/chorus/verse/chorus/end. Flesh things out a bit. I'll give an example.

I have a song that's about 9 minutes in length. It starts with an INTRO. If you listen to the radio (which is short-song friendly) you'll notice that most songs have a very short intro if they include one at all. Pop songs like to jump straight into the verse to grab the listener's attention. But you don't care about that, you want to make an emotional impact on the listener, so take your time and create something that will set the mood and ease the listener into your epic masterpiece.

Then, I finally jump into the verse, after my 30 second intro has had its time in the spotlight. What happens next is very important. I DO NOT go into the chorus. In a song as progressive and experimental as this you want to do the unexpected. Make the listener wait a little, you'll get there. This isn't the radio or MTV. There is no law saying that the hook has to come within the first minute of the song. You can keep going with the verse at this point or throw in a guitar solo, or do a 180 and change the tempo or something. Anything.

In the case of my song I go back to the intro guitar riff. This intro riff is going to become a motif that defines the song and makes the various parts cohesive. But we just heard the intro, didn't we? Yeah, that's pretty boring. So this time I SING something over the instrumental. Simply developing a melody over the intro riff takes the attention away from the riff itself, so the listener doesn't realize that they just heard this part a second ago. The part feels new, yet familiar and not unsettling.

At this point I head into Verse 2. After this verse, instead of going back to the intro motif I finally get to the chorus. Since this is a long song the "chorus" is only going to happen twice, but I still call it a chorus because it is easily the catchiest and most identifiable part that repeats.
Now what really adds length to the song is that my chorus has 2 parts. After the initial melody I move to another chord progression; simply two chords that act as a kind of outro to the chorus. Think of it as a prechorus in reverse.

At this point the song is getting kind of long and we've only heard the chorus once. So to piece all of these parts together I return to the INTRO RIFF that has now become a MOTIF for the song.

Next I repeat everything that I just did, but in a simpler form. I head into Verse 3, but instead of playing the Motif as I did after Verse 1, I simply make Verse 3 twice as long. This allows the song to take shape in the listener's ears as they have a moment to rest without so many different parts occuring.

Once again I proceed to the chorus and when it ends I play the Motif we have developed. But this time, to keep it from getting boring I add a new melody over the motif. To differentiate this melody from the first one, I decide to utilize a scream instead of a sung melody.

In a normal song the bridge would be next (after the second chorus). So that's what I do, except instead of keeping the flow of the song, I make a drastic change and all of the instruments drop out except for some clean electric guitar. The energy level drops immensely to create a contrast and show that something is about to happen, really drawing the listener in and avoiding boring repetition.
I sing in a much lower register at this point and build intensity very slowly. The drums come in with a calm beat and the bass enters as the melody begins to climb. The drums build as the melody climbs and at the climax all the instruments strike powerfully for an explosive intro into the NEXT part of the song.

At this point the song is at full intensity and the vocals have reached a climactic point. Just when you think the ride is over a new melody is introduced, the drums change slightly, and the song continues on this high point. Even then the song continues by reintroducing the melody that appeared in the bridge, only this time it is not in a low register, it is sung an octave higher and the instruments are POUNDING and the listener can tell THIS is the REAL climax of the song.

After this a guitar melody plays over the instruments and the song finally comes to an end.
Alright, I know that was a WALL of text, but I simply wanted to give an in depth look into how I personally have tackled the "long song". My main point is that you want to include a lot of elements. You don't want the song to be repetitive, but you want there to be something connecting the various sections of your song. Good things to use are intros, outros, guitar solos, extended instrumental sections, quiet parts, addition or subtraction of instruments. Anything you can think of really.

To hear a demo version of the song I just described (actual version currently being recorded) go here http://prestonpazmino.bandcamp.com/track/she-loves-to-see-me-try-so-hard

Or to hear another example of a long song with several changes, try this http://prestonpazmino.bandcamp.com/track/conscience-vs-the-body

I hope this is helpful. If anything forget the wall of text and just listen to the songs as examples.
Last edited by curlyhead_P at Aug 26, 2012,
^ I love your guide here. Though I take things differently (My only song long enough to be called long is 10 minutes) by having a long yet diverse intro, then I jump into the riff, then my verse riff, and start from scratch for BOTH my choruses. Then it changes completely. I mean, a nice long acoustic solo, then goes into something different.

I love Opeth. I take influence from them

I gotta try some of this stuff evetually. Not word for word, but just take a couple suggestions and create my own method, you know?
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Don't sit down and aim to write a long song... Just write the song that wants to be written... if it's 1 minute, that's fine, and if it's 10, that's fine too... don't force constraints on yourself