#1
I've been studying guitar and music for a little over 2 years. My first goal was to be able to jam and improvise, so I have not learned very many songs, but instead mostly play around with different chord progressions and variations. I try to avoid being too simplistic / repetitive. So a typical progression for me may be like this: A | F#m | A7 | Dm | Am | Dm7 | G7 | E. To my ear, that song takes an interesting journey with some unexpected twists, and comes in a unique way back full circle. I also find that I can switch up the last two chords, like to B7 then Em, and suddenly the song has shifted from the key of A to the key of C, and I can restart the same progression from a C chord, and there is no abrupt change and the listener may not realize what has happened or notice that I'm cycling through different keys. I guess, I kind of view finding these kind of progressions as a challenge / puzzle, though in truth I feel they are probable not commercial (though perhaps they could fit in a more orchestral piece, a movie backing track, a jazz piece or something).

But I digress. Getting back on track, at some point, I figure my song needs at least two progressions (one for verse, one for chorus), so I'll work out a complementary progression, which I view as kind of a "call and response" approach where I view the first progression as a question or call and the second as an answer or response.

Anyway, at some point, I record my two progressions and play around with soloing over them, maybe write some lyrics and figure out a lyrical / lead melody for verse and chorus and lay that down. I play around with laying a bass line over both using synth software, mostly simply stuff focusing on the root of the chord being played, but sometimes mixed in with some of the other notes from the chord being played. I also play around with a drum synth that fits my strum pattern. Eventually, I wind up with these songs that I personally like. I now have like 40 or more of these songs. When I pick up my guitar to play, I usually am just messing around with these songs, or finding new progressions for new original songs.

My problem, and reason for this post, is that I regularly look on the Music Theory forum here, or the guitar technique thread, or just look at videos of hit songs with cool guitar parts, and a lot of it is way beyond me. Honestly, my technical skills are rather weak, and I overcome this when I record my songs by using midi synths so I can lay in my parts with better timing than what I could play on my guitar. Also, my chord choices remain rather simple, as does my timing (i.e., 4/4 for everything).

But when I see these musicians with far more skill than me who have not had any recognized success writing hit songs, or songs I particularly like, and I read posts on forums about music theory notions or guitar techniques that go way over my head, I wonder what the hell makes me think I'm ready to be laying down songs? I'm I just engaging in a dead end approach to music that is sort of like musical masturbation?

I sometimes feel like I should stop song-writing because what right/hope do I have to create something great with my current level of skill, but then I think of those young bands who catch lightning in a bottle. Those garage bands with musicians who can only play a few chords, or power chords, yet create something really raw and powerful and special. And I start to think that passion, and perhaps out-of-the-box thinking, can override technical skill and music theory knowledge and such, so whose to say I could not do the same?

I guess the bottom line is should I feel pretentious trying to write great music at this stage of my learning / development? (As opposed to writing music as a learning exercise, which I know is a part of a lot of regimented and classical music education, which is not really what I'm doing.) Is this a dead-end approach for becoming a great musician or song-writer compared to focusing more on technique and learning hit songs by others?

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
Last edited by krm27 at Jan 9, 2014,
#2
No, how can you get better at it if you don't practice making songs?

Just don't put your mindset into "I'm done and just songwriting now." Keep your mind open to still learning new things and then with those things you've learned practice your song writing.
#3
Keep doing it, you're best at what you do most.

also, in my opinion, experience and what sounds good will always trump what is right in terms of music theory. I have a similar problem with my writing, where I simply hate everything that I create and feel like "if I learn more theory..." but then sometimes something magical happens and I actually come up with something decent. I just can't really arrange anything into songs I guess. THey're mostly just ideas without any applications. So I'm pretty much in a functino follows form debacle.

Anyway, I'm gonna guess that's your soundcloud in your sig. I listened to a few tracks and really dug them, especially the leslie synth one.

Keep at it, technical skills and your niche should come with time.

Also, I just realized that I should follow my own advice.
#4
Don't put limits or rules on your songwriting. If something simple works, then don't be ashamed of it. If something complicated sounds great, then go with it, but don't pigeonhole yourself into thinking that any specific song has to meet a certain degree of difficulty or complexity. Honesty in songwriting is going to be your best friend, and if you write something you don't truly feel, then it will show.
#6
Hey man you seem to have an interesting & creative thinking process which is difficult to be taught. Set aside some time for technique and strengthening exercises, not too much and the technique will come to you. I was a bit like you and still am, except these days my tech is a lot better but I’d start learning a song, get board of it and instead use the backbone of the song and make it my own (I also write my own). For years I thought it was that I wasn’t as good as others but realise that because of this I went down a path others hadn’t and had a uniqueness about my style and what I played that was a lot different to people who learnt every nuance of someone else’s song(people who I was jealous of). The funny thing was those same people were jealous of me, sort of like curly hair people jealous of straight hair and vice versa sorta thing
#7
I was writing songs before I could adequately play an instrument. I don't think you're alone here.
Q: Favourite Pink Floyd song?
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#8
I feel like you already know the answer. Your post seemed like it was you venting and towards the end you realized what you need to do. You may not feel like you do, but I know you do. Why? Because i'm very much the same. Probably been playing a little longer than you but when I look at my technical skill it pains me. I totally gave up on theory as it was like trying to learn math. Instead I learn through feeling and my ears. If you can learn theory then thats great, but I wouldn't worry about it so much.

A lot of the time when I aspire to learn a new song that seems really complicated I look for a video tutorial and that helps a lot. When you break songs down and learn them part by part they seem a lot more simple than when they're all put together.

I feel that a lot of songwriters use a method of layering to create a warm feel to a song that you otherwise wouldn't get solo. Sometimes that added drum beat, bass or violin can make something nice into a beauty.

I get inspired pretty quickly by artists like Elliot Smith, Ben Howard, John Butler, Bright Eyes who create amazing songs but when you break them down they're pretty simple.

I have a conflict with music where I see it as something which can be extremely limiting as to what you can get out of it, yet at the same time possibilities are endless.
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#11
There are plenty of music-theory/music skill deficient people out there, that can make good music (pop). As long as you have a good understanding of the genre of music that you are making, you'll be fine
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#12
I'll tell you this, these guys who blaze wailing solos and who can't write a song to save their lives, aren't what I would call musicians, they're guitarists. Any asshole can play generic blues licks and whatnot, but if you want to stand out, it is songwriting that will carry the day. That's how I started, when I only knew a handfull of chords, I still wrote little songs. That was 7 years ago, and now all my friends who can play ****-rock guitar solos all admit that I blow them away at songwriting. So there you have it.
#14
I was writing songs before I was even remotely 'good'.

It doesn't really matter about what your skill level is at any instrument. Even if you're terrible at the instrument and the songs you write turn out to be garbage, you learn from doing it and knowing what went right and what went wrong.

Does being fantastic at an instrument help? Well, sure I guess, especially in terms of what you can physically play and perform in a song. On the other hand, I've seen noobs write better songs than some 'virtuoso' guitarists who don't do much more than "luk @ mah skillz" type songs.

When I was eleven I broke the patio window and my mother sued me... She's always been a very aggressive litigator.
#16
Quote by BlindRabbit
I'm not taking the piss but this tutorial by David Brent actually is rather good for a beginner.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYPBVDZ8_Bs

Its ironic but its actually informative and demonstrates good song writing ability.


That song has a bad 2nd stanza and a weak chorus. thats not good songwriting.
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#17
Quote by Cavalcade
Oh please. Not this again.


Lots of people don't know much technical theory and can play the fingers off someone who does. When they are playing a certain genre. Jazz and blues come to mind.

The thing is they really do know theory and lots of it they just don't know the correct terms to write it all down...
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#18
Quote by BjarnedeGraaf
That song has a bad 2nd stanza and a weak chorus. thats not good songwriting.


"bad", "weak"? Please educate me why.
#19
Quote by BlindRabbit
"bad", "weak"? Please educate me why.


Oh I'm sorry I didn't know that "Hard shoulder, Coffee holder" the most impressive thing is you've ever heard or read i feel sorry for you
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My beginner rig:

Epiphone Goth G-400 SG
Line 6 Spider IV (Don't judge me, I was young and stupid)
Stagg SW203N
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#20
Quote by krm27
I've been studying guitar and music for a little over 2 years. My first goal was to be able to jam and improvise, so I have not learned very many songs, but instead mostly play around with different chord progressions and variations. I try to avoid being too simplistic / repetitive. So a typical progression for me may be like this: A | F#m | A7 | Dm | Am | Dm7 | G7 | E. To my ear, that song takes an interesting journey with some unexpected twists, and comes in a unique way back full circle. I also find that I can switch up the last two chords, like to B7 then Em, and suddenly the song has shifted from the key of A to the key of C, and I can restart the same progression from a C chord, and there is no abrupt change and the listener may not realize what has happened or notice that I'm cycling through different keys. I guess, I kind of view finding these kind of progressions as a challenge / puzzle, though in truth I feel they are probable not commercial (though perhaps they could fit in a more orchestral piece, a movie backing track, a jazz piece or something).


All fine, but it's the melody that really matters for songs.

I now have like 40 or more of these songs. When I pick up my guitar to play, I usually am just messing around with these songs, or finding new progressions for new original songs.


Good.

My problem, and reason for this post, is that I regularly look on the Music Theory forum here, or the guitar technique thread, or just look at videos of hit songs with cool guitar parts, and a lot of it is way beyond me. Honestly, my technical skills are rather weak, and I overcome this when I record my songs by using midi synths so I can lay in my parts with better timing than what I could play on my guitar. Also, my chord choices remain rather simple, as does my timing (i.e., 4/4 for everything).


So your songwriting level is above what you're capable of playing? Well, simplify the writing so you can play it. Or put together a band with a guitar player who can play what you write.

But when I see these musicians with far more skill than me who have not had any recognized success writing hit songs, or songs I particularly like, and I read posts on forums about music theory notions or guitar techniques that go way over my head, I wonder what the hell makes me think I'm ready to be laying down songs? I'm I just engaging in a dead end approach to music that is sort of like musical masturbation?


Musical skill is only one thing that could lead to succes.

I sometimes feel like I should stop song-writing because what right/hope do I have to create something great with my current level of skill, but then I think of those young bands who catch lightning in a bottle. Those garage bands with musicians who can only play a few chords, or power chords, yet create something really raw and powerful and special. And I start to think that passion, and perhaps out-of-the-box thinking, can override technical skill and music theory knowledge and such, so whose to say I could not do the same?


You either write music that you like yourself or to satisfy what you perceive as some trend or crave. If you like what you've done yourself why not simply let others listen and see if they like it too.

I guess the bottom line is should I feel pretentious trying to write great music at this stage of my learning / development? (As opposed to writing music as a learning exercise, which I know is a part of a lot of regimented and classical music education, which is not really what I'm doing.) Is this a dead-end approach for becoming a great musician or song-writer compared to focusing more on technique and learning hit songs by others?

Ken


It's not pretentious to want to write great music. It is pretentious to say one's own music is great, but trying to make it so is not a bad goal.
#21
Quote by BjarnedeGraaf
Oh I'm sorry I didn't know that "Hard shoulder, Coffee holder" the most impressive thing is you've ever heard or read i feel sorry for you


When did he ever say it was the most impressive thing he'd heard or read? For something to not be 'bad' it doesn't have to be the greatest ever.
#22
Thanks for the responses, including the guy who said it was pretentious of me to make this thread. I actually had the same thought the day after I made it, when I went back to read the responses, I was like, "WTF am I doing asking this question?"

I guess a better way to phrase it, was that I was wondering if I'm putting the cart before the horse. Also, to the extent I have these songs worked out, and people here them and are NOT blown away by them, I am not sure if it is because (a) my music recording/production/mixing sucks and I need to work on taking these songs to a higher level, or (b) whatever I write at this stage of my learning curve is probably going to be kind of weak till I simply get better as a musician/guitarist. These may seem like the same thing, but to me the difference between (a) and (b) is whether I focus on improving (a) music mixing/production/engineering skills, or (b) guitar, music theory, etc. Sure, I need work on both, and ideally will try to progress on both, but I'm looking for something to push me one way or the other...when I have too many options, I wind up just watching TV or doing something else. I just decided to start taking guitar lessons just to try to find some one to say, "This is where you are weak and what is holding you back the most this is what you need to work on right now to catch up to your other skills." I just hope I don't get a teacher who is like, "Tell me what song you want to play and I'll help you work it out." I feel like I can work out any song if I apply myself, I would rather have a teacher who steps back and helps me work on skills generally. Though maybe that's my own misconception as to how I can best learn, who knows?

I am also somewhat intrigued/curious by the notion of people who have played for a really long time, have great technical skills, but cannot write a decent song (to my ear) and those who have been playing a short time and can put out something really moving and impressive, like some of those young garage band types I referenced in the first post. I'm kind of an intellectual, and I like to analyze / figure out what makes a song work, like the search for the "grand unifying theory of music."

Lastly, you know when you go to some one you know and play something you wrote for them, there is a strong sense you may not get an honest opinion. My stuff sounds good to my ear (I mean harmonies, and such, the production values need work), but I know I could be biased, and I don't want to be that guy whose running around saying, "Listen to this!" and then playing something that sounds really goofy or immature. I guess I need / want to be in a band or socializing with more musicians so I can get a better read / feedback on my creative process and all, but I just don't have that at the moment, and the kind of feedback I can find on the internet, like posting a song to a forum like this for feedback, is also rather limited. Anyway, I'll take what I can get. It really does not matter in the big scheme of things, because it's not like the wrong words are going to stop me from playing, writing music, and trying to capture that sound that I hear inside my head (or trying to come up with that grand unifying theory of music).

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#23
Definitely not. I started writing songs way before I could even play music. I was a terrible musician, lyricist, composer, singer, etc but I still had fun doing it. Looking back they are terrible songs but I don't regret it at all. At the time I thought they were pretty good but looking back I laugh. It wasn't pretentious of me, it was just me having fun.

I still write music and I'd like to think I'm a little better at it now. A lot of what I write sounds amazing to me, but I haven't had anyone who can properly judge it give me feedback. I don't feel guilty for loving what I write or for enjoying listening to it. I write music for me and so if I like it that is all I need. It might be considered pretentious if I thought my music was better than other "lesser" musicians who are popular, but I make no such claims.

I love my music and you are allowed to love yours as well. If it sounds like how you want it to sound that is all that matters. If you write the music that you want to hear it is very likely that you will think it to be great. Keep at it.

It's never too early to start trying, even a novice can some times churn out masterpieces and savants sometimes produce drivel. So don't worry about your skill level, it can be counterproductive to focus on that instead of just playing music.

Besides, it sounds like you actually have more musical knowledge than you think.
Keep at it bud, maybe great things will happen.