Writing to me is a very complex and sometimes frustrating aspect to music. There's so much to think about! I've been playing for about 7 years and have been writing for 1 year, but i'm having a lot of trouble sticking to what i play. It doesn't sound bad to me but i don't have faith in the notes as i should. I want to know what are some techniques you guys use to write music. Do you meditate, vocalize a melody and record it, record jams, or what?
Sigs are for salad tossers.
i tend to be pretty definite about the music i write, but, frankly, any method that leads to a finished product works.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
I write by inspiration. Songs happen inwardly, and then I just follow it to it's end. If I reach a dead end, I work out possibilities based upon the theory I know, such as, do I try some modal interchange, reverse polarity, etc. I have so many ways I can do this, but the end result is, it either reinvigorates inspiration, or, it gets shelved until I find that missing piece.


I improvise, whatever sounds good- stays. At times some, I would have more structured ideas, - generally will be able to realize them.
I use notation software a lot of the time, this way i have a lot more room for experimentation and i can hear multiple parts being played together (guitar, guitar 2, bass, drums etc) while i edit the music, without having to have a band with me at the time. It is also good for trying out licks etc that i can't immediately play myself, therefore i can hear how they will sound solo or with other instruments before i practice and master them.
One method I've grown bored of is harvesting riffs and piecing them together.

So now I'm picking up the guitar, firing up Guitar Pro 6 and working through compositions bit by bit.

Once I have a part down, after a few plays through I 'automatically' hear what should come next. I play it on the guitar and write it into Guitar Pro 6 as a record / aide memoire. Repeat until song / tune is complete.

I'll then knock up a solo and bass line (again using that 'automatic' hearing thing) and program the drums.

Fine tuning, refinement. Then I'll learn to play it through and record.
When i write my own music, i generally just write a chord progression that sounds good to my ears, and then put a simple melody to it. Granted, i mainly play music with lots of room for improvisation (jazz, fusion, funk etc).

However, when i am asked to write a solo or something for a band. I will generally sit and listen to the solo section and try to sing something. I have only done this for bands in the genres of pop and rock, but i find that solo that mainly consists of a very melodic theme works great, and then you might add some flashier stuff to add to it.

I don't really think about it, i jam over it for a while and whatever works is what ill stick with.
Fusion and jazz musician, a fan of most music.

Quote by Guthrie Govan
“If you steal from one person it's theft, and if you steal from lots of people it's research”

Quote by Chick Corea
"Only play what you hear. If you don't hear anything, don't play anything."
My favorite way to write a song is similar to one I read about in a lesson / article on the subject (though after I was already using it myself), and I've read various musicians have used it from Beatles and other guys.

I start playing around with chord progressions, usually without even picking a key, though obviously the first chord does somewhat limit the key options. Like I'll just decide today I want to play with barre chords, and start playing a C#minor chord. At this time I pick a strumming pattern. Am I going to play funky 16ths? A rather peppy 4/4 rock, a ballad? Am I going to stay on it for one measure, or maybe prolong it?

Then I see where I can go next. I mean, this song so far could be in C#m, in E, in A, in F#m, in B, in G#m, and those are just the obvious choices. So I can go to any chords in any of those keys. Or go to something not in any of those keys, start out with a dischordant chord change, and then figure out keys that "make sense" of it. Like, I did a song where I played E, then went to Bb, which is basically the tritone chord from E, the MOST out of key / dischordant chord I could think to play. I went back and forth creating a seesaw of unsettling noise, then found chords off the Bb that meandered around more harmoniously, but ultimately worked their way back to E, and started the whole thing over again. So I find the second chord you choose can be almost anything. It'll create a certain type of tension, and then that will somewhat 'box you in' as to what your third chord can be.

Often after the second chord, I find I have no choice what to play next, the song "demands" that I go to a certain third chord, or maybe there are a couple chords I can play next that y ear does not "veto." But as I get further along, the options are narrower and narrower, until there is just one chord that sounds "right" to go at the end of the sequence. The result is that I find myself meandering through chord changes that evoke an emotional feel...anger, frustration, suspense, joy, heartbreak, confusion, or often moving from one feel to another. I get to a point where I feel like I'm done with that phrase/stage of the song, and I see where the last chord I'm playing can get back to the first chord, like a turn around, I guess. Sometimes it's already there, and ready to start from the top. Sometimes I need something to get me back to the top, like a turnaround, a chorus, or whatever. Once I have that worked out, the progression is now driving itself forward, as you get to the end of the verse, the song wants to proceed to the chorus and vice versa. I find when I "end" my songs, there's a sense of "come one, one more time from the top, please" which I think is a good thing, means I have created a "hook" at least for myself.

A lot of this is trial and error. I'm not yet good enough to hear in my head the "next chord" that I need to play as I'm working this out. Instead, like say I've got the first four chords worked out with a certain strum pattern/cadence, I'll try the "usual suspects" of what could come next based on whats in the key, and I'll be like, "no that's not it.... no that's not it either.... no, that's not it.... Yes, that's what needs to come next." If none of the usual suspects work then, again, I may wind up trying stuff that is far afield from what seems to be the key I'm working in or around. At this point, it's like I'm going through a tunnel with lots of wrong turns that hit dead ends, and I just back up and go another way, and eventually I find my way to daylight.

In this way, I develop chord progressions from scratch that are unique to me, to my own inner voice/temperament/taste. They evoke a particular "feel," a kind of emotional movement. And it's all pretty effortless, I don't force anything, I just listen to my inner critic on what I like or don't. At the same time, I'm teaching myself all the different feelings that come from movements between different chords, so this is also part of my general guitar / music theory practice.

So, again, if I just sit down and start strumming C#m chord because I don't play it that often and think to myself I should get some practice playing off of it, I know from music theory that I can harmoniously go to E, to G#m, to Bm, to D#m, to D, to A, but I may be in a mood to go more exotic, create more tension at the outset or whatever. If I went from C#m to D#m...what the hell would I do next to get out of that tense mess? Well, if I had my guitar handy, I'd listen to it and see, and maybe come up with something inspired, I don't know. Just an example of the kind of thing I might try.

One of the posters on here -- who I greatly admire by the way, and has very smart posts worth listening to -- has a sig line that says, "only play what you hear" or something like that, I guess my approach is opposite of that, mining for gold by random wandering. But, actually, I don't that's quite right, its not really the opposite of that, because it's not really random. After a couple hears playing guitar, you've got to trust deep down there's a subconscious "sense" of what may sound good, or right to you, a gut feel for maybe some emotion you want to convey, or even need to convey, and when I let go like this, I don't think I'm just a cold machine trying every combination till I find something that seems pleasing to the ear. I do think deep down in my subconscious there's a vision for what the progression should be, and in that sense I am playing what I am already "hearing", just not consciously.

Also, this is all coming from the heart. If I'm feeling down, I probably start the process on a minor chord (though that's not a fixed rule). If I'm feeling upbeat, I start the process on a major chord (again, not fixed). If I'm horny, I start the process with some funkiness, or look for a groovy feel from the chord transitions. It's all feeling translated to music.

Anyway, I end up this process with a progression of chords, usually at least two sets (verse and chorus) that go well together. Sometime, I find myself with a more variations on my mood / theme I'm building, and I don't want to jettison them, so I build in an interlude, break or whatever, and have more than two progressions. Every progression is made the same way, trying things out, testing the waters, and ultimately following what "feels" right. And the resulting progressions all make musical sense to be played together. There's a logical, emotional, musical link to them all.

As an aside, I also at this time have a general sense of the speed of the song, the rhythmic pattern, etc. The cadence I choose, how fast to play, how long I linger on a chord, definitely affects what can sound "right" afterwards. Like, if I start with an A for a couple measures, get a feel like I'm strongly in A, D or E, then I play an E, then a B, it MIGHT really feel like I'm in the key of E. But maybe I've chosen to play the A for 2 measures, the E for 1 measure and the B for half a measure, before heading to D for a measure...so now I'm feeling in A with a slight tension added with the use of the B rather than Bm. The strum pattern -- both the pattern, speed, and length of time on a chord -- all affect what can sound good next. A chord that may sound god-awful in the next measure might actually "fit" if you bring it in late, on the upbeat (2 out of 4 rather than 1 out of 4). I guess people who study music theory can explain in technical terms why that is, but I just follow my ear.

Anyway, once I have at least one of my chord progressions done, I can start on the melody. I do this by first asking myself "how does this progression make me feel? What am I trying to express?" Usually, my subconscious is trying to dredge up something -- issue from child hood, lost love, stress at work, etc. I try to be honest as possible, and figure out what it the emotions are evoking from me, and that leads me to pick out lyrics. I string together some words that seem to capture the story / feelings that I'm channeling. I don't worry too much about rhyming at this stage. These are not my final lyrics, just a place holder (perhaps). I then vocalize these draft lyrics as I play the progression. I don't try to force a melody, but I find that naturally my voice will go to certain notes on certain syllables, and fall into a certain cadence. Again, it's pretty effortless, nothing is forced. If no "notes" come, I'm would be fine doing a spoken word piece with a musical accompaniment, but that actually has never happened to me after dozens of times using this approach. The notes always come.

And there I have a song. I can tweak any aspect of it (most commonly the lyrics, which I struggle with, revealing too much of my inner self to the world, since I'm a private person).

Is it a hit song? A commercial success? I don't know. I like to think if these were produced and marketed, they'd hit home with listeners, because they all come from the heart. But they are not (or rarely) the kind of chord progressions that seem to succeed in the world of pop music, or generic alt pop / alt rock. My songs tend to have a bluesy feel, because I've had some hard times while writing them, yet they do not follow standard blues progressions. I call my style "new blues" sometimes, but I don't know, that sounds kind of presumptuous now as I write it.

However, you will probably not come up with "new blues" if you follow this style because you are not me, you are not mired in my own drama and feelings. You have your own drama and issues, and that will lead your songs from the heart to be joyous, angry, angst-ridden or whatever.

Bernie Sanders for President!
Anyway, I think this is a method of song-writing, from the heart, that anyone can employ. The more you are comfortable with understanding keys, playing all types of chords, it probably would help these songs have variety, but really some one could use this same technique if they a beginner who could only play open chords, it would just somewhat limit the emotional range they could express perhaps.

I have varied this approach in the following manner: I get a chord progression that comes from the heart, and that leads back "to the top" so it can repeat, and has an energy moving it forward. I record it and play it back looped, then I solo over it. I am generally just noodling, but soon something will "stick out" as sounding right. Like one progression I did in G major, which was very personal, and I just could not think of lyrics or move onto generating a melody, I put it on a loop and just soloed over it, and I found that I kept coming back to a riff starting on B. I did this solo, which I found very emotionally compelling, for me, and there was by the end no doubt in my mind this was a song in B Phrygian mode. So, with that solo ringing in my ears (not literally, but still in my memory), I went back and did some lyrics starting on B, and then the lyrics and lyric melody came, in B Phrygian. So noodling with a solo over your chord progression can help you to figure out notes for your melody.

So, to sum:
1. Chord Progression
2. Lyrics / melody


1. Chord Progression
2. Improv solo jamming
3. Lyrics / melody

I don't think you MUST have all your chord progressions done before you start any lyrics. I've done a single progression, figured out lyrics/melody for it, and then that "story" from the lyrics led me to a particular story / statement in the chorus, it crystalized what my chorus message should be. Then with that message in mind, I reversed the process, figuring out the chorus melody and what chords I liked over it.

Anyway, I've done songs starting with a melody I liked, starting with a bass line I liked, even starting with a drum sequence I liked, but the process starting with chords feels most natural to me. But then, give me a melody, and I'm going to struggle trying to figure out what is the right or best chords to lay over it, just a blind spot in my music theory / composition skills.

Lastly, when you get your chords, your melody, your lyrics (or draft lyrics that you can jettison and replace with something less personal, less literal, less revealing once they've served the purpose of helping you find your melody), then I think you can worry about embellishing the song with great percussion, bass line, perhaps some other instruments or synths, playing around with how to play the chords, whether to invert some or play some extensions or whatever, that all can help create something really polished, but the soul of the song is already formed. The song can still be re-cast in many ways, like from ballad to fast rock, but you are starting with something heartfelt and probably unique, that takes the listener on a journey. I like to think that audiences would respond to that more than the regurgitated pap that floods so many radio stations.


P.S. The ancient Toltec religion had a commandment (one of four) which was "Do not take anything others do personally" or words to that effect. The fact is, my ridiculously long posts have less to do with responding to the TS, and more to do with my own present battles with procrastination from other stuff I should be doing instead of being on this forum, my own belief that when I explain my processes to others, I come to a deeper understanding myself of how I work, so it's really all about me. If you believe the Toltecs, then pretty much everything anyone does in life is, similarly, more about them than you (though I think the Toltecs are no longer in existence today...their four commandments, or "Agreements" as they call them are, to me, about a zillion times wiser and more useful than the 10 commandments from the Bible or any other set of religious mandates I've ever heard of....though alas, they do not include, 'though shalt not post absurdly long messages on forums to avoid buckling down to that project you keep putting off.'
Bernie Sanders for President!
Jesus Christ, wow. I have such a great appreciation for you taking the time to write all that for my post. I received a great deal of insight from what you said. What you said at the end really hit home with me. Thank you and i hope you ace that project!! I followed you on soundcloud as a token of my appreciation lol Thanks to all of you who posted!
Sigs are for salad tossers.
I start with a riff or a lick that I think sounds good. I determine at what part of the song I want to put it in, and I grow the song around that. It's very hit or miss, I think writing lyrics and then music is a better method, but I'm not much of a lyricist.
I usually start with a chord sequence and kind of play the melody at the same time (on a piano). I only seem to be able to make like 1 track per month, which sucks. I'm so ADD I have a hard time finishing anything. I have tons of like 1min mp3s.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Mar 4, 2014,