#1
Hi!

I could use some tips regarding songwriting.

I've written truckloads of guitar riffs, 30-40 of which I find worthy of including in songs. The problem is that I find it very hard to build meaningful songs from them. Often I can find 2 riffs that work together well, but transitioning into any other one of my riffs feel awkward, so the songs don't feel cohesive.

I guess this must be a common problem for musicians, to stitch several riffs together into full songs. Do you have any tips how I could get better at this? I've been doing the mix-and-match approach for several months and I'm nowhere near satisfied with the results.

Thanks,
j
#2
First of all, I would say study songs that have riffs you like. Learn them by ear. Internalize them. There's no substitute for training your mind in this way.

And the second thing I'd say is, simply: don't try so hard. So you write a riff, and you like it. Great. Rather, sit with the riff for a while. Sit with it until you have an idea for something you'd want to hear next. Then play that thing.

That is to say, songwriting is an intuitive process, not an intellectual one. Every time I've tried to weld different pieces together it hasn't worked. The song will tell you where it wants to go. Your job is to train yourself so that you know how to listen to it by developing your ear and studying similar songs by ear.
#3
Sometimes two riffs just don't work together that well. But maybe add other instruments. Use a drum fill to make the transition smoother.

But yeah, many times it's just better not to try to connect two separate riffs. Start with one idea and figure out how to continue it. Let the song write itself.

Bands like Metallica do write songs by connecting separate riffs. But as you may have heard, Hetfield has like 1000 riffs to choose from. That method works for them, and it sometimes works for me too - sometimes you just come up with two separate ideas that happen to work together really well. But usually it feels easier to just start from the beginning and not try to connect separate ideas to one song.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#4
Not sure if you're already doing this, but if you want to write songs by connecting riffs, you should consider writing them in the same key/time signature as some of your other riffs.
#5
Quote by MousseMoose
Not sure if you're already doing this, but if you want to write songs by connecting riffs, you should consider writing them in the same key/time signature as some of your other riffs.

Well, having the same time signature is pretty obvious. (Though songs do have riffs in different time signatures - that's really not rare.) But you can always transpose your riffs. Also, modulating is not rare either. Of course being in the same key and time signature makes it easier to connect two riffs. But sometimes a key change fits the song well. But as I said, you can always transpose your riffs.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#6
I recently had this exact type of writing block. I agree with HotspurJr about it being better when approached with intuition. For example, if you have an intro riff, dig into it and enjoy it, until a Verse-type idea will arrive. This might take effort, but once you have these 2 parts, they are likely to repeat so you have a big chunk of the song already ready!(or even half a song if we forget about C parts for the moment)

Two ideas that have helped me get that intuition going are:
listening to a lot of music - just by listening, or by playing a song, your mind incorporates ideas that you will later implement without even thinking about it. Of course, listen to what you enjoy..

Second idea that helps IMO is having another person around to suggest ideas. A person with great theoretical knowledge might improve your approach of "connecting this and that". But I think even non-musicians can have great intuition or some intelligent perspective that sparks your intuition into full drive. This is why when I'm helping someone else with his\her music, I have no writer's block
Last edited by Fuzorz at Mar 15, 2015,
#8
^ Yeah, use different instrumentation for different riffs. I mean, start different riffs with different instruments. You could start it with a drum beat, bassline, synth, guitar, whatever.

Dream Theater sometimes has really weird transitions. But they just make them work. They know what they are doing. Maybe figure out how they connect two different sounding riffs and make it work.

If you are having troubles with connecting two riffs, as I said earlier, a drum fill can make it sound a lot smoother. Another thing is playing a long chord in the end of the riff and then starting the new riff. For example the middle section of Blackened by Metallica is like this. It's a whole new riff - pretty different from the main riff - and they start it by playing a long sustained E power chord.

Another thing is having a riff with just sustained chords. For example start the song with the main riff, then sing a verse over it. Then a pre-chorus that has sustained chords and then the chorus (that can be another riff). The sustained chord pre chorus riff may smoothen the transition between the riffs.

You may also use a general pause (but don't overuse it), for example in Go To Hell by Megadeth (at 2:52).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7pqj8Be8kU

The song also has some kind of weird transitions with tempo changes.

Learn how your favorite bands do it. Don't just listen to guitar, listen to the other instruments.

Oh, and then there's the basic "Guns N' Roses transition". 3:25:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TnL-LJKWE0

0:34, 2:43, 3:20 - this song is full of them. It's actually a great example of a song that has so many different sections but still works really well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1tj2zJ2Wvg
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Mar 16, 2015,
#9
Wow guys, so many great info, thank you very much! Lots of ideas to go on experimenting with.

If you can suggest any more songs with well executed transitions, I would be very interested to hear them.

Thanks,
j
#10
A good starting point for some people is writing a chorus or main riff which gives quite a big impact or maybe the main impact of the song, and then stripping the riff back by perhaps playing single notes mixed with power chords or inverting the riff to the opposite order of chords or notes. You could also change the rhythm/strumming or try palm muting. It really depends on the style of music too, riffs within grunge are a lot more simplistic than the likes of technical death metal. I think listening to riff based songs is the best option to see where they take the song. What changes are they making melodically? What changes rhythmically?

Could you also break up the 2 riffs by adding a little lead melody section between or even one repeated power chord played in semiquavers? Its a lot to do with the transition between different parts of a song as well as the actual main parts. Just some points to consider.

If you posted some audio examples of some riffs on Soundcloud or something, I would be happy to give you some input
A guitar is a very personal extension of the person playing it. You have to be emotionally and spiritually connected to your instrument - Eddie Van Halen
Last edited by MarkAlanIrwin at Mar 16, 2015,
#11
Depending on the genre, but pretty generally, the music behind, say, a verse is not that complex, and even sounds a bit.. strange without the vocals, the lead, whatever.

Think simple.

Some verses may be a single chord, or may modulate, say, three measures of a chord with a single measure (turn-around) of often the vi chord, or maybe the IV.

I have a very similar problem in that I tend to write guitar-centric ideas that sound good, are fun to play, but when it comes to what am I going to sing over, or what will the back up for the solo be, is where I struggle. I make it too complicated and then a melody sounds funny over the top.

Break it down to the very basics. Think more like a bassist for a section you are unsure of, maybe a string of eighth notes...

[tab]
------------------------
------------------------
------------------------
------------------------
--------33333333--------
00000000--------55555555
[/tab]

Have that be your "chorus" or "verse" and focus on the melody. Get your ideas flowing for lyrics, something other than guitar.

If you find lyrics and/or melody that work, then you might start developing guitar that supports it. I'm working at this myself right now, and it is indeed a challenge!

Good luck, my friend.
#12
Quote by johnsmith1261
Hi!

I could use some tips regarding songwriting.

I've written truckloads of guitar riffs, 30-40 of which I find worthy of including in songs. The problem is that I find it very hard to build meaningful songs from them. Often I can find 2 riffs that work together well, but transitioning into any other one of my riffs feel awkward, so the songs don't feel cohesive.

I guess this must be a common problem for musicians, to stitch several riffs together into full songs. Do you have any tips how I could get better at this? I've been doing the mix-and-match approach for several months and I'm nowhere near satisfied with the results.

Thanks,
j


I have a bit of an ADHD approach to composing as well - I have hundreds of riffs. Don't try jumbling riffs together - that ends up being a pretty big waste of time. Build a song from one riff. The trick is to keep brainstorming and trying things until you get a new part and then repeat. Songwriting and composing is very difficult and you will get better at it with time - but try to finish a song - start listening a lot to the arrangements of songs and try to visualize a structure for how you want yours to go. Then try to come up with parts.

this is really an area where you get better at it by trying to really finish songs and working on arrangements.

I find it helps sometimes to record different sections to a click track and then you can copy/paste and move your arrangement around in your Daw to see what works best.
#13
Sometimes it just takes a bar of spacing between riffs with a count-in type fill on the drums to introduce the new one. Sometimes an abrupt change of guitar riff can sound fine if you tacet the drums at the point of change.

I think you have to develop a feel for what sounds good by experimentation, but don't over-think it.

You can also write transitional riffs that don't have to be as good as the best riffs in the song.