#1
Hello all. I appear to have run into writer's block after exhausting all my general writing ideas. So it looks like I'm going to have to look into a more advanced understanding of music theory.

I can just get my head round the fact that chords are derived from scale degrees and progressions come from playing different chords based on degrees from the same scale in different orders. Horribly rudimentary and probably inaccurate description but it has worked for me before so.

Anyway, does each scale have its own "mood" that can be used as a basis for deciding what key to write in? If this question even makes sense, any help is much appreciated.
#2
No, each scale or key doesn't have its own mood. Thinking they do is not going to be an effective way of deciding where to start a song.

Just jam out some riffs or hum some melodies. Keep any that are good and flesh them out, combine them.
#3
Depends on how old your instrument is
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Quote by Jet Penguin
lots of flirting with the other key without confirming. JUST LIKE THEIR LOVE IN THE MOVIE OH DAMN.
Quote by Hail
you're acting like you have perfect pitch or something
#4
Quote by Serotonite
Hello all. I appear to have run into writer's block after exhausting all my general writing ideas. So it looks like I'm going to have to look into a more advanced understanding of music theory.


In my opinion, learning music theory is not the optimal way to go if you want to get new songwriting ideas. If you're experiencing writers block, you should probably just try to expand your horizons. Listen to some new music and try to learn it. Learning a bunch of new information on theory will probably not lead into new ideas and innovations on your part, at least in my experience that's just not how songwriting works.
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Theory: Not rules, just tools.

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*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#5
People used to think that different keys portrayed different moods, but that idea has fallen out of fashion over the past 100 years, aside from "Eb sounds more punk" and "the lower you tune the more br00t4l you are"

http://biteyourownelbow.com/keychar.htm

What decides the keys most bands play in these days is "what is our singer's vocal range"
#6
Quote by Kevätuhri
Learning a bunch of new information on theory will probably not lead into new ideas and innovations on your part, at least in my experience that's just not how songwriting works.


I have written many pieces from learning a new theory concept and thinking "how can I apply this to a real piece of music", and trying to write something using that piece of theory. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It can never hurt to learn something.
#7
Quote by Himynameisben95
"Eb sounds more punk"


"Eb major The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God"

I see

Quote by Himynameisben95
I have written many pieces from learning a new theory concept and thinking "how can I apply this to a real piece of music", and trying to write something using that piece of theory. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It can never hurt to learn something.


Of course it doesn't. Still, if you're experiencing writers block, "learn some theory" is not the first piece of advice that pops to my mind.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
Last edited by Kevätuhri at Feb 11, 2016,
#8
Quote by Serotonite
Hello all. I appear to have run into writer's block after exhausting all my general writing ideas. So it looks like I'm going to have to look into a more advanced understanding of music theory.

I can just get my head round the fact that chords are derived from scale degrees and progressions come from playing different chords based on degrees from the same scale in different orders. Horribly rudimentary and probably inaccurate description but it has worked for me before so.

Anyway, does each scale have its own "mood" that can be used as a basis for deciding what key to write in? If this question even makes sense, any help is much appreciated.


1) if you're writing for a singer the singer essentially dictates the key - this is because the singer needs to be capable of actually reaching all the right notes within his/her range.

2) Keys are all the same in theory, but in practice they do have a small influence on the sound on guitar - playing a riff in G major and then playing the exact same riff in E major will yield some differences in general tone with a guitar - some acoustic and classical guitars resonate better at certain frequencies and so sometimes you might find it more pleasing to play at a certain key. The same goes for electric really.

3) The first thing you need to wrap your head around is how to name progressions with the roman numeral system - this will help you understand the relative nature of music. Learn what a II, V , I is. Start with the C major scale

4) when writing for guitar specifically - the keys with many open strings are the best because open strings provide flexibility in using pedal tones and other advantages - so E , D, C, A min, Bmin etc.
#9
Quote by Serotonite
Hello all. I appear to have run into writer's block after exhausting all my general writing ideas. So it looks like I'm going to have to look into a more advanced understanding of music theory.

I can just get my head round the fact that chords are derived from scale degrees and progressions come from playing different chords based on degrees from the same scale in different orders. Horribly rudimentary and probably inaccurate description but it has worked for me before so.

Anyway, does each scale have its own "mood" that can be used as a basis for deciding what key to write in? If this question even makes sense, any help is much appreciated.


The answer is, no, there really is not, not that would tip the scales in your situation.

Let me guess, you are self taught? The comments about theory, sound like someone that's tried to glean their knowledge from bits and pieces, but still not sure how it goes together to make music.

I have to disagree, but only from perspective, as a teacher and songwriter, that's helped hundreds, and assert that theory does help with songwriting, because seeing how music fits and works together as a whole is valuable insights as to possible ideas that you may not have understood were there for you before. Even something as simple a couple of secondary dominant instances in a progression, or backcycling, can inspire a whole other writing direction, and wake up a songwriting rut.

Best,

Sean
Last edited by Sean0913 at Feb 11, 2016,
#10
Like reverb66 said, a big part of choosing a key is often to ensure that the vocals fall within the singer's range. If you're in a band, or writing something you're going to sing yourself then obviously this is a really important factor to consider - you don't want to write a song then find out you can't hit the high notes! However if you're writing an instrumental then obviously it's not so much of an issue.
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#11
Wait, does this mean that most songs by a certain artists will be in the same or a similar key to accommodate their most comfortable vocal range.

I usually find singing most comfortable with the capo on the fifth fret.
#12
More usually similar than same; key does have an effect on what range songs will be.

Singing ranges:
"Arlington" by The Wailin' Jennys, if in B-flat minor: Bb3-Ab4 (I sometimes drop to F3)
"Tänk Dig" by Darin, in C minor: F3-Ab4

"Revelation Song" (Kari Jobe) is a pretty tricky one. The original in D major goes from B3 to C5. There was a group of people singing it and we changed it to A major for the singers.

I would say it's easier to start writing a melody and then transpose it to a suitable key if it's not already.
Glad to cross paths with you on this adventure called life
Quote by Jet Penguin
lots of flirting with the other key without confirming. JUST LIKE THEIR LOVE IN THE MOVIE OH DAMN.
Quote by Hail
you're acting like you have perfect pitch or something
#13
The key you create a song in has nothing to do with the actual writing. I agree with reverb66 that if you are a guitar player you will tend to create songs that are in "open" keys because it gives you more flexibility to write songs when you can use open strings (if you are tuned to a standard E tuning). I find keyboard players often like to write in keys like Bb, F# etc. It's just easier to work with for them when playing keyboards. You can write songs in any key that you are most familiar with for the sake of convenience but ultimately whoever is singing the song will want the key changed to the range that their voice works best in. I work with an excellent vocalist and we often have to compromise on the final key. She may ask me to drop a song that is in the key of D a 1/2 step but I don't want to work in Db so I try to get her to go a full step to C. It's always a compromise. Some songs have riffs that are specific to the open strings on a guitar like Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself". You have to play it in the key of E because it utilizes riffs that rely on the ringing open E string (or you have to use a capo).

Writing songs is as much a matter of inspiration as it is pure work. I know a very successful songwriter who carried around a notebook in which he was constantly writing lyrics. He wrote whole verses or just interesting lines and ideas that just came to him. That was the inspiration part. When he came up with a good melody he would pull out his notebooks and look for ideas he had already written down and modify them and finish them. That was the work part. He said the two things rarely came to him together for him. He found a way that worked well for him and he successfully lived off of publishing royalties as other artists recorded his songs. You need to find a method that works for you.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
#14
Quote by Serotonite
Hello all. I appear to have run into writer's block after exhausting all my general writing ideas. So it looks like I'm going to have to look into a more advanced understanding of music theory.

I can just get my head round the fact that chords are derived from scale degrees and progressions come from playing different chords based on degrees from the same scale in different orders. Horribly rudimentary and probably inaccurate description but it has worked for me before so.
Quite accurate - at least as a basic rule of thumb to begin from.
(Plenty of chord progressions move outside the key scale.)
Quote by Serotonite

Anyway, does each scale have its own "mood" that can be used as a basis for deciding what key to write in?
Different keys (of the same kind) don't have different moods, but different kinds of scale (modes) do - up to a point anyway.

IOW, every major key has the same mood, and every minor key has the same mood, but major has a different mood from minor. (You know the crude "happy/sad" distinction )

Different modes can have slight variants of those major-minor "moods".
So, mixolydian mode (eg) is a slightly "darker" (bluesier, funkier) version of major (major with b7), while dorian is a slightly brighter version of minor (minor with raised 6th).

Then again, the mood of a piece of music is affected far more by other factors. Eg, play a minor key tune fast, it won't sound sad any more!.
A lot of "sad" ballads are in major keys.
Mood is much more down to tempo, dynamics, orchestration, arrangement, effects, etc., than it is to the kind of scale used.
Last edited by jongtr at Feb 11, 2016,
#15
Quote by Serotonite
Wait, does this mean that most songs by a certain artists will be in the same or a similar key to accommodate their most comfortable vocal range.
No. Because the keynote of a song could be anywhere within its range.
Eg, twinkle twinkle has a range of a major 6th, with the keynote as the lowest note.
Happy birthday has a range of an octave, and the keynote is roughly in the middle (4th note up).

So singers will have favourite keys for specific songs, according to the range of the song only.
Let's say one hypothetical singer's range was an octave from G-G.
That would mean they could only sing Happy Birthday in key of C, because in that key its range is G-G. (It starts on a low G, and goes up to a high G in the 3rd line, ending on C at the end.)
But they could sing Twinkle Twinkle in a few keys, depending on how they fit its range within theirs. They could sing it in G, Ab, A or Bb, but no higher (because the top note of the tune in Bb is G).

Of course, one octave is a very narrow range. Most singers have ranges of up to two octaves, sometime more. And most songs have ranges of less than that. So most singers will have a choice of a few close keys where the range of any song will fit.
But - just to underline - it depends on the range of the melody (whether the singer can hit both the lowest and highest notes); not on the key, ie what the keynote is.
Singers will change keys in order to fit the range of the song within their own range.
Quote by Serotonite

I usually find singing most comfortable with the capo on the fifth fret.
That's meaningless. Irrelevant to the notion of what's comfortable for your voice. Or rather, there is a connection, but not in that way.

All that a capo on 5th fret does is reduce the range of the guitar, by cutting off the bottom few notes on 6th string.

Singer-guitarists do often use capos of course, but in order to keep easy chord shapes when choosing a key for a song so that the range suits their voice.
In that sense, IOW, it is relevant to your vocal comfort, but capo position ought to change for each song (or for most songs). Because capo position is nothing to do with key, and key is nothing to do with what's easy to sing.
BUT - it does make a difference to you as a guitar player. As a guitarist, you will have a view about different keys depending on the shapes you play. You may well think the key of E major (eg) has a very different "mood" from F major. I certainly do! But that's just down to the chord shapes, the voicings, and the effect of open strings or barre chords - nothing inherent in the keys themselves. (A pianist may also feel E has a different quality to F, but won't agree with you on the differences, because for him/her it's to do with 4 black notes vs 1 black note.)

An example is Hotel California, which began as a chord sequence in Em in open position. But to suit Don Henley's voice, the key was raised, and a capo placed on 7th fret to keep the same chord shapes - making the actual key B minor. That doesn't mean B minor was Henley's favourite key - for any song! Only that he found it easiest to sing that particular tune in that key.
In fact the melody has quite a narrow range, and he would have had several keys he could have sung it in. Maybe it just felt right for him in that key - and for the other vocalists on the chorus - and wasn't too hard for the other guitarists. (In vocal terms it wouldn't have made a lot of difference to sing it in C minor or Bb minor - but I doubt the guitarists would have preferred either of those.)

Another interesting example is Dylan and Blowin' in the Wind. In the original on the Freewheelin' album, he sang it in D major, but used a capo on fret 7 to play G shapes (G, C, and D chord shapes to produce the sounds of D, G and A chords). D G and A are easy enough chords in open position, so we have to assume the capo choice was because he liked the "G key" shapes, or just liked the high sound of the guitar.
On later live versions you see him play it in G with no capo. But he didn't lower his voice by 7 semitones; he raised it by 5.
So he was quite capable of singing the song in a wide range of keys; but - as a guitar player - he wanted easy shapes, that felt right under the fingers, or gave him certain patterns that he wanted.
Last edited by jongtr at Feb 11, 2016,
#16
You can write a song in any key and then transpose it to any key. Write a melody in C major and you can sing the same melody in any major key and it will sound like the same melody. So when writing songs, the key you choose doesn't really matter. Well, it may have an effect on the chord shapes you use. But then again, you can always use capo.

All major keys sound like major and all minor keys sound like minor. That's it. When writing a song, just start with one note and listen to what you want to hear after that. Or just start noodling around. Sometimes a chord you strum or a note you play will inspire you to write a song. Just try to imagine the sounds you want to hear. And when you hear something in your head, record yourself humming it. Many people have problems with finding the melody they hear in their head on the fretboard, and when they try to find it, they forget how the original melody goes and they lose the idea. So recording yourself humming it is usually the best idea.
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#17
Although most people don't perceive differences between the keys as they are now, the notes in each key do vibrate differently as a result of the frequencies that make up any sound being different (and therefore the energy, not just ambient, but also as we perceive it).

Keys don't have a set feel between people, but synesthetes (particularly chromesthesia - sounds -> colors) do see each key as a different member, and you can't deny that there is a perceptible difference when a particular guitar is tuned differently.

Ultimately, it's the range of the melody instrument that will dictate what possible keys you deal with for any song, and each of those keys is generally not that different, but it will be for some people. (If you can't hear a difference, I'd just focus on melody range more than key timbre.)
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Quote by Jet Penguin
lots of flirting with the other key without confirming. JUST LIKE THEIR LOVE IN THE MOVIE OH DAMN.
Quote by Hail
you're acting like you have perfect pitch or something