#1
Hey UG, been awhile. I'm looking for some help here. For a long time I'be been learning my favorite bands songs by ear, yet I feel like I'm lacking certain knowledge that is keeping me from composing something I am truly proud of. My favorite bands are Sonic Youth, A Place to Bury Strangers, Pavement, Unwound, Brand New, Weed, MBV, etc.

My question is, what kind of chords, scales, compositional skills should I learn to develop my playing in a direction similar to my influences?

I've mostly been learning by ear, figuring out the key and scale and that's about it. I don't know a whole lot of theory, I can find the key, I can figure out the scale and have my technical skills down pretty well, I can tab most things by ear in just a few play throughs, but I feel extremely limited in my ability to write songs. Thanks for the help.
Quote by herby190
When I saw that, I thought of musical notes.... my elementary school teachers taught them as "tee-tees" "ta-tas" and a bunch of other nonsense....
#2
Quote by Ir a+infinitive
My question is, what kind of chords, scales, compositional skills should I learn to develop my playing in a direction similar to my influences?


Sorry to say that's not how it works. While music is a contiuum (meaning skills are transferable), it's not a simple matter of learning theory/scales and getting good at composition. You have to work at it for years, just like with guitar. I wouldn't expect to really like your own stuff until you've at least composed for 7 years.
#3
And even then, Golden, there are so many factors to consider in that as well. Passion, respect for the music, genre, tempo, noting, chords, etc. basically everything the OP is asking for.

To me, I can't really say much, Ir. I only recently got into composing my own songs and own pieces, and it took me all 8-9 years of playing guitar and playing covers to finally make it work. My own songs are based off Metal and Rock and so on and so forth.

What I can tell you is, there are some scales and chords that are very basic to do in a lot of different genres and a lot of different places. Once you figure out the style that you want to go for, which to me, based off of Unwound and Sonic Youth, is Punk and Rock, then you can go for the progressions and the composition and so on. Personally, I would look into both major and fifth chords especially if you're going for Punk.

Hope this helped a lot, and sorry if it's a long post. Best of luck with it

-Sharky
#4
A few things to keep in mind:
1. Push on.
Don't say "oh well this isn't working out, gonna start something else". If you have even a tiny seed of something you think has potential, work at it. I've heard a few people say you should write a song a day, saying "your first songs will suck, so just write as many as possible", and I really can't get behind this. All this will do is it'll get you used to rushing songs and pumping out crap that you'll never be proud of. My first 5 songs took 2 years of constant writing to complete, but the result is something I'm proud of.
Basically, if you want something to be proud of, it's going to take time, especially when you're new to songwriting, take as long as you need.

2. Music starts from the mind.
You can learn all the scale patterns and techniques in the world, it won't make you a good songwriter. If you can't hear the music you want in your head, you're just going to be throwing punches in the dark and hoping your fingers land on some cool notes. Have an idea of what you want to achieve, whether it be a mood, an image, or you have a concrete melody already in mind. That way you'll know what you're after, and all you have to do is simply find the notes. From there, THEN you can start thinking about theory, as this will help you translate these ideas ie: "I want an eastern sound for this bridge, so I'm going to use Phrygian Dominant" "I want some floaty chords, so I'm going to target suspended notes".

3. Listen.
Listen to as much music as you can, from as many genres as you can. If you find a song that you like, analyse it. If you can dissect a song so you understand what makes it work, you can use that understanding as a building block for your own material. And the more music you listen to, the more sounds and ideas you'll have at your disposal. One piece of mine is almost entirely pieces of other people's music/styles, but because I've managed to rearrange and mold those bits, the end product is something unique.

You say you've been learning by ear, which is a great asset to have as a songwriter. If you can hear a chord progression in your head, you'll be able to translate it to your instrument that much easier.

4. You're never going to be you're influences.
Try as you may, you're not Sonic Youth/MBVetc. Don't just try and write 'stuff that sounds like Strangers', because either it won't happen, or it'll sound like a ripoff. Just write whatever sounds good to you, if it sounds nothing like your influences, who cares?

Just my 2 cents.
Quote by Fat Lard
post of the year, thank you
#5
What is your composition process now?
I'd say just keep writing.
Save/record/write down anything that's half decent.
Some songs can take a day to get roughed in, other months/years.

I know there are a lot of mixed feeling about this but I usually try to force myself to finish songs. The reason being is that you can always change things later. Let's say I'm stuck on the bridge.. I'll lay down some chords or riffs that might work for now and keep thinking of other ideas. To me it is much more taxing to have to think about trying to finish a song than it is to just play around with parts in a song I already have whole.
Maybe that's just the engineer in me. Most artists come in with scratch tracks(usually just chords, maybe some lead parts), and in the end all of that gets replaced.

You can try doodling around until you find the perfect part before you move on to the next part, but I learned that does not work for me, or most people I've worked with.
#6
Quote by klintala
What is your composition process now? .

My process has always kind of been the same. I listen to music all the time, I go to a lot of DIY shows and usually just end up getting an idea/image in my head representational of the point I'm trying to convey, then I try and write something that evokes the same emotion as that image.

A lot of stuff I've written in the past has also come from random riffs/progressions that I've stumbled upon while learning other people songs. As far as lyrics, I keep a notebook and write down concepts or ideas I think need to be conveyed, then I establish a "vocabulary" by writing down anything that directly relates to the idea. If that makes sense? And then I expand from there. As far as structure I've had a lot of trouble trying to get out of the intro/verse/pre-chorus/chorus/verse/chorus/bridgeorsolo/chorus thing
Quote by herby190
When I saw that, I thought of musical notes.... my elementary school teachers taught them as "tee-tees" "ta-tas" and a bunch of other nonsense....
#7
Here's a few tips/things I do when I write melodies/basslines. The main thing I do when writing is to listen for to a variety of music (stuff that even vaguely relates to the topic is included) for extended periods (about an hour or 2) of time. It's good to listen to different artists and/or styles and just concentrate on the music. After you're done listening, write down what comes to mind (it might not be the best but it will be yours). The way I see it is that your brain will mash the melodic content from the listening up but not copy.

I also recommend getting a DAW and writing your own electronic music. This helps by giving you the freedom to create and ability to see how your parts interact without annoying your band. I personally use a mixture of Musescore (a notation writing program but Guitar Pro works just as well) and FL Studio (my DAW).

Since you cited Sonic Youth, you may want to be a little experimental. Noise Rock (their style) comes mainly from Punk/Post-Punk and Rock. I've heard Punk basslines rely on quickly and almost constantly playing the root of the chord being played. I'm sorry if these tips aren't the best but I think they're at least somewhat helpful.
"I don't know what you're trying to suggest. There's no shame in taking what you need to hold your position!"

Super Buu (DBZ) on assimilation (it could also apply to blues guitar and guitar soloing in general).
#8
Everything these guys have said is excellent advice, so I'm not going to repeat what they've already said.

I'd recommend checking out some basic music theory, such as the circle of fifths/fourths, diatonic chords of the major and minor scale (triads and sevenths), diatonic chord flow charts for major and minor keys, and familiarise yourself with some of the common song structures in popular music. Then you could progress onto more advanced composition techniques and styles.

Here's some links I'd recommend to check out to start with:

http://www.musiccrashcourses.com/images/notation/circle_of_fifths_colors.png
https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=minor+scale+chords&espv=2&biw=1440&bih=740&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj0ua3y-vTKAhVLVhQKHfpjAJIQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=jnA5O3-9IfboAM%3A
http://s619.photobucket.com/user/Schecterwhore/media/Music%20Theory/minprogression.png.html
http://s619.photobucket.com/user/Schecterwhore/media/Music%20Theory/majprogression.png.html

Also, check out MusicTheory.net, that site has some excellent information that would definitely help you with your composition skills.

Hope this helps!
#9
All the above is true and really well thought advice. Let me add my two cents. The best experience I had was working for an advertising agency writing and producing jingles for radio and TV advertising (Stick with me, there is a point to this). I thought I wrote OK songs, not great but OK. I was hired based on my demos and the songs I wrote for my band. The songs I wrote all came from some fleeting inspiration and I didn't spend much time reworking, editing or tweaking the songs I wrote. I had this idea that a good song came from "inspiration" but as Edison said it's more about the perspiration.

I approached writing jingles as small songs short songs thinking it should be a piece of cake. I would be given a client, a basic idea of the direction of the jingle and left to create my own "short song". I then made a demo and presented what I thought was a finished idea but that's when the work got started. Sometimes my original demo was solid and we just did a pro version of it in the studio. Most of the time we would go through the process of tearing it apart chord by chord and word by word, tweaking and improving the original idea. I was lucky that the owner of the agency was a very good musician himself (keyboards) and he would suggest very good changes that really improved the whole thing.

The lesson I learned was to get an idea then take the basic outline of the song and record a fast, no frills demo. Now tear it apart and try different things. Different lyrics, chord inversions, tempos etc. It may happen in a few hours or it may take a few weeks but if you have a solid idea to start with, the results of really working on it can be very rewarding.

A prime example of this type of songwrtting and working a song is the Beatles "I'm Looking Through You" from their Rubber Soul album. Paul McCartney wrote the song and it was recorded by the Beatles and considered finished ready for the next album. McCartney thought that it was good but could be better so he went home and worked on it again and added a new middle section, changed the tempo and had the Beatles re-recorded it a few weeks later. This 2nd version was used on the Rubber Soul album. The original version was released in the 90's on the Beatles "Anthology" album and is very good also but it has a different feel and tempo and no middle section. Even Paul McCartney at the height of his career went back and re-worked a finished song that was already recorded and ready for release.
Yes I am guitarded also, nice to meet you.
Last edited by Rickholly74 at Feb 13, 2016,
#10
Quote by Ir a+infinitive
Hey UG, been awhile. I'm looking for some help here. For a long time I'be been learning my favorite bands songs by ear, yet I feel like I'm lacking certain knowledge that is keeping me from composing something I am truly proud of. My favorite bands are Sonic Youth, A Place to Bury Strangers, Pavement, Unwound, Brand New, Weed, MBV, etc.

My question is, what kind of chords, scales, compositional skills should I learn to develop my playing in a direction similar to my influences?

I've mostly been learning by ear, figuring out the key and scale and that's about it. I don't know a whole lot of theory, I can find the key, I can figure out the scale and have my technical skills down pretty well, I can tab most things by ear in just a few play throughs, but I feel extremely limited in my ability to write songs. Thanks for the help.


Learning a little more theory helps but what's most important is that you start writing, now. From the above, you've got more techniques than you need to get started writing songs.

Take songs you like and analyze their structures. Then try to write something on the same lines.

Most important: Don't worry if you write crap. When you were a beginner guitarist you made a lot of mistakes, sloppy playing etc, right? But you learnt from those mistakes and improved your technique. Same thing with song writing.

PS: You seem to have a good ear. That's a great asset for songwriting. You've got the techniques, now just add your creativity and build experience in writing songs.