#1
When you compose riffs, do you have a general idea of what key and scale and technique you're using, or is every single note planned out like a piano composition?

Basically, how much feeling do you use to guide what you write when you write music on guitar?

Just curious.
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#2
Most of the time I just hear something in my head. But when I hear it, I also know the explanation for it. I can most of the time figure out the notes I'm hearing without having an instrument in my hand.

But I don't know why trying different things wouldn't be "writing with feeling". Sometimes when you come up with something, it doesn't sound perfect and you need to try different things to make it sound better. I never do anything ears closed. I may try different things but in the end it always comes down to sound. Yes, I may ask questions like "where do I want this to go" (at least when it comes to writing full songs, not just riffs), but I think this kind of questions are good because by asking them you will have a better idea of the sounds you are after and it will be easier to "find" them. And I would say that's also writing with feeling because you know the feeling you are after and just want to find the sounds that describe that feeling. So it's not as spontaneous but I don't know why it would not be "writing with feeling".

Well, maybe that's what you actually meant to ask - how spontaneous or conscious is your songwriting?

I just don't like the way people use the word "feeling". It's usually used in a way that makes anything technical or theoretical or something that requires thought sound inferior to things that you come up with accidentally/spontaneously.

Also, why would a piano composition be more planned out than a guitar composition? Are you implying that you need to plan everything on piano but on guitar you can just play with "feeling"? Because that's just not how it is. You can freely improvise and just think about sounds on piano too without consciously thinking about theory. You can play any instrument that way.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Aug 24, 2016,
#4
I play and improvise, find something I like, find something that goes with it, and that's it
#5
I think I get the question. It isn't dumb at all. When composing I have a key in mind, and I adjust the notes by sliding, hammer on pull-off ect if whatever I am playing does not seem to "fit". However for like a solo that is X amount of bar's and goes on for a few minutes it becomes more of a feeling with keeping in mind the 7 notes of the key. If you know the 7 notes of a key, and you know the notes on your fret board the lines become blurry of what is feeling and musical theory knowledge. I never memorize a solo just cant do it. But the other day was playing Dont Stop Believing, I knew it was Emajor so I based the feeling I had, and used the structure of the Key to guide my hands so the "feeling" sounded in key with song.

Or something like that.
#6
There's actually a ton of discussion about this, it's not a stupid question. Many professional guitarists talk about it. The answer is both. Sometimes I will come up with a great riff from just jamming out and noodling around, honestly it's a great way to accidentally fall into something awesome. Not everything is created on purpose, good accidents do happen on the fretboard!

Other times I have an idea in my head, I hear something internally, it's an inspiration and I think "I want a riff that sounds like this!" and I can hear the tone and rhythm and progression in my head. This is where knowledge of scales/technique comes into play because it allows you to transfer what you hear in your mind down on to the fretboard. I find that these riffs, when you come up with them, are amazing. They are completely original and the reason for this I believe is because they are not driven by muscle memory. We are so used to practicing on the guitar (scales, fingering patterns, chord shapes) that our fingers just naturally want to go there. When you're just messing around or even mentally trying to create a riff, your fingers tend to want to go to the places they have been before. This definitely reduces your chances of coming up with something completely original. So when you just hear it in your mind and then have to find a way to throw it down on the fretboard, it completely bypasses that muscle memory barrier to originality. A great example of this is 'For the Love of God' by Steve Vai. Have a look at the fingering for the main riff, it's not something you would discover by noodling. He heard that in his mind one day and had to find a way to play it, which resulted in some interesting fingering challenges! Very cool.

The third method I use (and many others use, I didn't invent this!) and this is a really interesting and useful one is sort of a combination of both of the above. Set yourself a limitation. One scale, one octave, two or three chords, and try to create something interesting out of that. Give yourself a small space to work within and force yourself to be creative with it. It's a great way to force yourself to think outside of the boxes our fingers are accustomed to. You'll find new and interesting ways to play the notes in that limited space and this can yield some really cool stuff. I think a great example of this is if you take a look at a lot of the amazing riffs that Nuno Bettencourt has come up with. The amount of variety that Nuno Bettencourt gets out of riffs based on the E/A string from the 1st-5th frets (along with many similar chords) is incredible. Just take a glance at the main hooks from: Decadence Dance, He-Man Woman Hater, Comfortably Dumb and it's a (Monster). Bettencourt using a lot of Funk inspired Rhythm in his playing and with a heavy sound, it's riff heaven.

Anyway that's my 2 cents.
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#7
Quote by Clay-man
When you compose riffs, do you have a general idea of what key and scale and technique you're using, or is every single note planned out like a piano composition?

Basically, how much feeling do you use to guide what you write when you write music on guitar?

Just curious.
The obvious answer is both. It has to sound right, that's the main thing. Sometimes the theory can help you in that direction, but I try not to start with the theory.

I usually write by having a very vague idea in my head, but then noodling around a lot on the instrument. I rarely find the sound that's in my head, but I often find other good sounds.

Of course, as I'm playing, I know the names of the notes and chords I'm playing, and I also know what other notes and chords will go well with them - so if I want to be original or different i have to try and ignore all that, and follow my ear - listening for where I think a melody or chord sequence "wants" to go. Pretending the music has a mind of its own is quite a good way to allow your subconscious to take control.

(Another good way is to work in an unfamiliar tuning, so you can't fall back on the same old chord shapes.)

I liken theory to having a map. I want to explore this place without any guide, just using (what feels like) my innate sense of direction. I know the terrain pretty well now, and it's easy to follow paths that I've been down before, without checking the map. But I really like to strike out off the path, see what's over the hill. I could pull the theory map out of my pocket and find out that way, but that's no fun. But then my sense of direction (my ear) does sometimes fail, or get to a crossroads where any direction seems to be OK. Then the map is useful, to point to a reliable route (if not necessarily a very interesting one).

I'm talking whole songs here, btw, not just "riffs". If I write a riff, it's going to be wholly by trial and error on the instrument, and will be governed mostly by rhythm, not the notes. I'll still know what it is I'm doing all the time, but I try not to let that get in the way. (The knowledge is actually fairly neutral - like having a map. You don't have to look at it; you're not tied to it. At the same time it would be silly to just throw it away - it's not doing any harm.)

When it comes to solos, however, I don't "write" those. I improvise them.
Last edited by jongtr at Aug 24, 2016,
#8
Quote by GoldenGuitar
Pretty dumb question. You can write music however you want.


Far from dumb, GG ... and this a question a lot of people wonder about, especially as they start to learn about what's available for writing. So, give hime a break!!

I agree with the responses above ... as well as understanding the explanation, there is also understanding the exploitation of the idea (how to develop it, e.g with use of substitutions, and experimentation with phrasing in particular). Learning about chord tones, and resolution of non-chord tones is a winner. Something I found particularly useful is just to think of a rhythmic idea (clap it out, using syncopation if needed, thinking about note duration and also where silence is, and the number of bars to use) and how to meld that to lend memorability. I often work from that to then add melody ... I'm just scratching the surface of what is a fascinating, and far too often overlooked, area of creativity.

Listen to any pop tune, as an example, and take away the melody, but hum the phrasing (where the notes stop and start), and look for repetition.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 24, 2016,
#9
Quote by DustyCarvin
I think I get the question. It isn't dumb at all. When composing I have a key in mind, and I adjust the notes by sliding, hammer on pull-off ect if whatever I am playing does not seem to "fit". However for like a solo that is X amount of bar's and goes on for a few minutes it becomes more of a feeling with keeping in mind the 7 notes of the key. If you know the 7 notes of a key, and you know the notes on your fret board the lines become blurry of what is feeling and musical theory knowledge. I never memorize a solo just cant do it. But the other day was playing Dont Stop Believing, I knew it was Emajor so I based the feeling I had, and used the structure of the Key to guide my hands so the "feeling" sounded in key with song.

Or something like that.


I have a similar aproach but instead of trying to stick to a key i think in terms of chords and their relationship to the key or the pitch center im creating. You dont have to be using full 5 string chords to create harmony. You can imply different chords by focusing on the chord tones. So single notes melody can imply chords if accompanied by a bass note etc.
#10
Quote by GoldenGuitar
Pretty dumb question. You can write music however you want.

Music has no rules, in my opinion, but this is a question about how people approach writing music on guitar.

I don't get how that's a stupid question, because it informs me and others of how people think when writing their music.
It can help people take different approaches or understand the writing process of music to better help theirselves.


I like most of the replies, and I agree with them a lot, about using both feeling it out, and mentally composing notes. It draws musical influence from both your movements/techniques, and your mind and expands the possibility of writing.

I appreciate the replies I've gotten on this thread.
Guitars:
Davison SG
Line 6 Variax 600
Line 6 JTV 69s
Squier Classic Bibe Telecaster Thinline
#11
Quote by JS_StarOcean
There's actually a ton of discussion about this, it's not a stupid question. Many professional guitarists talk about it. The answer is both. Sometimes I will come up with a great riff from just jamming out and noodling around, honestly it's a great way to accidentally fall into something awesome. Not everything is created on purpose, good accidents do happen on the fretboard!

Other times I have an idea in my head, I hear something internally, it's an inspiration and I think "I want a riff that sounds like this!" and I can hear the tone and rhythm and progression in my head. This is where knowledge of scales/technique comes into play because it allows you to transfer what you hear in your mind down on to the fretboard. I find that these riffs, when you come up with them, are amazing. They are completely original and the reason for this I believe is because they are not driven by muscle memory. We are so used to practicing on the guitar (scales, fingering patterns, chord shapes) that our fingers just naturally want to go there. When you're just messing around or even mentally trying to create a riff, your fingers tend to want to go to the places they have been before. This definitely reduces your chances of coming up with something completely original. So when you just hear it in your mind and then have to find a way to throw it down on the fretboard, it completely bypasses that muscle memory barrier to originality. A great example of this is 'For the Love of God' by Steve Vai. Have a look at the fingering for the main riff, it's not something you would discover by noodling. He heard that in his mind one day and had to find a way to play it, which resulted in some interesting fingering challenges! Very cool.

The third method I use (and many others use, I didn't invent this!) and this is a really interesting and useful one is sort of a combination of both of the above. Set yourself a limitation. One scale, one octave, two or three chords, and try to create something interesting out of that. Give yourself a small space to work within and force yourself to be creative with it. It's a great way to force yourself to think outside of the boxes our fingers are accustomed to. You'll find new and interesting ways to play the notes in that limited space and this can yield some really cool stuff. I think a great example of this is if you take a look at a lot of the amazing riffs that Nuno Bettencourt has come up with. The amount of variety that Nuno Bettencourt gets out of riffs based on the E/A string from the 1st-5th frets (along with many similar chords) is incredible. Just take a glance at the main hooks from: Decadence Dance, He-Man Woman Hater, Comfortably Dumb and it's a (Monster). Bettencourt using a lot of Funk inspired Rhythm in his playing and with a heavy sound, it's riff heaven.

Anyway that's my 2 cents.


I love this reply, especially the part about mentally mapping out music instead of using muscle memory and guitar techniques to write the music for you, because it's true.
When you play guitar, most people have a list of techniques that they have in their pocket to help decide how the riff is played and composed, but when you just think of a music line mentally without any technique in mind, it allows you to write something that isn't common on guitar.

As for writing by feeling/muscle memory, sometimes you can try something brave and end up having a happy accident that you couldn't really just think up of, so it comes hand in hand, and helps in writing music.
Guitars:
Davison SG
Line 6 Variax 600
Line 6 JTV 69s
Squier Classic Bibe Telecaster Thinline
#12
Quote by JS_StarOcean


...

The third method I use (and many others use, I didn't invent this!) and this is a really interesting and useful one is sort of a combination of both of the above. Set yourself a limitation. One scale, one octave, two or three chords, and try to create something interesting out of that. Give yourself a small space to work within and force yourself to be creative with it. It's a great way to force yourself to think outside of the boxes our fingers are accustomed to.

...

Anyway that's my 2 cents.


Absolutely agree.
#13
Quote by Clay-man
Music has no rules, in my opinion, but this is a question about how people approach writing music on guitar.


Quote by jerrykramskoy
Far from dumb, GG ... and this a question a lot of people wonder about, especially as they start to learn about what's available for writing.


I used to think that asking about process wasn't dumb either. But then I spent 3 years listening to some of the best composers from around my country and some from around the world talk about their composition process. To be honest, they all sucked at articulating it. Or if they had a clear process, I would probably never use it, because my thought process was completely the opposite their own. Sure, it couldn't hurt to read about the processes of other's, and maybe I was just unlucky. But each individual won't understand how they think until they've written enough music themselves. Although I need to note that I'm not talking about methods (Serialism, Aleatoricism, etc.).

I'm actually going to seriously answer ts's question now. However, I'm quite sure it won't help because they don't think in the same way:
Basically composition is a decision making process. It doesn't matter if you improvise, through composer, or use chance operations. You have to decide whether you want it in your abstract or not. So when I'm writing a 'riff', I'm not actually 'writing' the riff. But figuring out what I actually want out of the piece, and why I'm actually doing it. I don't pay attention to notes, or key or whatever, until I figure out where I'm going with it. Why? Because I've written enough music to understand that if I just mess around and make a melody then try to extend it (even by through composing), that's either going to lead to a dead end which I will need to dig myself out of. Even if I manage to get through the dead end, there will still be a degree of incohesiveness even if it's not apparent to other people. I'll also end up thinking that piece is pointless too and stop writing it.
Last edited by GoldenGuitar at Aug 25, 2016,
#14
Every note? How much time do you think I have?

Quote by GoldenGuitar
But then I spent 3 years listening to some of the best composers from around my country


three years of bwwooiioiioiyioiayayayayoioidjuuuyuuyuuyuu sounds like fun
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#15
Quote by theogonia777
Every note? How much time do you think I have?


three years of bwwooiioiioiyioiayayayayoioidjuuuyuuyuuyuu sounds like fun


Talk, not their music...much :p
#16
"Well, y'now. I just sit there on the ground and kind wiggle my tongue and sometimes I make kookaburra noises into it if I feel like it."
There's no such thing; there never was. Where I am going you cannot follow me now.
#17
I visualize in contours. Much easier to think up riffs/phrases and harmony, think of start and end notes (and durations), and then connect them. Sometimes, I'll fuss over individual notes to see if some other idea gives a better effect, but overall scales and arpeggios (alongside chromatic alterations when necessary or appropriate), when informed by harmonic context, help with melodic lines.

Old practice for musicians would be to, based on what was written on the page (sheet music), add ornamentation and alter within boundaries of musical thought and specific instrument. Since you're talking about riffs, I assume that you're not doing jazz or atonal music, so this could be relevant to whatever genre you're doing.

I agree with GG's point about the writing process being deeply personal, though. Be ready to make a lot of music of varying quality and improve when the experience builds.
#18
Deth5ever This is true. My best "licks" I came up with just noddling with one or two chords.
#19
Quote by theogonia777
"Well, y'now. I just sit there on the ground and kind wiggle my tongue and sometimes I make kookaburra noises into it if I feel like it."

#20
Quote by theogonia777
"Well, y'now. I just sit there on the ground and kind wiggle my tongue and sometimes I make kookaburra noises into it if I feel like it."


I swear I heard one outside my basement studio, just the other day. You're not in the UK at the moment, are you? :-)
#21
Clay-man I play until I hear something I would want to listen to, and then to hone it in I use my knowledge of theory to figure out what key it's in, and what notes to change to get a more emotive sound of the song overall. I'll often have a riff, and then construct a song around it to give the riff context to live in.
#22
I don't see a reason to have to choose between knowing what you're playing or feeling it. If you put effort your ears and musical literacy, you eventually can't even separate the two. At some point it becomes difficult not to know what you're doing.
#23
Just like everything else in life, I believe musical achievement is a combination of study and applying that study in a meaningful way.

When I was a kid I really wanted a go-kart which could fly, but I never had the knowledge or means to build it. It's still a cool dream to me though.

You can have all these cool ideas, but it's meaningless if you can't actually put them together. Also, the law of diminishing returns doesn't kick you in the balls as hard if you diversify your focus and approach to things.
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#24
that's a false dichotomy. the two options are actually far more closely related think.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
#25
Def use scales then use chromatics tho to find the one note that might just make it unique. Become a huge fan of chromatics lately cause you can get cool sounds even rolling through "bad" notes and make it sound less bluesy... just don't start, end, or hold one. Listen to Dave Navarro solos.
#27
Quote by Clay-man
When you compose riffs, do you have a general idea of what key and scale and technique you're using, or is every single note planned out like a piano composition?

Basically, how much feeling do you use to guide what you write when you write music on guitar?

Just curious.


It's totally dependent on the song or the purpose of the "riffs" for me. Sometimes I am creating themes, and note-for note is required as these become recognizable and necessary hooks for the songs. Other times I am improvising (a form of composing on the fly) and I try not to think too much but just allow things to flow with the rest of the band. Listening carefully and crafting an improvised solo has certain elements or marks I want to hit and the rest can be pretty free. The closer to jazz, the more free the improvisation can be. I like to take chances when playing an improvised solo so I often play it very differently each night. I try not to worry so much about making mistakes but rather moving my listeners emotionally and take them along on the ride with me.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

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#28
Quote by Clay-man
When you compose riffs, do you have a general idea of what key and scale and technique you're using, or is every single note planned out like a piano composition?

Basically, how much feeling do you use to guide what you write when you write music on guitar?

Just curious.


Why do you think it is purely one or the other? It's not a black and white thing. It seems to suggest that if you play planned, that oops, there goes your feeling. There's a validity between playing a composition, and playing via improvisation. Both can use a little of each, and certainly both can evoke feeling.

Best,

Sean
#29
I think that the word he was looking for was intuition as opposed to feeling.

I mostly do it by intuition. Having a general idea in my head and just make it up as I go.

There are times when I plan things out a bit more. There will be a very specific idea that I want to achieve and achieving it takes a lot of planning and thought that I don't have the knowledge and skill to come up with. I often have to practice these for a while before they sound right too.

But mostly the simplest idea in anything I do, the "seed" so to speak comes from a very organic place.
Si
#30
My two cents: If I'm playing a known riff then I try to get close to the original, i.e. "Enter Sandman" or "Comfortably Numb" are played as best I can towards recreating the original (or as they play it live). When improvising I'm pretty good at seeing the "boxes" of notes within the key however then it comes down to the feeling of the song ("Moondance", "La Grange", "I Shot the Sheriff", blues, reggae, latin, etc) whether I stay in the boxes (or which box to emphasize like minor or major based) depends on the rhythm plus where I want to start and then end, much like CajunDaddy says.

That is, I'll add syncopation if needed, grind some notes together like a 2nd string bend up to a 7th against the first string, a rapid pattern that changes with the chords while remains in the same box, running up and down the keyboard for tension (yea, I see myself doing this and not describing it well).

Often I'll hit technically "bad" or "incorrect" notes while having them sound like they belong (think of adding a majority of 9ths or 3rds to each chord box, bending down from a sharp to the correct values, etc).

Overall just playing what makes sense for that song given the number and type of musicians with you. A small duo or trio lacking bass or drums will need the lead guitar to carry more of the rhythm and that sets your constraints for that format. It seems to be working.
Last edited by Singe.Sear at Oct 31, 2016,
#31
I think both are relevant and feed each other. For years a lot of people had the misconception that Beatles producer George Martin was a behind the scenes co-writer of some of the Beatles music. While George did play piano on their early recording and did arrange horns and strings on later recordings he himself dispelled the idea that he contributed to writing any of the songs. George Martin was a classically trained/college educated music professional but he said that his training would have been a hindrance in some respects to creating the initial songs that John and Paul wrote because they explored music based solely on sound alone and often strayed from the usual structured keys and scales and later timing and rhythm. Because of his structured classical training he was not likely to come up with many of the things they came up with which in some cases theory wise shouldn't have worked. Brian Wilson works in a similar way. Listen to the Beach Boys song "Warmth of the Sun" an awesome song that goes in and out of different keys then turns back on itself. It sounds great even though theoretically some it doesn't make sense in a structured way.
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Last edited by Rickholly74 at Nov 1, 2016,