#1
I've reached a point with guitar where I've learned about a million covers but never completed a single original song. When you really get down to it, creative expression is really what is special about music. The last couple months I've decided to put most of my focus on writing music and the result is that I have about a handful of half written songs and a bunch of random riffs that sound cool. It always starts out the same way, I pick a key and just kind of mess around with some different progressions and scales. More than a few times I've been like okay this is gold, so I put the riff in guitar pro. I get really excited and things are going great and then I hit a wall where I'm like what now? My ability to come up with parts and half songs seems to be developing nicely but I never know where the song is going and I'm never able to finish it.

My knowledge of music theory is pretty much the bare necessities but I really don't think its theory that's holding me back. That's the excuse I used to make and I'm not making it anymore. I just want to write ONE song. Tips anyone?
#2
This is the toughest part of writing a song, and a question every songwriter has asked themselves more than once. Where to next?

There are some strategies.

Personally I just jam out and then try to come up with something stick with it for a while then go back to the original section then try a new idea. I don't plan stuff out I just play and hopefully eventually I hit on something that Iike the sound of and like the way it flows.

Or I listen in my head and then just try to imagine what would sound good next. Then I try to figure out how to make something that sounds at least vaguely similar on my guitar.

Other times I am very deliberate and decide that I want something with a lot of contrast so if I was doing something with a busy progression and a lot of instrumentation then I will find a way to create something that has a simple progression with a stripped back feel. If I was fingerpicking I might start strumming...if I was quiet I might go loud...etc

It's a very tricky question and finding the answer is what songwriting is all about. But here's the real secret...IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY MATTER WHERE YOU GO!!!! It's just a bit of sound. As long as you go somewhere, anywhere then you have done the right thing. The only wrong thing to do if you want to get better at songwriting is to not go anywhere and give up before you even try. Once you try you will succeed because succeeding is simply going somewhere - it's not writing a number one hit record, it's writing a song!!!
Si
#3
Keep doing what you are doing, composing is a practice I think when I started a few years ago I had the same problem now it's much easier and more intuitive on where to go next, occasionally I still find stuff that I have a hard time adding to but I leave that recorded and go on to other stuff, never struggle when composing if you find out what to do next do it If you don't, go write something else or play some covers and then go back to it see if you've got an idea, if not go play something else etc..
#4
Quote by ryane24
More than a few times I've been like okay this is gold, so I put the riff in guitar pro. I get really excited and things are going great and then I hit a wall where I'm like what now?
Stop! Get some lyrics - and (if you haven't got one) a melody. A "song" isn't a "song" unless there's something you can sing. If you have that, you don't need more than 3 or 4 chords. Those "part" songs are probably finished already - you just need to repeat stuff.
Quote by ryane24
My ability to come up with parts and half songs seems to be developing nicely but I never know where the song is going and I'm never able to finish it.
Reminds me of Miles Davis's famous quote when John Coltrane was talking about why he couldn't help playing such long solos: "sometimes I just can't work out how to finish it". Miles: "take the motherf****** horn outa your mouth".

Be inspired by people like Dylan and Neil Young (good songwriters, yes?). They knew when to stop, when they'd written enough. And that might be a 3-chord loop, or a 4-bar sequence, round and round. Repetition makes any simple idea sound better, and good melody and lyrics makes it great.

Ideally, you wouldn't start by picking a key and messing around with chords and riffs - there's way too much choice that way. You'd start with an IDEA - something you want to sing about. That gives you a focus, a path to follow. Work out some lyrics, get them to rhyme (not essential but it helps). Then sing them any way they feel right, and then add chords that seem to fit. As few chords as possible. Allow yourself no more than two chord sequences in any one song, and one is often enough.
Job done.
No idea what to sing about? No hook melody phrases occurring? Then don't try to write a song.
#5
^ Depends on how you define "song". If by "song" TS means any piece of music, then lyrics may not be that important. And even if we use the strict definition of "song", even then lyrics are not necessarily that important. It depends on your approach and the genre we are talking about. I would say for example when it comes to metal, riffs are way more important than melodies or lyrics. Then again, "singer-songwriter" style is all about melody and lyrics.

But of course try different approaches. Lyrics do give you an idea of what the song is about and it may be easier to write music that fits the mood of the lyrics.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#6
I think you still have the same problem even when you are writing lyrics. In a standard structure where you have a verse chorus and bridge each part often provides some contrast and difference from the other parts. Writing a verse or a chorus or even both might come easily...but then when you get the bridge you might ask and might think...where to next.
Si
#7
Just to ask the obvious question, when you say you've learnt millions of songs, are you learning the full songs or just random parts, riff here solo there etc
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#8
Some advice:

1) composing is a skill that improves with experience and practice - keep at it. We all face the issue you're having - the first riff is always the easiest - crafting a song out of that is the challenge.

2) one thing that really helps is to start analyzing structures of songs you like - map them out - intro, verse, verse, chorus, solo etc. Take a bird's eye view of songs so that you can better see structures. As a writer, you need to start thinking with a larger perspective than the immediate riff at hand. AlanHB''s question is a good one, in the sense that if you've just been learning bits and pieces of songs, you probably haven't interiorised their forms/structures all that well. That was a problem of mine at first- I learnt a ton of metal solos and intricate instrumental pieces, but I really skipped out on learning entire basic songs, like a Beatles song or a basic cover from Neil Young or whatever. After learning a ton of songs top to bottom, it really helped my writing. I can't stress enough how analysing Beatles songs will open this up for you - they are like an encyclopedia of songwriting basics.

3) learn basic functional theory - how chords are constructed and named via the major scale intervals, major scale, roman numeral chord analysis ( learn what a II, V, I isand learn how to map out a progression using that system). Then start analyzing chord progressions from songs you like using that system. This allows you to see the real structure behind a chord progression and will help you see patterns and avoid repeating yourself endlessly in different keys.
#9
Firstly, I really appreciate all the advice. Since I started this post I actually have been able to get further with one of my songs than I've ever been. I don't know what it is but even when I'm driving down the road ideas are just coming to me. So I've been trying to ride that wave as long as possible! Unfortunately I'm stuck at the moment because I can't play the riff I wrote up to speed haha, so I've just been working on that riff.

Quote by MaggaraMarine
^ Depends on how you define "song". If by "song" TS means any piece of music, then lyrics may not be that important. And even if we use the strict definition of "song", even then lyrics are not necessarily that important. It depends on your approach and the genre we are talking about. I would say for example when it comes to metal, riffs are way more important than melodies or lyrics. Then again, "singer-songwriter" style is all about melody and lyrics.

But of course try different approaches. Lyrics do give you an idea of what the song is about and it may be easier to write music that fits the mood of the lyrics.


The song I'm working on at the moment is actually intended to be an instrumental metal song. Which I realize makes it even more difficult. But I don't sing, and I don't have a band or anything so I'm just doing instrumental stuff for now and using Hydrogen for drums.

Quote by AlanHB
Just to ask the obvious question, when you say you've learnt millions of songs, are you learning the full songs or just random parts, riff here solo there etc


Many full songs, many half songs. I've been playing for about 12 years give or take. I would say I could pull out 10 full songs right now, many others that I used to play all the way through but I've since forgotten.
#10
What I do is I think in my head of something that will sound good and I'll try to reproduce it on guitar. It develops audiation, which is the most important skill for any instrument.

Here is a lesson on audiation: