#1
Hello, new member here. Just a quick backstory as it ties in to the question. I have been playing guitar for over 7 years now and I used to be in a thrash metal band. I have actually moved away from the metal genre almost entirely and am now getting into genres like ambient, drone, post-rock, shoegaze, lo-fi, etc.
This is kind of the music I want to make now



The problem is, is that all my years of playing guitar were self taught. I only learned by watching my favorite guitarists play and reading tabs. So while I could play songs, I don't understand scales, or keys, or even the notes I'm playing. And at the time it really wasn't a problem because I knew the "language" of writing metal riffs. I knew what worked and what didn't.

But now I feel very lost, trying to write in a new language I don't understand. I don't know how to construct songs outside of metal. Like I said before, I don't know scales or even the notes I'm playing. I'm not looking for a music theory guide or even a 101, but I need somewhere to start. I know that with ambient music/guitar it is reliant heavily on the effects like delay and reverb but should I start learning scales first or what?

I think my biggest problem is this: Suppose I write a nice melody on the higher strings, I would have no idea how to make a bass part for it, or what chords would go under it on piano. I plan on doing a lot of things like chord swells but would really like to play things like arpeggio progressions and things like that.

Any advice?
#2
You should start by learning the names of the notes first, so look up the chromatic scale. Try to learn it by heart, since not knowing the correct name for each note makes things unnecessarily difficult. You might notice that some notes have two different names (like C#/Db or F#/Gb) but they're essentially the same note, so don't get too confused about that.

When you're familiar with that, you should probably start by learning some chords, the major and minor scales and intervals. Intervals are crucial, and they are the foundation for all harmony and melody. An interval is simply the distance between two notes - a distance of one fret on the guitar is called a minor second, and a distance of five frets is called a perfect fourth etc. Intervals are used when you build chords and melodies, write chord progressions and they're exactly the thing you need for your "bass part that fits a high melody" example. Intervals tell you how different notes work together.

A note about scales - don't fall into the trap about 80% of self taught guitarists seem to fall in. Scales are useful, but not really that useful, and a lot of people seem to think that scales are the focal point of theory and the most important thing about songwriting. The truth is, the major and minor scales are just convenient ways to play all the notes that fit the corresponding keys. A C major scale contains all notes diatonic to the C major key. An F# minor scale would contain all the notes diatonic to the F# minor key. So if you want to learn something that's actually useful in songwriting, learn about keys, and use scales as supplement. A key is a lot more flexible concept that will help you understand songwriting a lot better.

And about the ambient stuff you'd like to play - it's mostly just effects, especially Andy Othlings music. Not to say that there wouldn't be theory and complexity behind it, but you could play the exact same chords he is playing without effects, and it would sound lame. But say that you have the effects, what would be the best way to learn music like that? Well, by learning music like that. A lot of it. Just learn as many songs you can from the genre you'd like to play, and you'll start developing an ear for that genre, you'll become more familiar with it and writing songs will become a lot more natural. Ambient songs might be pretty boring to practice, but it would still help a lot.
Quote by Jet Penguin
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
#3
I would start by listening to music. Learn the new genre the same way you learned metal. Theory is there just to support your ear and to give names to concepts in music. When you write music, ear is your best tool. If you don't know what to write, you are most likely just not familiar enough with the sound of the style. For example if you want to know how to write a good bassline, just listen to a lot of songs and figure out what the bass is doing, or if you want to write a chord progression that would fit the style, just listen to a lot of songs and figure out what kind of chords they use.

But yeah, theory knowledge will make all of this easier because you can give names to the sounds that you hear. But writing in a certain style is mostly about being familiar with the sound of that style.

I write a nice melody on the higher strings, I would have no idea how to make a bass part for it, or what chords would go under it on piano.

The general rule is that the chords have something to do with the melody (this means, the melody will have chord tones in it). The bassline is many times seen as the basis of harmony (so your chord progression will be based on it - or you could of course also base your bassline on the chord progression, it works both ways). You could do this by ear. As I said, it will become a lot more clear when you are familiar with the sound of the genre.
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
Thanks for the replies. Yes I will agree that effects are pretty much mandatory for making music like that but like I said I don't want to only keep layering on chords. I want to play improvisational pieces on top. While I do tend to like ambient music, I find a lot of it too minimalist. I have been finding more and more artists that share a similar sound and I am trying to listen careful as to how they create their songs. I think I also agree when you mention chords being more important than scales.

I'll have to start learning simple chords or even try to learn the chords from songs I like and then that way I can get a better idea of what sounds good in progressions.