#1
Hi, 
 I've been playing guitar for about three years,  one year ago I started to learn a lot of theory. My main goal is to compose songs like from the Band Opeth or the album Dragon Kiss/Scenes by Marty Friedman but I really don't know what exactly I need to studie  to compose songs which are similar to these artists . I already know something about modes, different scales, chords and chord substitutions, but I really don't know how much is missing and that makes me feel a little bit insecure about my knowlage. I also don't have anyone to ask things like this. It would be really helpful and kind if someone could help me out, maybe with a general checklist of things that I need to know theoretically so I can work on them or maybe a good book/ web site.
#2
i think the problem is that the definition of "theory" is elusive

while scales, modes, etc. are within the realm of theoretical knowledge, they are pretty much negligible in the grand scheme of things. all you really need to know is how tension and resolution work, which, beyond understanding your intervals, really doesn't even require opening a textbook. you learn these things all totally subconsciously. you know what sounds you like from listening to music you like.

that understanding compounds when you learn that music on guitar - you're actively translating sounds from your ear to your fingers. the problem a lot of people have in making that connection is tabs. because they're so easy and accessible, it's hard to motivate yourself to sit down with a song, slow it down, and painstakingly pick one note out at a time. unfortunately, that's the fastest and most effective way to learn. you'll internalize everything going down in the piece, including the drums, bass, vocals, etc., and you'll pick up on things you've never noticed before.

beyond that, you just need to write. your first pieces will either probably sound either plagiarized, crappy, or both, but the only way to work out that muscle is by doing it, even if you end up scrapping everything.

honestly, in real life, people hear the record. they don't care about how much you can label what you're doing - which you're welcome to do, but for your own understanding, not to sound fancy. people honestly don't care, and most people who know theory will just think you're full of it if you start spouting about the "lydian modality" you use to "color the progression."

when teaching english, my mantra is "read a lot, write a lot." same thing with music - listen a lot, learn a lot, write a lot. the rest is purely extracurricular, and will usually only distract you from the goal. big words do not good music write
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#3
Hail is right on...

Just think to yourself how it is that you like one song but not another... it's not from theory, it's from the way it sounds and how it makes you feel. The way you like a song is the same way you write songs that you like - by the way it sounds and makes you feel.

Experiment and discover what chords, chord changes, rhythms, melodies, and song structures appeal to you when you play and hear them; then collect them as "vocabulary" in a mental construction kit. Put things together and test how they sound... keep going, experimenting, and listening, until it begins to sound like a song is taking form. Then finish it out or take it to some friends (bass, drums, etc.) to fill it out with you and finish it, then polish it, record it, and see what you have made.

Then post it in the forum so we can hear it!
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#4
Theory is a way of giving names to sounds. It's an analytical tool. Learning theory will help you with analyzing music and it will give you a better understanding of what you hear. But you don't learn to compose by reading books (well, you don't really learn theory that way either - you need to apply it to actual music to actually learn it). It's not like you just need to learn certain theoretic concepts and suddenly you become a good composer. It doesn't work that way. Theory just helps you with making sense of music - it gives names to different concepts in music. You could also learn those concepts purely by ear, but knowing their names of course helps. But regardless of whether or not you know theory, you should always use your ears.

But yeah, if you want to compose, just start composing. First you need an idea, and you will find that just by using your ears. Listen to music, noodle around with your instrument or just start humming a melody. You want to find something that you like the sound of. You could also start with a feeling and then try to find a way of achieving that feeling through music. If you know what you are after, it's a lot easier to find the sounds.

Now, if you want to write in the style of another band, it makes sense to listen to their music a lot and analyze it. Figure out what's happening in their songs and try to write something similar. At first it may sound like a bad rip off but that's totally fine. You could even take an existing riff and make some changes to it (I wouldn't suggest publishing a song like this, but there's nothing wrong with using it as an exercise). Actually, in the past compositions like this were pretty common - for example Mozart wrote a theme and variations style piece based on the melody of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". You could try something similar.

You don't really need to know anything specific theoretically. It has more to do with applying your theoretic knowledge to actual music. Use your theory knowledge to figure out what's happening in songs that you like. If you don't understand something about the song, then you know exactly what you need to learn. So do you have any specific questions about a song? Have you ever tried figuring out what's happening in a song?


Composing is a lot about experimenting and in the end you just need to trust your ears. You don't need to have a theoretical explanation for everything that you do. If it sounds good, it is good. Nobody who listens to your song cares about the theoretical explanation behind it. The only thing they care about is if it sounds good. So just try something and ask yourself "do I like this sound". If you do, keep it. If not, try something different.
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
#5
So.. You guys are telling me that only a minimum of music theory is necessary and the rest comes down to experimenting and ear training or am I missing something ? I always had the feeling that theory makes composing a lot easier, because it shows some of the possibilities from which I can choose to create a piece.
#6
Theory is a rear view mirror - it looks back at what has "sounded good" and constructs relationships that attempt to capture and conceptually describe that "sounded good" music. So yes, theory can be used to help compose something with a likelihood that it might "sound good" to the populace by using the theory of the music they like. This why music of a period shares a family resemblance - the 30s, the 50s, the 80s... those are distinct periods where a lot of people shared a common feeling of what "sounds good", so the songs composed were similar is various ways.

But please do use your ear and experimentation. The modern music culture has converged on using a so formulaic and restricted scope of ideas that most of it sounds like it was composed by a Chinese menu machine algorithm (select one from column A, one from column B, etc.) 
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#7
Quote by isamueli
So.. You guys are telling me that only a minimum of music theory is necessary and the rest comes down to experimenting and ear training or am I missing something ? I always had the feeling that theory makes composing a lot easier, because it shows some of the possibilities from which I can choose to create a piece.


if you were writing for an orchestra with several instruments and had to communicate with each of them their roles and had to know what the entire piece sounded like by looking at the score, then yes, raw, academic music theory would benefit you greatly. but this is the 21st century, and you can midi program everything by pecking sounds on a keyboard into your DAW until it sounds good if that's what your creative process takes.

being able to understand intervals (1 b2 2 b3 3 4 4+/b5 5 b6 6 b7 7 8ve) is kind of a necessity, but only insofar as you understand what notes will sound "bad" and what notes will sound "good" at a given time to achieve your desired effect. chord building goes with that too, understand at least how to build 7th chords.

beyond knowing where notes want to naturally go to and how they want to stick together, that's about all you "need" to really analyse music. theory is helpful, but like PlusPaul said, you use theory descriptively to try and vocalize things you're experiencing. you can't use theory as a replacement for that, but you can use your ear in place of theory with the right training.
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#8
Quote by isamueli
So.. You guys are telling me that only a minimum of music theory is necessary and the rest comes down to experimenting and ear training or am I missing something ? I always had the feeling that theory makes composing a lot easier, because it shows some of the possibilities from which I can choose to create a piece.

Sure, knowing theory is like having a map. It makes it a bit easier to find the sounds that you are looking for. But you still need an idea at first. You need to know what you are looking for. Theory doesn't tell you "this is how you compose music". You can study composition techniques, though (but those are basically just tools on how to develop your ideas). But just learning theoretical concepts on their own won't make you a great composer.

Experimenting and using your ears are really the most important parts.

I'm not saying theory won't help you. I'm just saying that you don't need theory to compose, just like you don't need theory to play the guitar. Theory just helps you make sense of music, and it gives names to sounds.
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
#9
All i can say is that by choosing to go after Opeth, you are having a unique challenge because those guys' music composition is truly complex and their riffs sound out-of-this-world unique. Sometimes the help comes from unexpected venues. So try also looking up interviews with the band and their guitarists. Most often the interviewer will ask about their influences and composition techniques, and sometimes a few words by the musicians can help understanding what they are doing a lot.
Last edited by yakplays at Jun 6, 2017,
#10
For opeth style music specifically I think they deviate from "normal theory" a lot. Sus2 chords all over, chromatics and so on.

Maybe analyse a few of their most characteristic songs - and theory migth help with that - even if it mostly tells you how they don't use ii V I chords
#11
Well ... thanks guys I think i will start to write a lot of music from now on  

But there are two things I have problem with, so I think I'am gona post it here so i dont have to open a new thread.

1.
could you help me with  this chord progression ?
E Maj - F#Min - B Maj - EMaj - G#Maj- C#Min - F#Maj - C Maj - BMaj (Black Cat outro by Cacophony)
At the beginning I see a I-ii-V Progression in the key of E Major, but when the progression introduces  the G# Maj my problem starts... I don't know where these chords are taken from. 

2.
I dont understand when someone talks about odd note groupings like 5.
How am I supposed to play with this nummbers and whats more important what does this even mean? Am I playing 5 notes in 1 singel beat ?
#12
1.

You may indicate a major chord as just plain "E" or "EM" or even the triangle symbol after the note name; the expectation is that a chord given by just a plain letter name is plain major by default. If you use "maj", people are used to seeing "maj7", "maj9", "maj13", and sometimes "mmaj" for minor major, also seen as "mM".

The conventions for selecting note letter names is a little squishy... there is a proper way to do it with reference to the key signature of the song, but in the guitar world is very common to use a "lazy" application of flats to everything except F# and sometimes C#. When calling out chords during a rehearsal or an informal jam, that's fine, but if you are using the Roman numeral system to examine what's going on from an analytical perspective you will want to name the chord's roots properly in order to find out from where they are coming and how they are functioning...

2.

Not sure if you mean an odd meter time signature like 5/4 (quarter notes taking the beat with five beats per measure) or tuplets where multiple notes are spread over the duration of the subject note... where "5" would be called a quintuplet (or quintolet or pentuplet).
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#13
Quote by isamueli
Well ... thanks guys I think i will start to write a lot of music from now on  

But there are two things I have problem with, so I think I'am gona post it here so i dont have to open a new thread.

1.
could you help me with  this chord progression ?
E Maj - F#Min - B Maj - EMaj - G#Maj- C#Min - F#Maj - C Maj - BMaj (Black Cat outro by Cacophony)
At the beginning I see a I-ii-V Progression in the key of E Major, but when the progression introduces  the G# Maj my problem starts... I don't know where these chords are taken from. 

2.
I dont understand when someone talks about odd note groupings like 5.
How am I supposed to play with this nummbers and whats more important what does this even mean? Am I playing 5 notes in 1 singel beat ?

1.
The G# major is a dominant for C#m. It's a secondary dominant - a really common non-diatonic chord. You would mark it as V/VI which means the V of the VI. The VI is our temporary key center, and it's the V chord in this key.

F# major would again be a secondary dominant for B major, i.e., the V/V (because now B - the V chord - is our temporary key center and F# is the V chord in that key). There is one chord between them, which means the F# major doesn't resolve straight to the B major. There are a couple of explanations of what the C major could be doing there. First, in the key of E major, C major is a pretty common non-diatonic chord. It is borrowed from E minor, i.e. the parallel minor. But since it's played right after a F# major chord that is functioning as the dominant of B major, you could technically see the C major as a tritone substitution for the F# major. It would be clearer if the chords had sevenths in them (in this case the progression would actually be F#7 C7 B7). But because the chords don't have sevenths in them, this may not be the best explanation. Maybe a better explanation would just be that the C major is there to create an unexpected sound - it's a half step off the chord that the F# major "wants" to resolve to, and I think that's the main point here. What key the chord comes from is less relevant.

So, you want to learn about secondary dominants and modal mixture (borrowing from the parallel key).

2.
It seems like people mean "tuplets" when they say "odd note groupings".

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
#14
1.
So there are basically 2x 2-5 Substitutions and 1  tritone substitution.

But I wonder now ... can I chanage every chord of the given key from Minor to Major and vice versa or does it only work with the iii chord because we are using it as a tension chord ? Should I look up something like the chromatic mediant modulation (isnt it mostly used in film music) ?


2.
That means that Iam just playing 5 notes in 1 beat in a time singnatur like 4/4 for example.
A lick consisting of 11 notes could be split in 5+3+3 or every note grouping that sounds cool right ? ^^ 
#15
isamueli 
According to Mr. Åkerfeldt himself, he doesn't know any theory. There's your answer.
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#16
  Yeah I know even friedman says that too, but men if you look at his pices.... He does things I would never thought about. Maybe he really doesnt know any theory at all, but he for sure knows more usefull skills/techniques to create what he wants then I do and I want to know what I have to lern... I could learn there songs, but I really dont like to learn others pieces if you know what I mean (But that doesnt mean I haven't done that so far). I want to compose something thats similar, therefore I want to know what makes them so special.
#17
Quote by isamueli
1.
So there are basically 2x 2-5 Substitutions and 1  tritone substitution.

But I wonder now ... can I chanage every chord of the given key from Minor to Major and vice versa or does it only work with the iii chord because we are using it as a tension chord ? Should I look up something like the chromatic mediant modulation (isnt it mostly used in film music) ?


2.
That means that Iam just playing 5 notes in 1 beat in a time singnatur like 4/4 for example.
A lick consisting of 11 notes could be split in 5+3+3 or every note grouping that sounds cool right ? ^^ 

Secondary dominants are not exactly "substitutions". They are about giving emphasis on a temporary tonic. And I'm not sure if you should consider the C major chord as a tritone substitution. That's just one way of seeing it. Why I don't think it's the best way to analyze it is because the chord doesn't have a 7th in it, and to really get that "tritone substitution" sound you pretty much need to use a dominant 7th chord. This is because the 7th of the tritone substitution is basically the leading tone, and without the leading tone it doesn't really have a dominant sound - and a tritone substitutions is a substitution for the dominant, so you want it to have the same function as the dominant chord would have. C7 and F#7 can both resolve to B or F because both of the chords have the same tritone in them (E Bb/A#) that can resolve either inwards (E Bb -> F A) or outwards (E A# -> D# B). So C7 and F#7 share the same tritone (3rd and 7th that are also what give the chord its character), but just have a different bass note (and we can ignore the 5th because it's just not that important a chord tone, unless it gets altered).

But yeah, I would say it's just a delayed resolution. The F# is not followed by B major like you would expect, but instead it's followed by a chord a half step higher than the expected resolution. It just sounds pretty unexpected, and I guess that was the effect they were after. Again, I don't think what key that chord comes from really matters that much. I don't necessarily see the chord as having any kind of "function" in that sense - it's just an "outside chord", a bit like if you played an outside lick and then resolved it properly (for example if we are in the key of C major, you would play a Db major lick and then resolve it to C major - the lick itself wouldn't make any sense, but it's the proper resolution that makes it work). But sure, there could be a more "satisfying" explanation for that chord, but this is just what I heard when I listened to it. It just sounded "off" until it resolved to the B major chord.

When it comes to changing a chord from major to minor (or vice versa), yes, you can do that. Nothing is forbidden. As Adam Neely said, as a composer you shouldn't ask "may I", but "what if". So just try how it sounds. If you want to compose, you shouldn't be afraid to experiment with different sounds.

I wouldn't really worry about different kinds of modulations yet. I would first get a good grasp of non-diatonic chords (secondary dominants and borrowed chords). There are really only three different kind of modulations - one that uses a "pivot chord" that exists in both the original key and the new key, one that uses the dominant of the new key before modulating and one that just jumps straight to the new key.

But if you are interested in modulations, I think it would make sense to find songs that use modulations and then figure out how they modulate from one key to another. Because that's the main point in modulations - how do we get from one key to another? What makes the modulation work?


When it comes to somebody "not knowing theory", that doesn't mean that they don't understand what's happening in music. Most musicians who don't know theory still know it in practice. They know it by ear, they just don't know the technical explanations for the sounds. But having names for different concepts of course helps.
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