Okay, so you want to write music!

To start off, this lesson is not some miracle idea that can only be done with my help. Not in any way... This can be used as a starting point for good, heavy, stressful, or complicated riffs/songs. This can also be used to make suspenseful solos, emotional slow/accoustic songs, or or even, get this, heavy drum rides...

As a disclaimer, I am a new guitarist. I have played bass for six months as of now, and I got my one and only guitar somewhere during spring... Around two or three months ago.

However, this article has nothing to do with guitar skill... It has to do with music theory, and I have been playing musical instruments for three years, and my dad often composes music for recreation. However, this article was not professionally written, was not taken out of advanced music theory book, or even with the help of my dad... Keep in mind that my vocabulary is limited, and I merely used logical procedures to discover this information for myself. This is more than likely to be a little off, but it sounds correct to me, which is good enought for me to post :P

If you want to go around correcting my vocabulary, adding to my article, please do so without the intent of making me feel like a newbie. The point of the article is to make a starting point of stressful music, and if you try to use this article as a black-and-white, only possible solution, or expect it to be used that way, YOU are going to be just as much a newbie as me, so don't waste your and my time.

Okay. To start off the article, all music has stress in it. Quickly, I want you to pick up your guitar, bass, or even sit at your piano, and play something. Spend maybe five minutes making a very short and mildly okay little tune. If it sounds like crud, either redo it or simply read ahead.

I want you to identify the most stressful note. What note makes you lean off your chair most? Which note most entrances you to hear the tune finish? Is it the first note? Is it the last note? Is it the second note, or the second to last? If you are having trouble with this, play the notes slowly, one at a time.

The most usual stress note will be second to last or somewhere in the middle. For instance, play this progression (its tabbed for guitar) on any string.

? |-0~-8~-5~-7~-0~-

The stress builds up in this tune, starting on a zero-stress note, going to a highly stressful note, hitting a low stress note, then a moderate stress note, then back to the same zero-stress note we started with. If you can't tell this order well, read this whole thing through and try to practice your musical ear on your favorite songs. Some people have the ear, some people don't, but it can be learned either way.

Lets look at this musically... This is in the key of whatever string, so I am going to tab the major scale of any string, on only one string. For newbies, remember this!

? |-0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12-

Which note was an accidental (not in the key)? The 8. Seeing as it "broke the key" it made the highest stress. However, what you are probably wondering, is why it wasn't the only stressful note.

Not all notes on the scale are stressless, as you guessed, and this is the pattern I hear.

from a scale (no pun intended) of 1 to 8, 1 being the most stressful note (which I will tell you later :P) this is the stress I find in the scale.

? |-0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12- <-- notes
? |-8-5-4-7-7-5-2--8-- <-- Stress level (1-8, 8 meaning no stress)

Real fast, make a riff using the notes 0, 5, and 11. Try to make this as stressful as possible.

You'll likely get something like this (below) unless you cheated, didn't spend much time on it, or made it too long and complicated for the purpose of teaching you general stuff.

? |-0-0~-11~-11~-5-0~-

That is what I personally made... If you incorporated any bends, then good job, but you are getting ahead of me. I WILL cover those later.

Now, I am going to explain my idea of the stress levels.

Here are all the scales between 0 and 11 on whatever string.

? |-0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12-14-16-17-19-21-23-24- (two octaves)
?+1 |-1-3-5-6-8-10-12-13-
?+2 |-2-4-6-7-9-11-13-14-
?+3 |-3-5-7-8-10-12-14-15-
?+4 |-4-6-8-9-11-13-15-16-
?+5 |-5-7-9-10-12-14-16-17-
?+6 |-6-8-10-11-13-15-17-18-
?+7 |-7-9-11-12-14-16-18-19-
?+8 |-8-10-12-13-15-17-19-20-
?+9 |-9-11-13-14-16-18-20-21-
?+10 |-10-12-14-15-17-19-21-22-
?+11 |-11-13-15-16-18-20-22-23-
Note that in "?+#" the number is in HALF STEPS (frets)

Assuming ? is our key, which scales have the most notes in common with our key? Remember that octaves up or down are basically the same as their octave up/down counterpart, and have the same stress levels. Thus, this is ALL our scales possible.

?+0 = 8 out of 8 (obviously)
?+1 = 2 out of 8
?+2 = 5 out of 8
?+3 = 4 out of 8
?+4 = 4 out of 8
?+5 = 7 out of 8
?+6 = 2 out of 8
?+7 = 7 out of 8
?+8 = 3 out of 8
?+9 = 5 out of 8
?+10 = 5 out of 8
?+11 = 2 out of 8
Note that in "?+#" the number is in HALF STEPS (frets)

So, in order of stress in a particular key, the most stressful to least stressful notes are as follows:

?+1, ?+6, ?+11, ?+8, ?+3, ?+4, ?+2, ?+9, ?+10, ?+5, ?+7, then ?+0.

So take a key of E (I assume most of you used this string). Most to least stressful goes as follows:

F, Bb, Eb, C, G, Ab, Gb, Db, D, A, B, E.

Tabbed, this is:

E |--------------------------
B |--------------------------
G |--------------------------
D |-----1--------------------
A |---1---3--------4-5-0-2---
E |-1-------3-4--2---------0-

Hope you are with me so far.

Just a few more little things to remember.

1. High notes vs. low notes:

Songs will often (if they don't its likely poorly written) go higher than just a single octave (12 half steps/frets). Should this be the case, the higher octave will have more stress to it, simply by the way our ear works. Think of an alarm clock. Would it wake you up if it made a really low sound? Maybe. It'd have to be extremely loud, though. What about if it made an extremely high, shrill pitch? It most likely would, unless its really quiet, or you're one of the kinds of people who can sleep through alarms, or the pitch is too high for the human ear to catch.

One interesting fact, when rats stand on their back legs, they are emmitting a warning call that you can't hear because of how high it is.

But don't make your song pure high notes or it is toooooo stressful, without accentuating any higher pitch stress because everything is just as high a pitch! This leads us to

2. Relieving stress:

If you try to only make a song with ?+1, ?+6, and ?+11, you will have a hard time making it stressful. Why? it will be in the key of one of those notes! This is similar to my point... ALWAYS RELEIVE STRESS AT THE END OF PHRASES. A phrase is basically a riff, a ride, or a tune that is repeated or simply is kind of "ended." If you have a phrase end stressful, its like ending a song on a stress note... people will wait for it to finish. Instead of having them too stressed out listening to your music, have them simply on the edge of their seats. Make high stress, then end it with none or hardly any. Do it again, and again, and again. Your music will be intense.

For instance, hear is one of my favorite riffs (part of it)

? |-0-0-0-6~-

You probably don't want to stop their or people will get stressed out by listening to your music. Instead, lets add something.

? |-0-0-0-6~--0-0-0-8-5~-

Much better, eh? This way, I find I get extra stress built up, and then the stress (when relieved) actually takes away more stress then was created. This is why studies show rock and metal to stress you out, when in reallity people listen to it to destress themselves.

3. Bends.

Real fast randomly untune your guitar on the A string, about one half of a half-step.

Now play this:

A |-0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12-
E |-5-7-9-10-12-14-16-17-

The similar notes will be 0 out of 8, because you're looking at ?+5 and ?+5 & 1/2.

An untuned guitar is like bending. You could acheive the same stress by simply bending your guitar string half of a half step, and keeping your guitar in tune.

4. KEY!

When writing a song, make sure you know your key. Try to use mostly the notes in its scale. The sequence goes ?+0, ?+2, ?+4, ?+5, ?+7, ?+9, ?+11, ?+12. This can extend as many octaves up/down as you want, and you can always use accidentals, but remember that too many might change your key, and suddenly ?+1, ?+6, and ?+11 are not as stressful.

I hope this is helpful for people!
Last edited by KnightValor at Jun 30, 2006,
Kind of pretty confusing in some parts. You lost me after a bit.

And use code...

Didn't get the bends bit. Just untune your A string so it's out of tune? What?


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So you're saying that a b9, a b5 and a 7 are all as dissonant as eachother? Or, in your terms: b9=1 fret, b5=6 frets, 7=11 frets. I completely disagree with you in this one, for the most fact because I'm a jazzplayer and I hear the difference between them. Also, why would a jazz piece often resolve a V-I progression? That goes from a dom7 (which has a tritone, which achieves the sound of a b5) to a maj7.

I probably messed up that whole explanation, but I do NOT see the simmilarities in 'stress' (dissonance?) between b9, b5 and 7. When I look it up in my real book, I'm willing to bet that about half of the songs in there ends on a maj7 chord

Other than that, which I didn't mean as cruel as it probably appeared like there (just want to start a good discussion with you), I think you're doing a great job. You actually hear the tension most notes create. The bad thing is, however, you relate everything to one string in this article. You 'could' relate to everything as scale degrees, which would be more helpful imo, because I don't see a lot of people wanking on only one string :p

On other thing, by the looks of this I think you're mostly a riff player, am I correct? I think you should include a section how these different notes create tension (stress ) on the different forms of chords, and also in the context of scales etc. That way, your article will be a bit more complete, but I still think everyone has there one ways of relating to notes!

Look at it this way for chords: When you end a phrase on a chord note, you're fine. Otherwise you're a bit less fine and that depends all on the context

Overall I like your article a lot, I just think it's lacking and that's probably because you don't understand/use music theory in it a lot
Ah! Replies!

Sorry to confuse you, jazkel. My point was to make it for the kinds of people who would ordinarily be confused by this kind of music theory!

And to elvenkindje, chords are beyond me. Not as in I can't play them (though I can't do it well quite yet), just the whole six/five/four notes, finding the tension between all of them??! Ahh!

As you guessed, I don't really understand/use music theory... Kind of as in... Nada. At first I was going to make this a simple "MAKE YOUR MUSIC STRESSFUL!" but got carried away with the whole scale thingy.

So if there's any way that I could
1. Make it less confusing, or
2. Add chords...
I would need some PM help.
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