Developing IdeasThe other side of the coin is developing your ideas. You may have a great song, but there is a blank space between riffs. I have experienced this. I have a song with a riff in Amin and a riff in C#min that sound great together. Riff A - Riff B The problem was that Riff B - Riff A sounded like crap. So my song structure looked somewhat like this: Riff A - Riff B - ????? - Riff A... To fill in the ???? I went to good old UG and posted a message in the Musician Talk forum. Thanks to the tremendous help from other users, I developed a riff involving Amin, E7 and finally Amin again. Who knew? But I knew I had a blank spot, so I sought help in filling it. Theoretical help that is (it's still my riff.) See chord progressions are generic. Each has been used hundreds of times, so you can borrow at will. It's how you use a chord progression that counts. I altered the chord voicing and used classical style fingerpicking. Viola! Hole filled, song written. Sometimes you have to shift back and forth between the two worlds of writing. You'll write a song but need one more riff to make it perfect. Suddenly you're in the world of notes and music and writing riffs again. Occassionally, too, you will find yourself saying "I like this riff, but it's not quite there yet." This is where jamming comes in. Jamming is a great writing tool because you have all the freedom in the world. If you play something that's not so great, who cares? If you have a band, then just start playing your good, but incomplete riff, and record the jam session if possible. Just beat that thing to death! This is where writing bass and drums comes in. You and your band might have a basic idea of how the riff will go basswise and drumwise, but actually jamming on that riff for twenty minutes or even longer will really solidify what works and what doesn't. You might even discover that what really works best is completely different than what you originally thought. If that's the case, you have made great use of your jam time. Recording is an indispensable tool in writing. You can obviously write music without recording, but having a machine play back what you've written is invaluable. It lets you experience the music as a listener, not thinking about playing it or what part is coming up next. The better tools you have to record with the better, but obviously money is a limiting factor for just about everyone. So get the best tools you can and learn to use them. Even a simple microphone and a cassette machine will work, though. You're not recording a triple platinum album...yet. As the song develops, you'll find yourself refining it every time you play it, until one day you will just know it's done. Or you'll get sick and tired of hearing it and just stop. But if you set out to work on a riff, make sure to concentrate on development of the idea. That's the idea "bead" or segment that fits into the song, and that individual piece of music will get better. If you set out to develop the structure and the flow of the song as a whole, forget perfection and just play the song. If you screw up, keep playing. Let the chords flow into and out of one another a listen to that structure. Occasionally I will even play the song through without a missing section. If the song is in 4/4 time, I will just click along with my pick during the missing segment: "click click click click." Don't worry about writing that missing section if you're wanting to tweak the structure. On a computer you will often zoom in and work on something and then zoom out and work on something else. That's essentially what you're doing when you're writing a song. You either zoom in and work on every little nuance of that impossible solo you're determined to nail, or you just loosely comp some filler solo to fill time and concentrate on the flow. There are probably people out there who can do both at once, but I have never worked with one of them. Massage your song and it will pay off in the end.
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