The Songwriting Thread

Discussion in 'Music Theory, Lessons & Techniques' started by inaudio, Sep 8, 2013.

  1. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    (The background for this thread can be read here, starting from the last post on the first page.)

    Here's a new song I started working on:

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/1-1

    Basically, I just set aside a few hours this morning for noodling in my DAW to see if I could come up with something new. I started off by recording a very simple two-chord progression on top of a basic drum beat. After that I looped a section of what I had so far and started playing around with different bass sounds - I didn't give the groove too much thought. I probably spent half an hour desperately trying to come up with a melody of some sort. I took a little break and when I came back the first thing I played was pretty much the "melody" you hear in that clip. The drum and bass part that follows was just a little experiment, but I'm quite happy with the feel of it. Any feedback/criticism/ideas would be much appreciated!
     
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  2. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    I think it sounds nice enough, my main problem with it is that it doesn't go anywhere. If we are talking about songwriting and composition in a concrete manner, this sounds like the middle of something that could be really interesting, but isn't quite there yet.

    I'm aware a lot of people write like this. Noodle around, get a good passage, then keep it. Mesh it around with something entirely different later on and hope for the best. This works, sure... But if you want to really improve your composition skills, you are better off trying to compose complete pieces, even if they are shorter or "shittier". It will develop your ability to work on a concrete idea instead of a collage of ideas that will more often than not sound disjointed if glued together.

    For what it is, a two chord vamp, I liked it. But it is but a tiny piece of something that still doesn't exist.

    (by the way: added you on soundcloud)
     
  3. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    The way of writing you described is exactly how I write. I really need to try stepping back from working on details and focus on creating some kind of structure/plot first. Unfortunately I don't have a whole lot of time for music during the week, but I've set aside Sunday mornings for working on songwriting. The first goal I've set out for myself is to actually finish writing something from start to finish, no matter how terrible it is. I really feel that setting simple goals and having time properly set aside in my schedule for this will make a difference in the long run. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
     
  4. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    What you can do is try to think in more abstract terms first... "I want this part to be calm and slow", "I want to make something fast here", "I want this part LOUD, but not fast.", "I want to modulate here".

    If you can have a more or less concrete idea of what your song will have and what it won't, you are already half way across the gap. I find that it really helps to start with a really simple foundation, basic chords, basic voicing... And as you revise and create more parts and have more ideas, you can expand on it.
     
  5. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    This morning I fleshed out some more rough ideas to "accompany" the snippet I posted last week. Now that I have a few themes and parts to aid my imagination I think I'm ready to start thinking about the initial structure/plot. One thing that I have decided is that the song will resolve at some point into the snippet that I posted last week - we'll see how it turns out. There's not a whole lot of work to show for this morning, but for the sake of documentation here's what I managed to scrap together:

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/1-2

    Next Sunday I'll try and create a spine for the piece.
     
  6. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    You picked the wrong week to do Keyboard-ish pieces. I've been listening to Beethoven's Piano Sonatas the whole week and I guess my tastes for adventurous keyboard stuff have been sort of pushed upwards by a little bit comparing to last week. Alas...

    I have pretty much the same "complains"... It's very static, and even though there is a "layering difference" in the form that latter parts have more voices, the dynamics are pretty much unchanged throughout, which is kind of a turn off for me... I'm looking forward to a more fleshed out work. The POTENTIAL for something interesting is definitely there.
     
  7. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    It's a good thing that you've really emphasized dynamics, it's something I'll be strongly keeping in mind when I start working on the piece itself next week. Thanks for taking the time to actually comment on the work, even though there's really not been a whole lot to comment on - I'll try my best to have something more substantial to show for next week.
     
  8. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    I managed to vaguely plan out how I want the structure of the song to go. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to flesh out the entire thing this morning. Here's a very rough "sketch" of the first half of the song:

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/1-3

    It ends right where I've planned a quiet/soft break to start. The break will build up and then eventually resolve into the very first idea (1.1) I posted for the song. The song will be short at first, but I figured that it won't be too difficult to expand on the parts later on.
     
  9. AugmentedFourth

    AugmentedFourth X:1 K:C [c^f]|

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    Just wanted to say that I think the mixing is pretty good on Biison's tracks, I just feel like it needs a harmonic modulation or two in there, maybe more definitive melodic themes. At its current state I feel like it would sound very good in, say, a video game soundtrack.

    Also, just to mix it up a little bit I thought I would contribute something to the thread. It's not finished or anything, but it looks like it's shaping up to be a cool tune. It's called 'Mach's Principle' and it features some good ol' slappity-slappin' on the guitar. :shred:
     

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  10. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    Looks like somebody has been playing around with the ol' Wooten technique! I don't normally listen to this type of music, but I've got to say that I enjoyed the muck out of the lead that kicked in around bar 60. I'm sorry that I don't really have anything more substantial to say about it, but I'd love to hear more of it once you progress with it!

    As for harmonic modulation - I looked it up and looks like I've got a bunch of reading to do, haha. Just out of interest could you elaborate more on how and in what form you think that it should be utilized in this case? And I do agree with you that the song really does lack a clear/strong melodic theme, I'll see what I can come up with. Oh, and the mixing - there really isn't any at this stage, it's all center-panned. :lol:
     
  11. AugmentedFourth

    AugmentedFourth X:1 K:C [c^f]|

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    Haha yeah, usually I am a bit more eclectic with my songwriting -- but this one ended up kinda just sounding like metal.

    Sure. When I said "harmonic modulation" I basically just meant changing keys.

    So, in the vein of some of the music you have written so far, that might look something like:

    *Changing the key to a neighboring key in the circle of fifths (i.e., up a perfect 5th or down a perfect 5th) for a new section of the song. Ex.: AABA where 'A' is in the key of F# minor and 'B' is in the key of C# minor.

    You can achieve this most easily using the most common form of modulation, which is called 'common chord'. It's pretty much what it sounds like. Any chord that two keys share can act as a pivot point for the modulation:
    Ex.:

    Code:
    Cmaj - Em - Am - Dmaj (D7) - Gmaj
    
    key of C: I - iii - vi
    key of G:           ii - V(7) - I
    
    You can even make some epic transitions by introducing a modulation, a new section, and a different dynamic all at the same time.

    Yes. Upon another listen your music does need varying dynamic levels. Like in 1.2, you could mix that piano part softer, and then lead into a forte/fortissimo section and beef up the orchestration, to great effect.

    Haha. OK, you got me there. What I really meant by mixing was not actually post-processing. really I just thought the instruments themselves sound good and so does when they 'mix', so to speak. :yesway:


    EDIT: The aesthetic of your 3 pieces reminds me of both The American Dollar and Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. This is a good thing.
     
  12. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    First things first: AugmentedFourth - I forgot to thank you last week for the tips and feedback so I'll just do that now. Thank you.

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/1-4

    Today I got around to renewing some parts of 1.3 that I wasn't really happy with. I ran out of time before I was able to work on the follow-up, I'll try and get to that next week. I'm not sure if I was able to create any harmonic modulation but I feel like I was at least able to introduce a more evident melodic theme and vary the dynamics a bit. Feedback would be mucho-mucho appreciated as always!
     
  13. AugmentedFourth

    AugmentedFourth X:1 K:C [c^f]|

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    First off, sorry I didn't get around to this earlier, I just had time to give it a whirl, but now I think I can write a few things about it.

    The beginning (first minute and a half or so) is alright, definitely serves as an 'intro' feel. Has some notably ambient characteristics to it, not sure if that was what you were going for, but it's very spacey (mostly in the use of held-out double stops and such).

    Then, at around 1:39, there is a nice textural (and a little dynamic) change with the new bass and top voice entering. This is very good, but only sounds good at first because while you had it essentially right, I would complain of the drums, the harmonic progression, and the bassline. First, the drums need to change... like somewhere in the song. I realize that there are parts where there is no drums (which is good) and parts where it changes a bit, but the drums feel very static. On top of that, the 1:39 section feels quite alright to introduce some heavier drums. This would be a good mix-up.

    Then, there is the prevailing harmonic progression.....

    | C#-7 | % | Emaj7 | G#-7 |
    Correct me if I'm wrong here.

    While I obviously wouldn't say that this chord progression is unusable/unmusical or anything, I would however say that it isn't all that great. Especially for what is essentially the most hard-hitting (climax if you will) part of the song, it sounds weak -- especially with that bass droning under it.

    Your bass is outlining one of the flaws of this general harmonic progression -- the root movement.

    Bassically (what an awful pun) in classical music they kind of set the standard for what sounds good in root movement and what doesn't. The "rules" are:

    1)Movement down by fifth (or up by fourth, same deal) is all good in the hood.
    2)Movement up by second (or down by seventh) is good.
    3)Movement down by third (or up by sixth) is good.

    There are exceptions that "allow" you to break "the rules":

    1)The tonic can move to any chord.
    2)Any chord can move to the tonic.
    3)Any chord can move to a dominant.
    4)Leading tone chord MUST move to the tonic.

    Now, let's look at your progression again.

    C#-7 -> Emaj7

    This would be interpreted as i -> III.
    So, the good news is that exception #1 lets this one slide by default, no matter what that second chord is. The bad news is, even though it's "legal", it sounds not so good in this context because it's at the climax of the song, and the progression itself is already only 4 bars long, so that first movement should sound strong, instead of like we are going somewhere in a different directio.....

    Emaj7 -> G#-7
    III -> v

    Aww... another movement up by third. :nono:
    (Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily bad in all contexts, remember you always have artistic license!)

    G#-7 -> C#-7
    v -> i

    Good movement. Sounds strong, because not only is it moving to the tonic (for which we know anything goes) but it also uses the strongest type of root movement: down by fifth. This makes it some kind of five-one movement (generally strongest and most common cadence). However, something that you might want to fiddle around with is turning your G#-7 into a G#7.

    This means minor becomes harmonic minor for just a second, and the scale you would play in would be phrygian dominant
    (1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7)
    on G#.
    (G# A B# C# D# E F#)

    This makes your "five" chord in a minor key into a dominant. (<-- link) I'm not actually sure if it will sound any good or not, but this will make the cadence sound more convincing (dominant-tonic relations) and it also at the same time solves a little bit of one of your other problems. It makes that III -> v movement into III -> V7 movement. This makes the movement up by third "acceptable" as per exception #3.

    Anyways, probably the most important tip I can give is,

    Bass lines! Bass lines? Bass lines!

    I mean, just jamming out sitting here at my computer with my bass over your song, it sounded a good deal better than what you had going on previously. Use your bass to introduce some syncopation (now that I think of it, rhythmic variety might be one other thing that I couldn't quite put my finger on that the song is lacking) as well as just generally some energy, movement, a separate melody, all of those things. Bass lines are underrated sometimes (esp. on this forum :lol:).

    There were no harmonic modulations here.
    Not even close (no offense,) but the tonic is very heavily C# throughout. And minor, at that.

    I appreciated the dynamic change at the end, with the soft solo piano. Definitely the most noticeable dynamic change throughout.

    Also, I think you'll like this: Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People

    EDIT: Forgot to write the part where I say that music is a subjective experience and therefore this is my opinion. ;-P
     
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  14. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    Fantastic post. Rep.

    Er&#8230; Also worth remembering that most of these "rules" have been broken to hell and back, all of them with varying degrees of success. While studying classical composition may get you some higher notions of what chords to use and when, common practice period progression is sort of an acquired taste and doesn't really equate to sounding good in the modern days. I personally think the progression itself is "interesting" in that it is laid back when the purpose of it is to be laid back. Adding a lot of tension in a passage that doesn't require it doesn't make any sense. If anything, it detracts of the overall scheme, because that tension could be better employed else where.


    I still have the same problems as earlier. It sounds very static, doesn't really go anywhere. Instead of trying to change your whole progression simply do this: When it gets to the about 1:39 mark, move everything to the dominant (7 half-steps up). or the subdominant (5 half-steps up), or hell, why not, go Beethoven and do it 4 half-steps for a Major 3rd or 3 half-steps for a Minor 3rd. Points for modulating "into" your own progressions (as AugmentedFourth spelled out, you are moving in thirds here), so do that and outline that triad. Modulate to E and than to G#. Pretty cool stuff. Usually you would return "home" for the closing, but since the piece is so short and feels introductory in many ways, you could leave it hanging for effect.
    It would be cool is you could lead up to these modulations instead of making it direct, but you can edit the direct in, and if it sounds good to you, try to transition to it.


    Again, stronger and more convincing are highly subjective not only to interpretation but to meaning and placement. I simply don't think this is the place to pull out all those tricks. Doesn't hurt to know them, but would a progression this strong suit such a laid back track? Something to think about.


    Can't really argue with you there. What I can, and have been arguing about, is whether such motions would be necessary and an actual improvement in terms of the mood being created. Surely they would improve the song "objectively", make it more dynamic and varied, but a piece is defined just as much by what it doesn't have.
     
  15. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    Sorry that I haven't been able to reply any sooner. The delay was mainly due to the combination of the following events:

    1. Funeral of my old HDD.
    2. Exam week.
    3. Moving out.

    Once again, thank you for all the information you guys are providing - I really, really appreciate it. I've made up my mind about taking the time to get a better grasp on basic music theory and I will be setting time aside for this in my schedule. And now I'll stop with the jibber-jabber.

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/2-0

    All the files related to the song I was previously working on were lost with the hard drive and I didn't feel inspired enough to start working on it again from scratch. This brings us onto our next project. Just like in the previous song there is still a lack in bass-lines/root-movement and I guess that the in terms of "harmony" the piece is still very one-dimensional. What I was able to improve on in my opinion was varying the dynamics of the piece. That's all that comes to my mind for now - eager to hear what you guys think!
     
  16. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    I sort of disagree with you on dynamic range... I mean, it varies, but to me, it varies between sort of loud and sort of not so soft. Dynamic range exists between inaudible and almost ear-piercing pain. I'm not saying you should effectively go to these extremes, specially the latter, but it's interesting to be aware of them...

    I was recently tasked with creating an etude with A LOT of stuff in it, one of the aspects was for it to have a wide dynamic range. That was particularly the aspect of the whole thing I was most proud of. It is in my soundcloud if you want to ear it ("Id 040").

    In your piece: About 1:07, you get softer, but not nearly soft "enough" to make for an interesting dynamic contrast (in my opinion). Don't get me wrong, it's better than your previous work, but even in the aspect you are most proud of, like myself, we still have a lot to improve on.
     
  17. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    Dynamics was definitely the wrong word for trying to describe what I meant! What I should have said was that I thought that I was able to vary the rhythmic feel of the piece towards the end.

    I listened to your track on SoundCloud and it really does a wonderful job of showcasing dynamic variety at least to my noob-ish untrained ears. I had never really realized how much more lively it can make a piece of music - in comparison my track sounds really "uptight" if that makes any sense. It's funny how I've always felt like there's something missing in the music I've written, now I think I have a clue as to what that something might be.
     
  18. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    Writing that piece showed me a lot of interesting things. The goal of it was to make a diverse piece, I still haven't heard back from my teacher on it, but I believe it is very probable that I got a lot more wrong than I got right. I know, thinking about it now, that I could have done a lot of stuff differently, but the experience of doing the piece with the sole purpose of variety was very interesting. To not be concerned (in a manner of speaking) with several other aspects of music was very liberating and it gave me a lot of perspective into some compositional techniques for development... It also highlighted several personal quirks and shortcomings, which I'm trying to either address or seeking ways to enhance in order to form my "personal voice".

    In short, I would advise you to seek a similar path. Do some songs which are more about "form" and "variety" than they are about simply "sounding good" to your ears. These don't need to be long, or overproduced, just experiment with things. You can even take something old and tweak it if you would prefer.

    Something else to think about is silence. I should probably stay quite about this (ba-dum-psh) because I can't do it well at all, but sound is just an event between two pauses. Silence can be used to great e[a]ffect.
     
  19. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    I haven't worked on new music for the last month or so. I've had quite a lot on my plate, but I definitely could have tried harder to own my shiat and manage my time better - I'll make sure to get right back on that horse. The idea of writing shorter practice pieces with the focus on trying out different composing techniques seems to me like the way to go for now - thank you for the idea Osorio. The first thing I wanted to get a better grasp on was the circle of fifths and in particular how to use the "common chord" transition mentioned by AugmentedFourth. I didn't manage to get much more done than a very rough sketch of what I wanted to be going on in terms of harmony.

    I decided to have three very simple "parts", mainly rooted in F# major and then transitioning into Db major. All parts consist of no more than two chords:

    I: F# major - Bb minor
    II: B major - Bb minor
    III: Ab major - F# major

    After that I mapped out a rough order of the parts:
    I - II - I - III

    And then I started fleshing out the parts themselves. I only got one part somewhat-properly fleshed out, here's a link to that snippet:

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/3-0-snippet

    And here's the link to a very rough sketch of the whole thing:

    https://soundcloud.com/biison/3-0

    This way of songwriting actually felt really fun! Once I got to working on the individual parts I already knew what I'd be going for and could focus solely on writing and experimenting different things. I'll definitely be spending some time testing the waters and trying to get a grasp on the technical side of writing. I feel that I currently don't possess the basic vocabulary to tell the stories I want to tell, but I'll working hard in order to change that.

    This was also the first time I got to properly test out my newly assembled portable writing solution - namely a Maschine Mikro and a Korg MicroKey. I'm really enjoying how tactile and streamlined music creation is with these tools + it all fits into my backpack! I'm visiting my parents this weekend and this is a low-quality picture of the rig set up in their guestroom:

    [​IMG]
     
  20. Osorio

    Osorio SS.org Regular

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    I'm gonna drop all the criticism and just say that I found the third piece really fun. The dynamic is a little more varied, the harmony is still very static but it sort of works for this piece because the sections are not too long... I don't know, I just dig it.

    Also: YES. Love portable writing stations. I've been contemplating getting one of those 2 octave MIDI keyboards for the sole purpose of writing in bed. True story.
     

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