The Songwriting Thread

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

  1. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    Edit: oops, double post
     
  2. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    To kick off this post I'd just like to state that you do have the potential for a "Dancy of Eternity" -style track here. However, if that is what you're going for I think that currently the drums aren't really working towards achieving that type of a sound or style. Take whatever I say with a hint of salt since all my thoughts are based on personal experience and not formal education. There's quite a few points I'd like to make that I hope will help you out a bit.

    As a general assessment it sounds to me like you're treating the drums as a "solo instrument" at times. That can be cool but I just feel like they don't serve a clear enough purpose in some parts. That can be totally cool if you're going for a more avant-garde and hectic sound and I'm not saying that you should conform to standard practice just for the sake of conformity. Having said that I do believe that the reason standards exist in the first place is because a large enough group of people consider them to work and sound good.

    Point 1 - With pre-existing instrumentation drums can help to provide the "context".

    Once again I'll try to demonstrate this point with a track. "The Gods Must Be Crazy" by Periphery has a part where the same guitar riff is played twice but the drum groove changes underneath the repetitions. Jump to 2:18 and listen to somewhere around 2:43. Listen to that part a few times and pay attention to the change in "feel". Don't think about how they do it, just focus on how it sounds.



    To my ear the change in feel is distinct and really cool. Once again the guitar riff stays the same but they sound and feel very different. This is what I mean by the drums providing the context for the riff. I think that this goes to show that it's not just about how good a riff sounds isolated but about how it locks in with the other instrumentation. This is going to be the least concrete of the points I want to make but I feel that it is at the root of all the other points I want to make.

    Point 2 - With intricate parts you don't always need the drums to provide more intricacy.

    Since the track that you're referencing a lot is Dance of Eternity it makes sense to exemplify this point with parts from that track.



    Listen to what Portnoy plays with the riff that begins at 0:57. He follows the guitar very closely and almost replicates it. To me it sounds like he's using the cymbals and snare so that they're assigned to certain accents on the guitar and then the descending tom-fill mimics the descending run on the guitar. It gives that part a very specific type of feel and context. A drummer friend of mine used to call this "zeroing out" on the drums, meaning that you don't even attempt to create any new groove underneath of what is already going on. In many ways this really brings full focus to what is going on with the instrumentation. I think this is something that Portnoy actually does throughout the entire track with many different parts.

    If you listen to the lower guitar riff at 1:44 he "zeroes out" with the guitar again. Not only that but also listen to how he chooses low toms and the bass drum to do it, mimicking the low sound of the guitar. After that he starts a new groove underneath the riff and the feel changes again, providing a new context for the riff. And listen to what is really creating that feel, it's just a few very scarcely spaced hits on the snare and toms. At 1:56 he introduces the evenly spaced cymbal hits to create a more flowing and forward-moving pulse. Again, the drums aren't doing anything fancy but they're creating the pulse, feel and context for everything going on. The guitar riff doesn't change and is actually pretty boring by itself but the change in feel keeps you interested. And actually, he does it again at 2:04. This is actually a pretty great part in the song to demonstrate this! :lol:

    I think that Portnoy mimics the rest of the instrumentation pretty closely throughout the track and doesn't really break out of it unless it is to change the feel of what is being played or to create a pulse and movement. Around 2:32 with the playful Star Wars cantinaesque part, he plays a very simple drum beat letting the piano take the spotlight but once again, the pulse and beat is creating a lot of the humorous atmosphere.

    If there's anything to take away from all this it would probably be that if a guy like Portnoy takes no shame in "zeroing out" neither should you. If you want to create a part that mimics completely what is going on with the rest of the instrumentation, then loop that part and compare the drums soloed out against the instruments soloed out. The drums should sound the same in some way. If you want to create a pulse and context then the simplest way to do that is by choosing simple accents. If you want to create a machine gun type of feel then zero out completely. If you want to create a shotgun type of feel then zero out partially with a few selected accents.

    Point 3 - 32nd note runs/trills are like BBQ-sauce. Sure, it's good but you don't necessarily want to put it in your ice cream.

    Around 01:28 in the vibesonly-mod track you're being pretty generous with the 32nd note little "trills" on the hats. That's not to say that there aren't times where that would be fitting but personally I feel like it's a bit too much. In general your use of these runs and trills is something that is pretty constant but that might just be a sound and style personal to you. Personally though, I feel like it loses much of its impact when used constantly. If you listen to the beat that Portnoy plays at 0:44 and pay attention to how many times he executes that little shuffle/trill on the hats it's not very often. Obviously the part is more laid back than the part I was referring to in your track but regardless, I find it a tasteful execution.

    I think that one thing that you could try in regards to this is to try and write drums parts a bit at a time. It happens to me often when I'm writing drums that I chase down an idea that seems really cool and when I come back to the track the drums are just doing way too much. Try to come back to what you're writing with a fresh set of ears as many times as possible. I find that the best way to do this is to write just a bit at a time and then come back to the track once I've "forgotten" how it sounds.

    Point 4 - Rambling.

    I'd just like to say a few very flimsy thoughts and ideas on complexity since it seems like you're going for a "complex" style of music. From studying mathematics my personal intuition about "complexity" as a general term is that there are two ways you can go about creating it. One is by trying to create complexity in something that is "one-dimensional" and the other is by creating complexity through simplicity by combining simple "one-dimensional" constructs together in a "multidimensional" or "dynamic" way. I hate bastardizing mathematical terms this way but I hope that you kind of get what I'm trying to get across. A classic example of this would be how the result of two simple wave forms clashing can go about creating a very intricate wave. Another example could be how the constructs of frequentist statistics are really based on a few simple ideas from probability, yet manage to confuse lots of people due to how they are "layered". In music I guess that poly-rhythms would fall under this category since it's just two (usually) simple grooves in different time signatures combined together.

    To end this on a more practical note: write out a few parts from Dance of Eternity. Both the drums and the main instrument. This was a long post but I hope that it's of some use to you.
     
  3. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    Of course it is. Seems like a lot of work ahead, haha. Transcribing Portnoy's drum parts . . . wow. I'll try that for sure.

    Besides the drums, do you have any advice regarding the piano parts? Any themes/melodic lines stand out? I'm especially interesting in finding out the key this is in.

    I was just going to post this when I saw your post. Nothing more than a few changes in the drums and a small change in the "sweepy section at the end" so that it's in what I think is an ABA' (correct me if it's wrong) form.
     

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  4. inaudio

    inaudio Hack Fraud

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    Octatoan - PM'd

    This is a little brain-fart of an idea that was born out of using all of the different Google cloud documents for different projects. But it got me thinking that for collaborative/teaching purposes it might actually be pretty cool to have a similar type of platform for working on MIDI. For whatever reason I felt the need to share this little idea, what do you guys think? :ugh:
     
  5. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    Uh, did you miss an attachment?
     
  6. AugmentedFourth

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

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    Man, by the end of that, my ears were still reeling from the assault of 32nd notes. I think that the main place to improve in your compositions is not only the drums, but how you provide a sense of direction and theme. Like, it can sometimes be really tasteful to freak out in waves of 32nd notes, but in this context it just makes the listener feel lost. Throughout 95% of the composition one is never quite sure where they are--the only real thing there to latch on to is the little melody from the first bar that kind of shows up very occasionally.

    Try this: come up with two themes that you like. Consider small ways that the two can have similarities. It's not necessary, but if they share something(s) in common, like using mostly 8th notes, having a similar melodic contour, or just originally being in related keys, it can help stick them together.

    Then try to figure out ways that you can transition between them. Consider transitioning from A to B, from B to A, from A to B but with B in a different relative key than the first time. Consider how you can form your accompaniments (bass, drums, chords, etc., even a soprano melody as the case may be if your theme is a bass line or chord progression) in a way that helps you transition.

    Then try to figure out ways that you can smash them together, or put them on top of one another. How you can take a version of B and put it in a higher voice at the same time that A is playing, or something like that. This tends to be more difficult, but it doesn't have to be strict. Like, if you think A would fit well on top of B, but when you test it out and move it around you don't like the way it sounds, you can modify A. Chop it up, change a note or two, move it to a new voice, adapt the contour or the rhythm to a new melody, etc.

    Using these bits, consider a large-scale form that makes sense to you. Potentially, your A+B is sufficiently different from either section alone that it suffices as a C section, so you may consider a form like ABCB′A′. That's great. As it stands now, I can't really get a feel for any 'form,' even if you did intend there to be one.

    -----------------------

    Here's a new version of Riff Splendor, with an added B section and advice by Biison taken:

    [sc]https://soundcloud.com/augmentedfourth/riff-splendor[/sc]

    EDIT: Soundcloud's compression seems subpar even for a standard 128kbps mp3. It's been starting to tick me off, so if you want to listen to a better version just hit the download button on Soundcloud and you will get the flac.
     
  7. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    ^ A4 HOW DO I FIND THE KEY OF THAT PIECE PLS

    Thanks for the advice about themes, I'll work on that.
     
  8. AugmentedFourth

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

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    Erm. Let's see, here's a chord chart and Roman numeral analysis:

    Code:
    A section:
    
    | E-7sub4 | CΔ7/E | FΔ7♯11 |
    | E-7sub4 | CΔ7/E | FΔ7♯11 |
    | A♭ (D♭add9/A♭) | % | G♭Δ11 | % |
    | A♭ (D♭add9/A♭) | % :||
    
    Em: isub4 - VI6-5 - ♭IIΔ7 - 
    
        isub4 - VI6-5 - ♭IIΔ7 -
    	         D♭: III  -
    
    D♭:I     - I     -   IV   - IV -
    
    D♭:I     - I     :||
    G: &#9837;II&#916;7 - &#9837;II&#916;7 :|| (<--now thinking of A&#9837; as the root)
    
    B section:
    
    | B-7 | F&#9839;-11 | C&#916;7 Em | Em D13 F&#916;7&#9839;11 | F&#916;7&#9839;11 :||
    
    Bm: i - v - &#9837;II&#916;7, iv - 
                   Em: i  - i, VII7, &#9837;II&#916;7 - &#9837;II&#916;7  :||
    				      D: &#9837;III&#916;7 :||
    
    So the first thing is, there's basically 4 separate tonal centers, so 4 keys. This is more key changing in the modulation sense, so it's more jazz than actual key changes except when going from section A to section B. That is, the changes are transient. I notate all of section A in the key of Em (1 sharp).

    '&#9837;II&#916;7' shows up here a lot. It seems weird, but think of it as the &#9837;VII&#916;7 of the relative major. So like, in the key of Em the relative major is G. In a piece that is in G major, (take a rock song for example, which we would expect to contain relatively simple harmonies) we would not be surprised to see an F major chord even though the root is not native to the key. It's borrowed from the parallel minor (Gm).

    In this case, I just borrow that chord from the relative major. So it's like double borrowing, sort of.

    And the I - IV - I motion in the second half of section A is kind of right, but the I chord is ambiguous because it's really the I and V&#916;7 chords smashed together. So, eh. Not a complete description. It may be more accurate to consider what I can the I and IV chords as part of their own keys.

    The turnaround in section A cracks me up because I wrote it by ear and did not think of this when I wrote it: it's a &#9837;II&#916;7 in the relative major of E. (So basically I went from double borrowing to triple borrowing :lol:)
     
  9. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    A4: That's too dense for me at the moment (i.e. I need some free time to work through that; it's clear enough). Thanks a ton, I'm sure you must have spent a lot of time on it! :wavey:

    First off, AFAIK, this starts in Am and goes to Cm. (Aeolian mode of parallel major? :scratch: Edit: It's a simple m3 modulation. Duh.)
    It's my first planned key change evar (unlike the infamous "transpose down 3 semitones" thing in "mel.tg").

    Second, this should seem a bit more well-thought out.

    Third, I've spent exactly one hour on this. So . . .

    Fourth, no weird meter changes. Yet. :lol:

    Fifth, tell me how you like the piano accompaniment or whatever that is.

    (Also, is this an ABA'B form or something, ignoring repeats of parts?)
     

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    Last edited: Feb 25, 2015
  10. TallestFiddle

    TallestFiddle SS.org Regular

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    Wow theres been a lot of activity here lately!

    A4: I love that song riff splendor, the bass sound is really cool. Don't worry that you lost quality from the compression, everything still comes across well. I think you're really getting better at mixing.

    Octatoan: Wow that vibes song is insane lol. Its really interesting, its kidnda all over the place, but I think its better to start from that point and try to organize it rather than starting out with something boring and needing to spice it up. Ya the drums are just really weird, so I would spend some time studying music you like to see what kind of drum patterns they use. The new song is really good too, I like the part where the drums come in, is that a tempo change? its a bit weird, but its cool. Its hard for me to say if its ABA'B, I think that you should try to work on distinguishing between parts. Kinda like A4 said, pay attention to the differences in parts: melody, rhythm, themes, timbre. Try to make memorable parts and make sure that you can recognize when they return. I think this new one is definitely an improvement over the last one in terms of being a concrete idea. I really like when the intro melody comes back with the tremelo picking part, thats a perfect way to use a theme that you introduced before but in a different way. I just think the part after that isn't necessary, its like it builds up and then you return to a very similar yet less exciting part. Great work though, keep it up :)

    Biison: I like the version of Octatoan's song that you did. I think that organizing the drums was a big help, it really made it feel more like a concrete song. I think thats actually a great idea that we should explore. Messing with each other's songs to see what we each would do in different situations. I think that it would be a great learning experience for everyone. I currently haven't been transcribing what I've been writing or else I would post something right now.
     
  11. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    Hey, nice to see you again - and thanks! Been working on anything lately?

    I posted a few other (even less polished) things on the last page - might wanna check them out if you feel bored and have time to waste :lol:
     
  12. TallestFiddle

    TallestFiddle SS.org Regular

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    Ya I'm working on a new song now that I'm very happy with, it's got no bass yet because I've been dealing with finger injuries from overexertion. :( remember guys take your time and don't try tracking the same difficult part for 6 hours straight. If you can't play it then up to speed then practice a bit and wait for another day. (I'll post it later if I remember)

    Check out my most recent song though. I like the way it came out but I'm a little unsure of the last few parts because its the same chord progression and same exact drums. Let me know what you think.
    [SC]https://m.soundcloud.com/nickareias/spiral[/SC]
     
  13. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    6 hours? That's some dedication.

    Nice use of cymbals, I need to learn.
     
  14. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    6 hours? That's some dedication.

    Nice use of cymbals, I need to learn haha. Good job.
     
  15. TallestFiddle

    TallestFiddle SS.org Regular

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    Thanks man! And ya, I can usually get a quick sloppy recording once I finish writing a song. But once I'm done writing, I don't ever want to do anything else but work on finishing the song, so sometimes i get carried away. Moderation is your friend though, don't get burnt out.

    What I've found that works for drums, is you always want some sort of pulse to start off with. For most patterns I'll do some sort of cymbal every 4th note, or every 8th note or whatever, and then the snare is every other pulse, or every 4th pulse, or for a faster section i'll put a snare on every pulse. I usually will just copy paste this for 4 measures or 8 measures or whatever. Then I'll figure out the kick pattern based on what I was doing on guitar, and maybe put in some different snare hits to change things up. Usually the kick for me just follows the exact rhythm that the guitar is playing. Then I put in extra crash hits where I want a certain part of the rhythm emphasized. Or if its a hi-hat based section I'll try to put in some 32nd notes on the closed hi-hat and some off pulse hi-hat hits. Its hard to decide where they go, I just listen to the song and wait until I feel like something is missing and put that in. Its definitely a long process when you can't naturally drum though lol.

    I think its good to start off basic with drums, just to support your other instruments that you're focusing more on. But as you improve, start studying your favorite drummers. What are some of your favorite bands Octatoan?
     
  16. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    Let's see. Animals as Leaders (like everyone on SS.org :lol:), Ne Obliviscaris and The Faceless, to name three bands playing substantially different styles.
     
  17. TallestFiddle

    TallestFiddle SS.org Regular

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    Oh cool! I guess the problem with trying to write music in that style is that the drums are so crazy most of the time. I have a little trouble following the drums in AAL sometimes, let alone writing like that :lol: But just find some parts where you can understand the drums and try to see what patterns they're doing, then try it out in your song. You shouldn't feel any shame in copying, its the best way to learn really.
     
  18. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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  19. AugmentedFourth

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

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    I like the new composition ("bfkc") quite a bit, actually. The starting riff is a nice, simple use of parallel keys. And I really dig the electric piano sound and the way that the chords its playing really fill out the sound and provide a melody at the same time. And the bass line is pretty good; simple where it makes sense and with good intervening bass movements.

    I liked the metric modulations (always good when pulled off ;) ). The tremolo picking sounds cool but are you going to be able to pull that off? I can't pick that fast, that's for sure. If not, I think it should sound fine if you pick it half speed (16ths instead of 32nds) and just use some distortion that has some 'crunch' to it, so to speak.

    The drums are an improvement as well. The fact that you let off the drums at least once after starting them is good. It creates some dynamic. I like that there is more independence between the snare, kick, and cymbals, but there is still work to be done. Having the snare and kick hit at the same time can sometimes be good. Here's some situations you would expect to see that:

    *In the middle of a fill.
    *During a section where there are constant kick hits, e.g. straight 16th/32nd 'double bass' parts or parts where kicks follow a rigid simple pattern that happens to coincide with snare placements in certain places.
    *Build-ups. Most commonly you see drummers hit the kick, snare, and a low tom all at the same time on the pulse in increasing volume for this kind of thing. I think you'll know what I'm talking about.

    But in the first two cases, it's almost never more than once in a row. It's kind of like counterpoint, actually. If you lose independence between snare and kick, the texture hollows a little bit and you lose a layer of depth. It's O.K. to hit the occasional 5th or octave, but you can't just make every interval perfect or it will sound like ass. Drums are a bit less strict, but the principle applies.

    m.56 is very awkward and likely impossible/highly difficult for a real drummer to play. lining up rides/splashes directly against the tom/kick hits runs into the counterpoint problem I was talking about, and playing fast ride and toms or fast ride and snare at the same time is hard unless you have 4+ arms.

    I do like the stripped-down kick hits at the penultimate measure, although it could use a little two-16-note hit on the '&' of 4 and then a crash hit on the 1 of that last measure. Just my opinion.

    Maybe it would help for you to propose a riff and/or bassline and then I or someone else can have a go at writing a drum part(s) for it and then explain our reasoning.
     
  20. octatoan

    octatoan Acoustic tech-death!

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    Wasn't it a simple tempo change? (I know that a metric modulation is some kind of 'special' tempo change, like 8th triplet is now a sixteenth. Help me out here.)

    And that's a really kind offer, thanks! I'll try and come up with something tonight.

    And on the topic of crunchy distortion, A4, take a look at my sig, please. :lol: I think my 'classical' tremolo is okay, though. As an example, I can do the whole of the interlude in this song at speed:

    (skip to around 4:10 and wait for some time, there's a tremolo part a bit later)
    Might be able to wrangle it somehow.
     

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