Songwriting can be a difficult process and I have often found it the hardest subject to teach in lessons. It can’t be quantified as easily as learning a chord or scale which has a clear beginning (you didn’t know the thing) and a clear end (now you know the thing) whereas in writing a song you only have a beginning (you don’t have a song) or an end (you do have a song). Songwriting is all about implementation; how will you use the tools you have learned to create something bigger than the sum of its parts?
Before we go into actually making a song I would like to address a few things that I find get in the way when trying to write and some ways I’ve found to get around them.
Not Knowing Where To Start is usually the place most novices to writing can fall down. It’s not surprising: if you’ve never done something before you can’t be expected to be able to do it right off the bat! My first advice for this is to just play. If you have the ability to improvise to any level just pick up your instrument and play whatever. Eventually you should find something that sticks, something you like to play again and again. This is the beginning of a song, write it down! Even if you can’t write music you should write down something that will remind you later what to play.
If you can’t improvise or lack the confidence to just play something then the other way around this is to learn a song that you like and when I say learn i mean really learn it. Learn all the parts: bass, guitar, drums, keys, singer (if it’s a pop song) and try to work out what they’re doing in relation to each other. For example: the bass may stay on one note while the guitar plays a chord, the singer sings a melody that goes up and the piano plays a melody that goes down. The drums are a little bit more archaic for non-drummers to work out but listen to them! Do they repeat the same every bar? Every 4 bars? Do they follow the singer or a different instrument?
Writer’s Block is often cited as the reason many people find songwriting hard, I have certainly had it before and it can be very annoying! I must be said that it takes a number of different forms and, in my experience at least, a true lack of any creative ideas whatsoever is very rare. Often I come up with ideas that just don’t match the sounds I have in my head and I attribute this to a writer’s block, of sorts. In these situations I will:
Listen to some music that sounds like what I am trying to write.
Play some music that is similar to what I am trying to write.
Analyse some music that is similar to what I want to achieve.
Play computer games
Talk to my girlfriend
Listen, play or analyse some music that has nothing to do with what I want to achieve.
Getting some time away from your craft is usually the best bet, it helps you to relax and you can come back with a fresh mind. However, this is not always possible in situations such as when you are on a deadline. At these times actively immersing yourself in some music can really help to bring new ideas into your writing that you might not have otherwise had.
Next time we will look at some common structures in music, where they crop up and how to use them.
In this lesson we’re going to be looking at tuplets, specifically triplets and quintuplets. Firstly, a tuplet is an irrational grouping of rhythms, for example fitting three notes where there should be two is a tuplet called a triplet.
In Ex.5 we have a bar of quaver triplets meaning that for every beat of the pulse we have three quavers, squeezing three where there should be two. Try clapping the rhythm first before trying it on the guitar, make sure you’ve got three notes per beat, not two. Count the pulse with your feet, or use a metronome, to make sure you don’t go out of time.
Ex.6 has an interesting idea where we are now playing crotchet triplets. This is tricky because you miss the two and the four beats. Focus on hitting the one and the three with the first beat in each group of triplets and use your feet or metronome to keep you in time. Once you have this down, try adding a simple chord to this rhythm.
Ex.7 takes an A5 power chord and applies the triplet rhythm and the pulse to it. Start slow using a fingers or hybrid picking to pluck the notes. Ex.8 is the same idea but the triplets are on the bass strings and the melody (if you can call it that) is on the treble strings.
Finally we have the hardest idea so far: Ex.9 and Ex.10 both use quintuplets to make an even stranger sound than triplets because we are squeezing in five quavers where there should be four. The counting for this group of notes is strange, but I find it useful:
Ta - Ka - Ta - Ka - Da
This comes from an Indian form of vocal rhythms that apply syllables to different beats. I find it easier than counting from one to five. You could also use:
Sit - ting - El - E - Phant
Or any other five syllable phrase or sentence.
Groups of five don’t appear too much in western music but Bumblefoot and Shawn Lane are two examples of players who use them masterly. When you practice these examples start slow, just clapping until you get a real feel for it. Once you have that move on to the guitar using single notes and then later chords.
That should keep you busy for a while, good luck I’ll be back with more soon!
As awesome as I need to be. No more, no less.
So I’ve decided that Tumblr is going to be my main base of operations from now on so when I make new music, write new lessons or just have something a bit long winded to say I’m going to post it here. So let’s start with a lesson.
Rhythms For Guitar
Rhythm is something that a lot of musicians don’t really think ‘s about too much, it’s described as a feel rather than something you can quantify by a lot of people but it is something you can practice and use more effectively. We’ll start right at the beginning with the pulse, but I’m skipping the semibreve and the minim just so we can get to some more interesting forms of rhythm. Don’t worry! They’ll be covered another time.
First get the pulse of the beat by tapping your feet “1, 2, 3, 4” in Crotchets (Quarter Notes for our American friends). Once you have that steady rhythm try to play a muted chord on each beat in turn, one bar after another (Ex.1).
After you’re comfortable with that try playing two beats in a bar (Ex.2) choose any one example and loop it. You’ll probably find bars where you play beats 1 and 2 easy but beats 1 and 4 difficult. Try them all and see how you do.
Next we see we see Quavers (Eighth Notes) which are half the length of a crotchet. These are counted “One and Two and Three and Four And" (Ex.3). You should try removing beats like we did earlier to come up with your own rhythms. Removing all the Down Beats (numbered beats) and playing a Major Chord gives a Reggae feel (Ex.4). The thicker lines with two dots next to them are Repeat Bars which indicate that you should repeat what is between the two bars.
I hope this first lesson has been helpful, I’ll be back with more soon.