Need help with concept of song writing (sort of)

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by UnderTheWooDd, Feb 19, 2009.


  1. UnderTheWooDd

    UnderTheWooDd Member

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    ok so basically, all I do right now is randomly put a progression (if you could call it that) of power chords together that sounds good in order to make a song. I'm not even quite sure WHY they sound good, and I hate playing without knowing the theory behind what I'm playing. How do you come up with power chord prgressions? I know that the chord scale is usefull for building prgressions of actual chords, but how is the same thing done with power chords? Right now i just mainly take a select few notes out of the minor scale or minor pentatonic and play them in a decent sounding pattern. I know there's more to it than that. But WHAT?!?!?!
     
  2. stevel

    stevel Member

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    You REALLY need to learn some theory.

    What "sounds good" to you (and to most of us) consists of patterns that we have already heard, and like, and have become accepted components of a style.

    For example, a VERY common chord progression in rock is E-G-A, or in the key of E, I - bIII - IV.

    But, a progression like G-F#-Ab-G would be pretty rare. Now is that "bad"? Not necessarily. Simply uncommon. The reasons why it's uncommon is a matter for philosophers but suffice it to say that it is definitely "astylistic" of rock music.

    I think most of us use the words "sounds good" to really mean - it sounds like something other players in this genre of music would use, or it sounds like something already in use in X style.

    So the trick to writing "good" progressions is becoming intimately acquainted with a style. If you're trying to write good rock progressions, you should listen to, and learn (and ultimately, analyze) hundreds - if not thousands of rock songs.

    Soon you'll find some progressions are more common than others, and if you want to write "stylistically accurate" progressions, you should use those too.

    Now, you shouldn't of course do that to the exclusion of all else. I think one of the errors many people make is they get TOO ingrained in a style and are unwilling to consider other progressions. Or, it could happen, that it becomes a trademark and they simply are unable to use other progressions. AC/DC had better only use a total of 4 different chords on an album or they're likely to lose their fan base :)

    But certainly, fairly successful bands like, oh, I don't know, The Beatles let's say took "stock" progressions and "fancied them up" or even "dumbed them down" to come up with things that were firmly stylistically appropriate, and yet fresh at the same time. That's the challenge.

    By the way, you also need to learn something other than power chords.

    A power chord is really a "sub-set" of a full major or minor chord (or possibly types of 7th chords, etc.) so really, you can use them in place of, or instead of full chords.

    If the progression is E-G-A, you can use the power chords E5-G5-A5.

    But what you should be doing is learning how:

    E-G-A
    Em-G-A
    E-G-Am
    Em-G-Am
    E5-G5-A5

    etc.

    all relate to each other, what keys/modes they come from, what the changes in quality (major versus minor) do, what types of songs they're used in frequently, etc. etc. etc.

    Learn some theory and some more chord types (if you don't already know them). It will only help you.

    Best,
    Steve
     
  3. bynt

    bynt Member

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    Wow, that's an informative post by Steve!!! I can give you the ghetto answer. The cool thing about power chords is they are neither major or minor so you can substitue them for any note in any scale that you know. So if you know the major scale, you can play the whole thing in power chords. Obviously, it's not going to sound really like music if you play it sequentially, but that's the gist.

    If you know some scales, the first thing I would suggest is find the ROOT of the scale (if it's an E minor pentatonic, the root is E) and then use those notes from that scale to build a riff. So the notes in an E pentatonic minor are E, G, A, B, D. Try playing an E power chord followed by a D power chord, go back to E then a G then back to E for starters. Jump around in the scale (with power chords) but always come back to the Root for now. Like I said, it's ghetto but it works. I do have to agree with steve though, a little theory goes a long way. There's a whole lot of stuff out there and not all of it is written for MIT grads so be on the lookout. If you don't understand something, post it on the forum. There's so many talented cats around here it makes my head swim!!!

    Try the same exercise with any scale you know mixed with rhythm (I almost ALWAYS play with drums in my skull) you might be surprised!!!1
     
  4. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Sounds fine...
    In that case, learn some theory! ;)
    Well, that's how you do it. There is no other theory to it than that, really. (Well, there is. But it's like, there's a theory to language too; but you can talk fine without knowing it. It would be silly to say you hate speaking, without understanding why those words go together the way they do...)
    However... I guess you might want to expand your vocabulary beyond a crude slang of some kind...
    Well, yes, there's a lot more to music than power chords! That's where the great unexplored territory lies... and where a map (theory) will help.

    A huge amount of rock music IS built very simply on the strategies you're already employing: pentatonic scales, power chords built on the scale steps. Occasionally perhaps with power chords a half-step away here and there.

    But if you're bored or frustrated with those limitations (it sounds like you are)... you need to look beyond pentatonics into 7-note major and minor scales (maybe modes...), and beyond power chords into triads (major and minor) and maybe 7ths, sus chords, etc.

    As well as reading up on some theory - which may or may not be interesting or offer clear guidance at the moment - you should look at some songs you like, that sound the way you would like to be able to write. Find out the chord sequences - learn the chord shapes and inversions if you need to.
    Don't just go by tab - which might be accurate, but won't give anywhere near a complete picture.
    Ideally, get hold of the sheet music, or a songbook. OK, if you can't read music it might be as clear as Chinese to you, but at least you will get the complete song with the chords and words lined up, and you can see the structure (bar lines etc).
    As a songwriter, you should be looking in particular for sections of songs that grab you - what was THAT chord change? what kind of chord is THAT there?

    Say you wanted to be a car mechanic. You could go to college and study engineering and the physics and chemistry of internal combustion, etc., etc. But until you actually get your hands on a real car engine and take it to pieces...then put it back together.... see what I'm saying?

    A song (any song) is "theory in practice". The whole machinery is there in front of you, connected up and working. (Luckily it's a lot simpler than a car engine... and no one gets hurt if you put it back together the wrong way... well, not much anyhow... ;) )
     
  5. ?&!

    ?&! Member

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    If you are writing power chord rock stuff, IMHO, the theory is useful AFTER you find a riff you like. If you find a sequence of chords that form a riff that sounds good to you, it is good. The other guitarist in my old band knows literally ZERO theory, and riffs of gold fall out of his hands all the time. Hey writes things in Phrygian, Phrygian Dominant, crazy diminished stuff, great transitions to other keys, all by just playing what he wants to hear and what sounds good to him. He could care less what the theoretical background is. I come along later and analyze what he did, and that sparks ideas for leads and harmonies.

    In my opinion, the initial writing process should be kind of devoid of theoretical analysis, especially in rock/metal. Just find some riffs that sound cool to you. That is the inspiration part. After you have the raw material of a hook, the craft part of songwriting comes in, which includes theoretical analysis, dynamics, and sharp arranging skills. Experimenting with the options that theory provides to make the song the best it can be.

    I read a Jimmy Herring article where he talked about writing a song by harmonizing the half-whole diminished scale into chords, and picking a few so he could solo over the tune using that scale. Jimmy is a great, amazing player, but that method of songwriting is really foreign to me. That approach seems logical if you're composing a section of a song to solo over, but not to write a whole song.

    I'm not saying "don't learn theory", I'm saying don't depend on theory to write music. The old saying about "1% inspiration, 99% perspiration" definitely applies to songwriting. You have to have your craft in good shape (the "99%), but without the initial creative discovery (the elusive "1%"), it doesn't really do you much good.
     
  6. UnderTheWooDd

    UnderTheWooDd Member

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    As a matter of fact I am an aspiring mechanic so i know exactly how that is. I have to say thought, the first diesel engine i tore apart was a lot less complicated than music theory... :banana

    Thanks a ton though I'm glad to find that i was doing the power chord thing right =D
     

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