Songwriting approach/ creativity

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by JMO, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. JMO

    JMO Member

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    this may be impossible to answer concisely; there are probably as many answers as posters, but i'm interested in hearing about your approach to songwriting. I'm pretty new to it, other than coming up with a few crappy riffs. I have been brought up learning lead and playing cover songs but for some reason i can't seem to write anything original/worth keeping it seems. any creative ideas
     
  2. henry_the_horse

    henry_the_horse Member

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    Strawinski used to say "In art, he/she who steals from only one other composer is an idiot, whereas he/she who steals from many is a genius".

    A good exercise for composing is rewriting songs. Get a nice song you like. Rewrite it as you would have had the song be yours. Halfway through this task, stop rewriting, analyse what you did, i.e. style, common resources, melodic hooks. Then still applying all these and other influences you may have (excluding the original song's author), finish YOUR song.
    A good written song helps for a start. Tin Pan Alley songs are usually from this camp.

    Good craft usually grows up off lots of rewritting.

    Welcome to TGP!

    Regards
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2008
  3. Shiny McShine

    Shiny McShine Member

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    Yes. There is a formula for good melody and it can be explained but it would take several pages. Once you get the formula wired, you can start breaking all those rules for interest just like with any technical foundation. The Faunt Conservatory in LA can teach this stuff.

    Once you get all those elemental creative concepts, then it's just a matter of writing several hundred melodies and with a little luck some will stick with you. It's finally started happening for me after 20 years or so.

    Disclaimer: I'm not a pro nor have I made money on any of them but I remember them in my head and enjoy playing them over and over. That's the true test of a good one. I wish I knew what I know now at 52 when I was 25 and I might have had one hit single or maybe a couple if I was lucky. I had the opportunities then.
     
  4. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    1. write something every day. Just take the time to do it. Quantity over quality at first. The genius bits will find you if you "show up" to work every day. There's no skill to inspiration. You just have to make sure you're present when it strikes.

    2. See how many ideas you can follow out to their end, even if you have to work at it a bit. I seem to remember reading where Brian Wilson once said something to the effect that he persevered where other songwriters would've abandoned an idea, and came up with lots of hit tunes that way. If something doesn't seem to be working out, keep messing with it until you figure out how it goes.

    Just a couple of ideas.
     
  5. chrisgraff

    chrisgraff Member

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    If you're writing riff based material, write against a drum groove - even a four-on-the-floor kick drum will inspire at a given tempo.
     
  6. 12guitdown

    12guitdown Member

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    Maybe this will help, something I was taught in college. There are three basic elements to song writing. Lyrics, melody and harmony. A song writer will usually start with one of these and add the other elements in as they go. For example, some song writers make up a melody to start with. Then they find a chord progression that accompanies that melody. once that's established, add in the lyrics according to how the music moves them; my dog has fleas, I won the lottery, whatever.

    Or something a little more simplified. Start with a four chord progression, which is also setting the rhythm. Then make up or just HUM a melody over that. If that sounds decent then ask yourself, Does it sound like a chorus or more like a verse? Hmm, sounds more like a verse. Then move on to another section and add lyrics at the end.

    These analogies may sound a little bit silly and they are just examples, but they do work for many people. There are probably infinite ways to song writing. My point here is to simply break down the elements of a song, start with one and add the other elements in as you go along. This will keep you from becoming overwhelmed with "The Whole Song", if you know what I mean. Eventually you'll learn what works for you.

    You posted that you had some riffs. Start with that and add in a chord or chord progression that suits it. This could probably be one of many combination's. Anyway, hope that helps out some.
     
  7. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    that's kind of weird. I tend to write/conceive all parts at once, sitting at the organ or piano, humming and playing (trying out stuff). Most of my music is lyric-less, however. I have written a few 'songs,' and I start out singing meaningless syllables as part of the normal writing process, and they usually kind of evolve into real words as I work the tune out more. Most of the times the lyrics don't make any sense, but are chosen for the actual sound of the syllables.

    Just an anecdote to show that there are many paths/strategies, and which one you choose isn't as important as that you just do it every day.
     
  8. decay-o-caster

    decay-o-caster Member

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    Keep a notebook handy. If you come up with a word or a phrase or a line or even just a subject that resonates with you, WRITE IT DOWN!!!

    Ditto a chord change, lick, riff, melody. WRITE IT DOWN!!!

    And when I suggest writing it down, give yourself enough that you can go back and recreate it after a week of not thinking about it. I just found a recording project I had called "Fast Em Thing", and it took me the better part of an hour to remember what the hell I'd actually recorded while trying to play along with it.

    Pretty soon, enough of these written down fragments will start to coalesce into songs. Or not. It's frustrating (or happy) when you suddenly realize that the lyrics you're killing yourself on and the chords you're killing yourself on actually belong together - damn - I thought I had two songs going and it turns out I only have one - but keep everything that crosses your mind handy and you will eventually find uses for them.

    And don't depend on lightning to strike where a complete song pops into your head. For me at least, it is fragments coming together, plus some labor to make them right.
     
  9. Clrtxf

    Clrtxf Member

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    This is a really interesting thread for me! I tend to sit down with my guitar when I'm fiddling around. Usually I'll start noodling around and just strike a chord/riff that just sounds right. I just go from there with what sounds right to come in my mind next. Then I write lyrics without thinking about the music I've just written. I apply the lyrics to the music and revise as needed and voila! I LOVE writing songs
     
  10. 12guitdown

    12guitdown Member

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    This is becoming an awesome thread.:munch
    Good stuff from everyone.
     
  11. Slowesthand

    Slowesthand Member

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    I am so glad this thread exists! Here's my $0.02:

    I am a terrible song writer in the quantity department. I've written a handful of songs over the years and I am proud of them, but there's barely enough for an album. Maybe a long E.P., tops.

    My strength is really in arrangement, and writing parts of songs when I've got an initial idea to bounce off of. I learned a long time ago that if I'm given a blank page I'll just stare at it, but put a couple of dots on that page and I'll run with it to great results. So I'm a wonderful collaborative writer/arranger, but by myself I move at a snail's pace. My suggestion would be to find someone you trust to bounce ideas off of and see what happens. I find that a new perspective can shed light in a direction you might not have thought of, but one that you like. Then expand on that new idea. If you're willing (and brave enough!) to let another person hear some rough song ideas, it could very well pay off.
     
  12. JMO

    JMO Member

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    Wow. Everyone's advice sounds very useful. I've always kinda figured you either had the creative gene or you didn't. I guess I'll just have to keep after it and not get discouraged. That could be another thread all by itself ... Thanks to everyone and if you have anymore advice feel free to share.
     
  13. BlackIrish

    BlackIrish Member

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    I use a keyboard workstation with guitar to compose and have found that a lot of guitar parts might not fit a song but that same part used for horns is right on. Now that I think of other instruments playing my guitar parts it has relieved most of the stress of finding what works best for the song.
    my $.02
    Tim
     
  14. JMO

    JMO Member

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    So, seriously this has been a great thread so far. Just as an example, I used a couple of techniques mentioned and wrote 3 little musical peices/ideas in just a few minutes while I was home for lunch. Decay-o-caster, thanks to your advice I had my guitar notebook handy and scribbled down the progressions and even tabbed out a melody for guitar that might even double as a cool horn arrangement (thanks BlackIrish)! Also, does anyone ever find it easier to write something on another instrument and then transpose it to the guitar? I sometimes find it easier to write melody on a bass, then kinda build around it on guitar, sometimes even scrapping the original bass line but keeping the guitar part i wrote on it. Don't know if this is a unique approach or what. Long story short, these tips are helpful. THanks to everybody!
     
  15. derekd

    derekd Supporting Member

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    I completely agree with this assessment. I took a week long creativity/song writing class about three years ago from Jody Fisher, and in addition to the above, he talked about if you create anything of at least 8 bars, give it a name. By doing so makes it more real.

    He talked about keeping files of ideas, and that some ideas would sit for a long time, but would be linked with another after a while to make up a tune. We had to write a tune each evening to perform the next day in class. It is amazing what you can come up with under pressure. I think more could do this if they put the time in.
     
  16. Shiny McShine

    Shiny McShine Member

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    This is a fun read too. It's by Rollo May and an excellent monograph on the creative process:

    PM me

    Get the book The Art Spirit by Robert Henri also, it's loaded with insights into the process.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2008
  17. ezyrydr

    ezyrydr Member

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    the trick is to STAY IN THE MOMENT!

    a song idea is given to you. for most, it will happen within the first couple minutes you pick up your instrument. i think this is because whatever you are feeling translates into what you are playing and this happens most directly when you first start playing. or it will come to you and cause you to want to rush to your instrument.

    once you have that moment (it may just be three chords and a little bit of a melody) RUN WITH IT. write down every word, phrase anything you can think of. play it over and over again, try some other chords that will spur that moment of creativity to continue. don't lose your concentration.

    once that moment is gone then it's gone, you can go back and finish the song and change some things obviously but you will never have that moment again so even if you think it's not the best idea still write it down or record it. i find garage band helps me because i can record my ideas immediately and just go back and work on them. record with a tape deck, your cell phone, whatever.

    words- sometimes the moment will include words, sometimes it won't. your melody is very important so if you cant immediately come up with lyrics just put some noises in there that sound like the words you want there. just make up words. tons of good song writers do this (ie John Lennon).

    hope that helps.
     
  18. decay-o-caster

    decay-o-caster Member

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    Paul's original lyrics for "Yesterday" were:
    "Scrambled eggs
    Baby baby how I love your legs..."

    I think I'd like the song more if he'd released it that way.
     
  19. henry_the_horse

    henry_the_horse Member

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    The Secundarity of Art. At least that's what it's called in Spanish. The idea is: a first inspirational/emotional theme comes to your mind, but you must then provide a second crafty developement of that first idea. 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. And to be focused on the moment, I suggest you meditate, or if that is no possible, sit at the desk more. Avoid zapping ideas with your mind, follow the thread to find out where it takes you. After the emotional idea is somewhat worked and it starts to fade away, write down the idea, document the work at process. Let the material rest for a day, and retake it later. The idea is to find all the ways that first idea can be expressed, when you run out of possibilities the musical piece is finished.

    A samurai discipline and respect for what your composing moment is also important. After a week by this discipline you tend to go in mode composer almost all day, working things in your mind.

    Regards
     
  20. rob2001

    rob2001 Member

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    I've found I can't force the initial thought. A few weeks ago, my band figured we needed a few more tunes for our CD. I do 99% of the writing. I sat down with the drum machine and proceded to pound out riffs and ideas using different drum patterns and different guitar tones. I guess I got a few rough ideas but nothing that really struck me as having the "it" factor. The next day I just started practicing and jamming. Within literally one minute I had the rough for a song with a vocal melody and it's being developed now.

    But thats the tough part. Now that initial idea has to be developed. When I write, I can hear in my head how everything could be. But there are two other guys in the band that will take my original rough draft and add thier stamp to it. If you use the analogy of a painting, I only provide the subject. I can say " heres a painting of a house" Well, what kind of house, what color is it, and where is it situated is determined by the other players. Sometimes they put down exactly what I was thinking and other times, songs completely morph into somthing I didn't expect. And as the writer, somtimes I have a very clear picture of how things should be. Other times i'm looking for ideas and input from the guys.

    But to answer simply, for me, it starts with a strong main riff. Vocal melodies just present themselves automaticly. That might be one of my strong points as a writer.
     

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