Old 06-09-2014, 03:24 PM   #1
brainwreck
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Default Songwriting process

I know that we've had this discussion somewhere on the forum before: When writing, do you typically begin with music or lyrics?

I usually begin by playing some chords on guitar or keyboard, and occasionally I'll begin with a drum beat or bassline. Once I have some sort of rhythm to sing over, I'll mouth whatever nonsense comes out, so long as the notes and inflection sound right. Then I'll try to fill in the lyrics to the *cough* vocal melody. I have no idea what the thing is going to be about until it develops. Sometimes I get there, and more often, I don't. I can write lyrics alone, but trying to fit prewritten lyrics to music doesn't seem to work for me, ever.

For those of you who can fit lyrics to music, maybe you can share some tips with those of us who can't get it working.
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Old 06-09-2014, 04:02 PM   #2
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Another question: Writing a melody from scratch, without an established rhythm? How does that work?
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Old 06-09-2014, 05:32 PM   #3
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Traditionally, for me, ideas usually creep up on my loop pedal. I'll loop a chord progression then just start soloing over it. That's usually how I find melodies. Then I record those in reaper, add drums and a bass track.

Programmed drums have inspired so many cool rhythm ideas for me that I never had the opportunity to create before I started recording my music. Sometimes I'll now start with a straight drum track first then add a bass groove. Then I'll make the drums match the bass, which will strengthen the groove, showing new groove opportunities. I'll then alter the bass a little bit, alter drums, repeat.

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Another question: Writing a melody from scratch, without an established rhythm? How does that work?
I've never done that before -- honestly don't know how it's possible. I bet singers can do that, but I'm not

Sometimes, though, I'll record a progression and then just whip out the MIDI editor and just place random notes in the key of the song. This has allowed me to come up with some really unique melodies in my opinion.

Basically, what I'm saying, is that my entire recording career is just a bunch of happy mistakes
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Old 06-10-2014, 12:50 AM   #4
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I have a distinction between writing songs and composing pieces. "Songs" being a typical pop/rock ensemble of which I can fake my way through recording/playing most of the instruments myself. "Pieces" are music ideas I will spend time notating on staff paper for instruments I do not own or can play.

When I write songs they usually start with guitar riffs pieced together followed by drums then bass and organ. I am terrible with lyrics so the vocals and melody won't happen for months.

When composing pieces on the other hand I will often create the melody first and fill the rest of the ensemble around that.
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Old 06-10-2014, 07:26 PM   #5
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Putting songwriting at the front of my mind and doing some free writing has been helpful. I wrote a love song. Never did that before. *yuck* Maybe I'll post it soon. It isn't recorded, yet.
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Old 06-10-2014, 07:50 PM   #6
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I most often start with an idea arrived upon from playin a imo cool riff on guitar mostly but also from playin bass like 65/30 ish with the remaing 5 percent coming from a lyrical idea first. Don't no shit about melody definitely something I need to work on. If I start running over the dog again and again, forward, reverse, forward etc......like anything that is becoming obsessive or lost in the fog..walk away for a while hours, days whatever it takes it won't be going anywhere without you. Anyway Get after it !!
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Old 06-10-2014, 08:58 PM   #7
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Writing a melody from scratch, without an established rhythm? How does that work?
You hum it. Seriously.
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Old 06-10-2014, 09:18 PM   #8
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You hum it. Seriously.
I can hum/sing/play any random combination of notes, or restrict it to seven. But how is it significant without some chords to harmonize with and make it function?
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Old 06-11-2014, 06:49 AM   #9
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Jim Morrison used to come to his band mates with nothing but lyrics and a melody. Then it was up to them to figure out the chords that would work.

I personally always start out with a chord structure and a rough arrangement and then figure out words and melody that would hang on that structure, even if I have a good idea of what the lyrical theme will be. I've tried to start with the words or a melody, but my brain doesn't work that way. It can take some time for the words to occur to me and then they generally come flooding in. I had an entire song recorded without lyrics for over a year, and then I got an inspiration based on a life event and about 15 minutes later the song was done. I currently have a work in progress called "Untitled July 2013". Still waiting for the words for that one to pop out.

My wife starts by writing a poem and figuring out a song to hang on that.

Different strokes and whatnot.
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Old 06-11-2014, 07:26 AM   #10
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I can hum/sing/play any random combination of notes, or restrict it to seven. But how is it significant without some chords to harmonize with and make it function?
I'll try to think of a way to explain it in a way it has value (when I have some time) but there are lots of things I've come up with that started as a hummed/whistled melody riding home from work for example. Basic harmony dictates the chords (where to start) the moment you have a melody with notes.

Some of that is expected, some of it is pleasant surprises along the way. Quick question, do you know or have had exposure to on how to build the basic diatonic chords when all you have is some notes to work from?
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Old 06-11-2014, 11:47 PM   #11
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Different strokes and whatnot.
That is what I have always subscribed to. But I think that isn't good enough. It can't be bad to learn how to do it the other way around. We're not going to be particularly good at doing something that is new to us. Right? I have learned not to approach writing music from the other way around (melody first). It didn't come easy, so I left it alone. But, I'm thinking that it could be refreshing going at it from the other direction.
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Old 06-12-2014, 12:11 PM   #12
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For those of you who can fit lyrics to music, maybe you can share some tips with those of us who can't get it working.
Try this - do it twenty times as an exercise.

Look at your lyric on paper, with pencil in hand. Think of the meaning as you read each line. Start with any arbitrary note (say C) and sing the words of the lyric on that note (C) until you sense that the meaning (or the degree of tension in the meaning) changes. Mark that point with your pencil. Continue that all the way through the verse.

Now go back to the beginning, and change all those marks you made into ARROWS, going either up or down, depending on how you feel the change in semantic tension pushes you. If there is something of a crisis - point the arrow UP. If there is something of an easing, point the arrow down.

Now go back to the beginning, and assign notes to those arrows. If you feel just a "small" shift in tension, just increase the melody note by one step or a half step. If you feel a big shift in tension (or resolution) raise or drop the note by more - to the next significant note up or down.

Try to make sure that the changes happen so that the final resolution at the end of the verse is on a root or fifth of the key (on a C or G).

Go back to the beginning of the verse and read and sing what you have already noted.

Now, as a complication, look for parts/lines where there are no changes in note - where you stay on the same note for a whole line, for example. Replace THAT line (used to be one note) with an up-and-down sequence. For example, if the sequence/line is all noted as D - replace that with an alternation between D and C, or with a rising alternation between D and E, or D and F.

Now, the result is a sequence of notes - matched to words and matched to shifts in semantic tension. Take that as a first draft of your melody, and massage it.

Then after you do that several times, shift your technique so that changes are not so much ONE-STEP (like D to E) changes, but rather BIGGER shifts, like up a fifth.

Then after you do that several times, shift your technique so that changes are SMALLER (half-steps).

Then after you do that several times, shift your technique so that note changes (corresponding to jumps in semantic tension) have a reverse polarity (with tension going down, while resolution goes UP).

Check it out.
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Old 06-12-2014, 12:25 PM   #13
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It didn't come easy, so I left it alone. But, I'm thinking that it could be refreshing going at it from the other direction.
Well if you ever feel like giving it a go, I'll show you how to take some notes and find all the basic expected chords that go with it. It's as easy as drawing circles around 7 letters.
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Old 06-12-2014, 01:36 PM   #14
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msore, I'll give that a shot. Thanks. I suppose that the natural rhythm of the lyrics should bring about the rhythm of the notes.

karbo, I can put chords under musical phrases. I can write musical phrases without a backing rhythm (not sure I would call them fully developed melodies). But what is the significance of these phrases, before backing with chords and before matching to lyrics? Asking about the significance of a melody on it's own must sound strange to the 'melody first' folks out there, but some of us never learned that approach. I think that working on starting from lyrics, moving to melody, then filling in the rhythm will be good exercise.
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Old 06-12-2014, 02:38 PM   #15
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But what is the significance of these phrases, before backing with chords and before matching to lyrics? Asking about the significance of a melody on it's own must sound strange to the 'melody first' folks out there, but some of us never learned that approach. I think that working on starting from lyrics, moving to melody, then filling in the rhythm will be good exercise.
If someone can't or doesn't ever come up with some melody in their heads, I suppose it has no value. Otherwise....

A melody whether we are hearing it or not has a life to live over chords (or it wouldn't even be a melody since from a basic perspective a melody is note choices from a scale which dictates chords). I'm just saying if that happens, would it not be helpful to quickly be able to figure out the basic chords that it will go with even though you don't know what they are? There is no rhythm really required at this step other than deciding to move to another one of the chords so you can hear more about the melody against them. The groove can be a future step, just not needed for this one.

The moment you start messing with them the melody is going to make sense, and to take that further you can expand it a little and you suddenly have lots of choices of how to use that melody and a new song idea. It's going to spur creativity and ideas, break ruts which results in songs which I hope is part of the idea here.

The main principle is simply harmonizing a diatonic scale but I didn't want to dirty the conversation by using that term and would prefer to show the value of "it" and forget about the noise of theory because for this light bulb moment I could care less about "theory". I'd much prefer to pass along/hand down the value and allow whoever receives enjoy it if the light bulb lights.

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Old 06-12-2014, 02:43 PM   #16
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Putting songwriting at the front of my mind and doing some free writing has been helpful. I wrote a love song. Never did that before. *yuck* Maybe I'll post it soon. It isn't recorded, yet.
Love songs are the best songs.
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Old 06-12-2014, 02:56 PM   #17
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Love songs are the best songs.
I love you man. Really I do. da di da di da da da.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:09 PM   #18
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If someone can't or doesn't ever come up with some melody in their heads, I suppose it has no value. Otherwise....

A melody whether we are hearing it or not has a life to live over chords (or it wouldn't even be a melody since from a basic perspective a melody is note choices from a scale which dictates chords). I'm just saying if that happens, would it not be helpful to quickly be able to figure out the basic chords that it will go with even though you don't know what they are? There is no rhythm really required at this step other than deciding to move to another one of the chords so you can hear more about the melody against them. The groove can be a future step, just not needed for this one.

The moment you start messing with them the melody is going to make sense, and to take that further you can expand it a little and you suddenly have lots of choices of how to use that melody and a new song idea. It's going to spur creativity and ideas, break ruts which results in songs which I hope is part of the idea here.

The main principle is simply harmonizing a diatonic scale but I didn't want to dirty the conversation by using that term and would prefer to show the value of "it" and forget about the noise of theory because for this light bulb moment I could care less about "theory". I'd much prefer to pass along/hand down the value and allow whoever receives enjoy it if the light bulb lights.
I think we're on a different page. Take a singer, for example, who comes to a guitarist with a vocal line. The singer has no chord progression. He doesn't play any instruments. But he has a melody. He doesn't have any idea of what the chords will be, but he knows that the guitarist will come up with something. The chord progression could vary widely. What is it about the melody that makes the singer feel that it is worth developing a song around? What gives a melody significance, before the chords are filled out?

Maybe we could do an exercise, here. One of us could drop a melody and see what direction others might take it in. Say, I write a little melody, figure out the backing chords that sound right to me, but keep it to myself (or someone else) until you have found the chords which you think sound right. I think that the results could be very different, according to personal interpretation of the melody.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:11 PM   #19
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Love songs are the best songs.
It's more of a goodbye song...so long you dirty bird. Seriously, though. It is a bit sappy.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:15 PM   #20
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What is it about the melody that makes the singer feel that it is worth developing a song around?
The fact that it exists and he wants to use it for lack of a better term. He doesn't need to understand the underlying chord choices are already there.

Like I said, in order for him to have a melody there must be underlying chords that will work there even if the singer has no idea they exist. The guitarist knows this and simply finds those chords. The fact this is true means the guitarist has about a 100% chance of coming up with something that works because it's already there. Not played yet, does by no means it doesn't exist though there are multiple existences which is why there is so much potential in a single melody all by itself.

Too bad you can't ride over and hang out for an hour and we could suss this out and I'd almost guarantee you'd walk away with something worth the time that you could use forever. You are probably 5 hours away IIRC, I'll buy half the gas and dinner lol.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:25 PM   #21
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It's more of a goodbye song...so long you dirty bird. Seriously, though. It is a bit sappy.
I've written my share of them!

Not quite up there with love songs

Sappys ok though.


In fact..everything is ok.Long as it rocks
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:31 PM   #22
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The fact that it exists and he wants to use it for lack of a better term. He doesn't need to understand the underlying chord choices are already there.
I think that this isn't getting at the root of the question: How does someone perceive a given sequence of notes as being good, sans harmony? I haven't spent any time digging into this sort of thing, but I know that it is studied in composition....motif, question and answer, contour, intervallic jumps, overall melodic structure, yadda, yadda....I know diddly about this stuff.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:36 PM   #23
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I think that this isn't getting at the root of the question: How does someone perceive a given sequence of notes as being good, sans harmony?
If you think a lone melody sounds good it is because you are realizing (actually also creating) "some" underlying tonality whether you are directly conscious of it or not, simple as that. Now my personal position is I don't care about the rest because I just want a better song and ways to create them and what I was hoping to inspire has much value. If you only want some further underlying why, I'm not the one to help. If you want to take a melody and get a song out of it, I am.

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Old 06-12-2014, 03:49 PM   #24
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If you want to take a melody and get a song out of it, I am.
Yep, we're on different pages. I'm talking about developing melodies. It's all good, though. Dicussing music rather than tech and production, is a nice change.
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Old 06-12-2014, 03:55 PM   #25
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Btw, Cosmic! I didn't mean to leave things hanging on the next collab. I started digging into getting Reaper better set up for writing and tracking, staying out of the lounge, and one thing led to another. That first collab was a lot of fun, and I would like to pick it back up at some point. I'm trying to get my head pointed in the right direction on a few things, and get the juices flowing. Maybe we can pick it back up, soon, if you're still down. It's amazing how fast you can knock things out. I'm feel like I'm limping over here.
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Old 06-12-2014, 04:04 PM   #26
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No sweat BW.

I eneded up mad busy this week myself.Its a marathon not a sprint..we'll get the b side done when its time

On the subject of the OP.

This is what I do..

I start playing me guitar..or making a beat or something..an organ line..and just start singing..goobledygook if I don't have something in my head already.

Then I keep going til I hear something good..then I tap into the auld brain for a story to tell.
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Old 06-12-2014, 04:10 PM   #27
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Yep, we're on different pages. I'm talking about developing melodies. It's all good, though. Dicussing music rather than tech and production, is a nice change.
No problem and I agree. If it swings in back in my direction, happy to jump back in. As far as developing them (for me) they just kind of come out of nowhere then I go find chords.
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Old 06-12-2014, 04:55 PM   #28
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Try this - do it twenty times as an exercise.

Look at your lyric on paper, with pencil in hand. Think of the meaning as you read each line. Start with any arbitrary note (say C) and sing the words of the lyric on that note (C) until you sense that the meaning (or the degree of tension in the meaning) changes. Mark that point with your pencil. Continue that all the way through the verse.

Now go back to the beginning, and change all those marks you made into ARROWS, going either up or down, depending on how you feel the change in semantic tension pushes you. If there is something of a crisis - point the arrow UP. If there is something of an easing, point the arrow down.

Now go back to the beginning, and assign notes to those arrows. If you feel just a "small" shift in tension, just increase the melody note by one step or a half step. If you feel a big shift in tension (or resolution) raise or drop the note by more - to the next significant note up or down.

Try to make sure that the changes happen so that the final resolution at the end of the verse is on a root or fifth of the key (on a C or G).

Go back to the beginning of the verse and read and sing what you have already noted.

Now, as a complication, look for parts/lines where there are no changes in note - where you stay on the same note for a whole line, for example. Replace THAT line (used to be one note) with an up-and-down sequence. For example, if the sequence/line is all noted as D - replace that with an alternation between D and C, or with a rising alternation between D and E, or D and F.

Now, the result is a sequence of notes - matched to words and matched to shifts in semantic tension. Take that as a first draft of your melody, and massage it.

Then after you do that several times, shift your technique so that changes are not so much ONE-STEP (like D to E) changes, but rather BIGGER shifts, like up a fifth.

Then after you do that several times, shift your technique so that changes are SMALLER (half-steps).

Then after you do that several times, shift your technique so that note changes (corresponding to jumps in semantic tension) have a reverse polarity (with tension going down, while resolution goes UP).

Check it out.
I like those ideas.

Most of my early drafts have a background sketch of the person who is narrating.

Where they grew up, their life experiences, hopes, fears, etc.

the rerewriting process is reasking - how would they say this?

I dont know how common that is.

Ive spent years as as social worker now attorney for abused children. Ive seen the intimate and sometimes horrific details of many peoples lives. I try to tell those stories, though most become amalgams. Sometimes one perspective is better than others.
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Old 06-12-2014, 08:14 PM   #29
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I can hum/sing/play any random combination of notes, or restrict it to seven. But how is it significant without some chords to harmonize with and make it function?
You can write chords to match melody using any theory approach, such as by starting with finding which notes fit into I and which fit into, and building a chord structure of just I - I - V - I etc then filling in the blanks with modulation, mixture, harmonic rhythm variations
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Old 06-13-2014, 08:32 AM   #30
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I think that for me, words or some kind of lyrical theme is what I need to coalesce a song; I say that simply because I haven't been able to write for a long time, and that's what I'm missing. I just don't have anything to say, lyrically-speaking, and that wouldn't be a problem unless the lyrics were the starting-point. :/
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Old 06-13-2014, 10:41 AM   #31
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I totally agree with Karbomusic. I think we share the same vision of what a song has to be.

I usually use many processes in songwriting.
When I begin with lyrics (most of the time, I'm not the writer), the very first step is to put a melody on the first verse or the chorus, without thinking of any chord progression. By scansing the lyrics, the melody grows up with the words rythm. I make it turn until I think I got the melody that fits to that part. After that, I work on the chord progression. When the part is complete, the chords, the melody or the whole stuff gives me ideas for the missing parts...
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Old 06-13-2014, 11:56 AM   #32
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What is it about the melody that makes the singer feel that it is worth developing a song around?
When you get a song in your head you have it all there, the whole song. If you don't master any instrument you can't convert it into a song i.e. a recording or Music notation.
One of my latest songs sounded completely different in my head compared with the result due to lack of knowledge of Music theory and that it was a style that I don't master or is not used to do.
How about you guys and Girls, when a song comes up in your head it is not only the melody, it is the whole package right?
I don't see any difference between a musician and a vocalist in this sense.
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Old 06-13-2014, 12:07 PM   #33
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How about you guys and Girls, when a song comes up in your head it is not only the melody, it is the whole package right?
No, not necessarily and.... I don't want the whole package because half of my fun is discovering all the places it can take me. By not restricting myself into a strict mold per se, it sort of doesn't matter where it takes me so long as I enjoy the result. That's just my way though, I've been on this "get on the creative train and ride it to see where it goes" thing for awhile now because I wanted to explore where I end up rather than where I steer. Hope that makes sense.
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Old 06-13-2014, 02:29 PM   #34
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How about you guys and Girls, when a song comes up in your head it is not only the melody, it is the whole package right?
I don't see any difference between a musician and a vocalist in this sense.
Years ago, I used to conceptualize my songs. I was hearing them in my head the way I wanted them to be : perfect. Sadly, whatever my wills, the guys of the bands I was playing with never played what I wanted the way I wanted. This was very frustrating and made me sometimes leave some good bands. Then I had the same problem facing a computer : I never get exactly what I wanted to hear.
Older, and maybe wiser, I've let down the idea of fully conceptualize my songs before recording or playing them. I just create the basis of it : lyrics, melody and chords by playing until I'm satisfied of the result. Then I record it, trying things, having good surprises and being globally happy of the result - at least for a moment.
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Old 06-15-2014, 09:20 PM   #35
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Default harmonic movement is a large subject

some ideas
<Quote>
Thanks. I suppose that the natural rhythm of the lyrics should bring about the rhythm of the notes.
</Quote>

frome writen lyrics
theres books on the technique for analizing the natural phrasing reading poems
-patterns - rhymes, lines and meter
meter -{/}on stressed {u} on weak sylables
Reading correctly the line lengths, ryhme and rythm scheme should help w melodic ideas

<Quote>
Thanks. I suppose that the natural rhythm of the lyrics should bring about the rhythm of the notes.
/quote>
it does and it doesnt; really good singer phrase around in or between the rythm track ----it shouldnt line up with a grid

its a lot of work tempo mapping and dropping markers
record vocals clap 4 to the beat then 2 on the offbeat

your melody will tell you what scale your working with
so you can choose a key-if you know the genre common chords and progressions can be applied
simplified- the melody note is root/3rd or 5th of the chord

Bass guitar is used for the harmonic root supporting the vocal line

play an orgin drone(1,3,4 or5, off the melody note) @ the 1 /3 of each bar
thats two notes for your harmony (you can start picking 3rds and 5ths)
'Step wise'-the direction of the melody leads the harmonic movement ( ONE-STEP (like D to E)avoid jumps)
probably experimenting w chords useing the bass note as root and melody note as top
well assume you have resolutions for the end of phrases

hum yur mel....hum a counterpoint,...hum a dirge < if you can pick the notes out @ the harmonies rythm points its good

if it sticks in your brain its probably worth developingbut I dont think you can (really) judge a melody out of any context

tempo mapping pellas:

Ive been looking @ tech process 4 this in reap I have some great pellas to work with
I would consider post thread but.....
-Its seems like a lot of work (comparativly)
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Old 06-16-2014, 01:45 AM   #36
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On 'what gives a lone melody signifcance,' I think its a matter of perspective. It seems like you're the type of dude that looks at the bigger picture of the song; the individual pieces are only parts of a whole, once separated they lose all value.

On the other side of the coin, some people don't think like that. They hear a series of notes or a melody and they like the tune of it. Everything else that gets added in order to flesh out the song is only there to support that melody. The song could go in any number of directions based on the rhythms & whatnot that are added in underneath the melody, that part is relatively irrelevant so long as the melodic idea that was presented at the start is maintained and the overall feel matches what the lone melody originally made the person feel.

Personally, I find that when I'm writing metal, a lot of parts work better/easier if I go with melody first and then develop a rhythm section to support it. That said, a lot of the 'melodies' I write have a lot of the rhythm & 'roots' (not to be confused with actual root notes of a scale, more like anchor notes, I guess? I'm not a theory guy) built into them--probably because a lot of the time I don't create separate parts to carry the separate ideas, or I leave the progression element to the bass....or even turn the original melody element written on the guitar into the progression and use the bass to make a melody over it and twist shit up. I have no idea what I'm doing :P
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Old 06-16-2014, 09:48 PM   #37
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Some people live in their own universe.
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Old 06-17-2014, 12:07 PM   #38
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All people live in their own universe ;/
Some people do not allow their universe to overlap with the universe shared with others. Why the sophist objection?

When evaluating melodies, when writing songs, when hearing what you are playing, there is a big difference between being stuck in your own ear and your own listening experience versus trying to sense what other people will hear and appreciate.

Even though I do have my own accumulated musical universe - built up from music I have heard, and played and composed and talked about - I hope I can recognize that there is more to music than that. And knowing that my personal experience is limited is going to help me appreciate music (and compose it) that reaches out to people other than me.

That viewpoint - that there is a world bigger than mine - is important to remember when discussing musical creativity, isn't it?
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Old 06-17-2014, 04:37 PM   #39
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I think that asking what is significant about a standalone melody is maybe analogous to asking what is significant about some drawn lines, outside of the context of a drawn picture. Ever look at something like that, thinking that it's interesting without knowing why?
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Old 06-17-2014, 05:15 PM   #40
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See and to me more its like seeing the Millennium Falcon without having seen Star Wars. Definitely interesting all on its own, but without the context of the movie its just a nifty space ship.
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