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Composing music

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(@incognito167)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 110
Topic starter  

Eventually i want to be able to write my own songs. That's some way off yet, but if i start getting a grasp of the theory and mechanics of it now, then it will help me in the longterm.

So, is there a name given to the theory of how chords are sequenced in a song, or how to know which chords sound right together? For example say you decided you want to have a song in the Key of C, how do you know what chords will sound best? Where and how do suspended chords, add chords etc fit in?

Also, say you wanted to solo in the key of A minor for example, how do you which chords will sound "right" as backing music?

I hope you understand what i'm looking for. Obviously this is big topic and i'm sure there are a number of articles on this, so if you could put me int there right direction and/or give me a 101 lesson yourself, that would be brilliant.

Thanks.
Mart.


   
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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 4921
 

That's a huge topic.

In order to understand why it's so big I'll give you the crash course in music history.

The earliest formal music composition was for a single instrument or voice, so we're just talking melody here - early instruments like flutes could only play one note at a time; there was no such thing as chords. Songs were written by writing melodies.

A little less than a thousand years ago, people began the earliest efforts to have one melody do one thing, and a second melody do something else. That's called counterpoint, and two-voice writing reached its peak about 400 years ago.

If two melodies were good 3 or 4 might be even better, so beginning about 400 years ago composers began writing for small groups of instruments. This is really when chords start to happen - you've got several melodies at once, and the melodies form chords with each other. So composition was done by writing a melody, then writing a counter-melody, then writing the other voices - chords come last, almost by accident.

It's within about the last 70 years that guitarists play complex chords, and they start as rhythm accopmaniment to big-band type stuff - music that's been written traditionally, by stacking up melodies one by one. Guitarists (or composers) after a piece is written figure out what chords are created by the melodies, and that's what the guitar plays.

So those complex chord progressions come from melodies. To study those, you'll want to learn about counterpoint and harmony, which are complicated topics. The best book on the subject I know is Walter Piston's "Harmony".

On the other hand, you've got singer/songwriter stuff that starts with a chord progression instead of individual melodies. That grows from simple folk songs, and the chord progressions are simple. Think Bob Dylan, or early blues songs - three chord stuff. Elaborate songs might have four. Those tunes are written 'by ear' - if it sounds ok, that's the chord. This music starts to get a bit more complex in terms of chord progressions about 40 years ago, but it's barely scratching the surface of what's possible.

Some composers of popular music are trained musicians (Steely Dan, Billy Joel, etc.), and their compositions tend to be much more harmonically complex. That's because they bring elements of classical composition - changing the chords by thinking of chord notes as melody voices - into their music. Other songwriters (Beatles, etc.) ignore all that and just hunt around for something interesting to do next.

So when you're asking about how the 'add' or suspended chords fit in, they sort of don't - they happen because somebody either stacked up melodies and the result was a Dadd9 or whatever, or because somebody took a simple D chord and played around with the notes until they found a sound they liked.

For how chords are grouped into keys, you might start with David's article Theory Without Tears for the basics of chord construction, then follow that up with my article on Untangling Chord Progressions and you'll have the absolute basics.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2171
 

Pick up Ted Greene's book "Chord Chemistry."

It's an amazing book for learning about voice leading, which is a big part of finding the right chords to go with a melody - because with a guitar it's not enough to say you want to play an 'A' chord, you have to decide which one of the many many many possible voicings is hte right voicing to play for that particular point in your song.

As for "Evenentually" wanting to write music.

Go buy yourself some music staff paper and start. Today.

There's nothing you need to learn (besides how to write the notes) before you start. You can learn more by doing than by reading anyway.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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(@the_fifth_beatle)
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Joined: 21 years ago
Posts: 58
 

Ive recently got to this stage in my playing- constructing my own progressions with varied results! First thing I would suggest is to do a google search on songwriting and chord progressions which should bring up numerous articles.
Heres an excercise i found really good (this is actually taken from an article- apologies to the author but i cant recall their name or website it appeared on). I wont go into the theory but ill dig out the link and post it tomorrow so you get a better understanding! (Im no guitar tutor...)

Step 1:
Take 8 bars in, for example the key of C. Start with I(C) in bar one and finish with V(G) in bar 8 and fill in the rest with I, IV(F) and V's (all the major chords)
Step 2:
Replace two or three of these chords with their relative minor (VI) eg. replace a C with Am, G with Em
Step 3:
Each chord before your minor chords can be replaced with its dominant V. So if you have an Em replace the chord before it with a B or even a B7.

After this you should have a progression that 'goes somewhere', quite different from your original piece where all the chords are there for a reason. You can literally have hours of fun plugging different chords in and you'll be suprised with some of the results.

Again- apologies for not giving a more theoretical explanation but to be honest i probably couldnt fully explain it myself! Have fun..

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(@incognito167)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 110
Topic starter  

5th Beatle, So am i right in thinking that progression starts of like this for example

C C F G F C F G - is using just I, IV and Vs - C, F and Gs

Then you could go

C Am F Em F C F G

and then continue messing about.

Is that what you meant?

This is te kind of thing i was looking for. I was never after a set of hard and fast rules, probably 'cos there aren't any, but a few basic guidelines to send me on my way.

Thanks you all.

Mart.


   
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 Val
(@val)
Estimable Member
Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 106
 

Here is an interesting lesson on the basics of songwriting that you may find helpful:

http://www.ibreathemusic.com/article/126


   
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(@incognito167)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 110
Topic starter  

Thanks Val, that was just what i was looking for.

I love the internet! How did people survive without it!

Mart :D


   
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(@laoch)
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Joined: 22 years ago
Posts: 143
 

Mart

Here is a book I found in my local library that is specific to guitar:

"How to Write Songs on Guitar: A Guitar-Playing and Songwriting Course", by Rikky Rooksby.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0879306114/qid=1113408682/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/002-9540406-5454412

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(@the_fifth_beatle)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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Incognito- thats pretty much it- like you say though theres no rules, just keep messing around with different chords and keys. Heres a link to the original article which should help to understand the theory side of things:

http://www.acousticguitar.com/article/146/146,6217,PRIVATELESSONS-1.asp

stop...i have found a genius...stop...


   
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(@thectrain)
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Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 126
 

If you really want to start to learn about harmony I totally agree with Noteboat about getting Pistons "Harmony". I've only scratched the surface of the book(the rest went right over my head) but every time I pick it up something makes a little more sense.


   
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(@lord_ariez)
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Joined: 20 years ago
Posts: 311
 

Mart

Here is a book I found in my local library that is specific to guitar:

"How to Write Songs on Guitar: A Guitar-Playing and Songwriting Course", by Rikky Rooksby.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0879306114/qid=1113408682/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/002-9540406-5454412

I have read this book and found it very helpful and informative, covers everything from how to write vocal parts to improvising over chords progressions. Shows lots of chords and scales and has a section on alternate tunings. I recommend it!

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(@incognito167)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 110
Topic starter  

Thanks everyone.

It's nice to have enthusiasts recommend books, because sometimes you read the reviews on Amazon and wonder if the glowing reviews are given by the author's friends.

Thanks again.
Mart.


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 2171
 

NOt sure what style you like, but the Berklee "Jazz Composition" book has helped me a great deal. It's an intermediate text, it assumes you know chord composition, modes, and a few other things. But there's enough information that even if you don't know those things (but are willing to go look them up) that you can something from the book. It's very good for jazz and blues composition.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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