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Songwriting/ Theory


(@cstar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 28
Topic starter  

Hey, how much do you thinka songwriter shoudl know. I've read a lot about music theory and I understand most of it. Is knowing how to make chords, knowing the guitar, and the basics of theory enough? I would like to hear your opinions, thank you.


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(@kingpatzer)
Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2198
 

Theory is not a set of rules to tell you what to do.

Theory is an examination of what has been done in the past and an analysis of why it's worked well.

Very rarely do people write songs "from theory" (though such compositions do exist and some are quite good). Rather, people start putting together melodies and harmonic progressions and lyrics, using their ear as a guide.

However, the more you know about theory, the more you can draw upon to put those things together. Further, when you do get stuck and aren't quite sure where a song should go, a knowlege of theory can give you guidelines to help get yourself out of a fix.

So, don't stop studying theory. But at the same time, don't wait till you "know it all" to start writting!

"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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(@cstar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 28
Topic starter  

thank you.


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(@alangreen)
Member Moderator
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5367
 

Too much theory will fry your brains, methinks.

What I would suggest is that songwriting means you need some words, so why not start with some lyrics. Once you've got the words down you'll find they will suggest some kind of melody on their own - then it's time to pick up the guitar and try to work it all together.

Stuck for lyrics? Pick a topic out of the Sunday Songwriters Group - it doesn't have to be this week's topic - and go for your life.

Best,

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


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(@cstar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 28
Topic starter  

thank you.


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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 5384
 

My take: learn *everything* you can but apply every new bit of theory in a mini-composition. So don't just read about diminished chords, write a tune using them. It's the actual practice that will have you really understand theory. You can read a thousand books on solving tension but you must hear it and play with it to know what it really means.

In any case: learn intervals, their names and how they sound. Melodically and harmonically. Ascending and descending. Thats a major step to take.

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(@paul-donnelly)
Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1069
 

Learning theory isn't about learning the rules. If you know theory then instead of guessing what you should play to accomplish what you want, you'll just be able to play it because you've already learned what it sounds like and learned a name for it.


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(@cstar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 28
Topic starter  

I understand theory, but now I'm thinking of things that I should really focus on. I refer to a scale chart sometimes. But is it worth memorizing?


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(@kingpatzer)
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Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2198
 

I'm confused -- are you saying you know music theory, but you don't know your scales?

If that's your claim, might I suggest that you might have a bit more to go in the theory department, since scales are a pretty basic aspect of music theory.

"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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(@cstar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 28
Topic starter  

I'm confused -- are you saying you know music theory, but you don't know your scales?

If that's your claim, might I suggest that you might have a bit more to go in the theory department, since scales are a pretty basic aspect of music theory.
I know what scales and modes are and how they work. but, I donno if I need to memorize them. so, ur saying I shuld memorize them?


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(@alangreen)
Member Moderator
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 5367
 

Where is it you're trying to go? If you want to learn scales then go right ahead and memorise all the major, natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor, pentatonic major and minor scales in all keys and in all positions - that's 72 so far. Then start on the more exotic scales.

Or, write some words, put some chords behind them and sing them. Record it. Post it. Tell us where it is and we'll go listen.

Best,

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


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(@321barf)
Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 133
 

Hey,

Music needs only to sound like music.If it's forced or you feel restricted then it isn't going to sound very natural or very naturally musical.If you are only thinking of theory when you write something then chances are it might come off sounding like sterile scale exercises or something,and not like very good music.But that's not to say that you don't need to know as much theory as possible,you do and you "SHOULD" learn as much as you can.You do need to know the relationships between chords and scales.However actual music needs to sound more natural,like speaking,and then it'll sound more musical.So in my opinion you need to focus on things that are more natural and will make your music sound more natural and less forced or restricted by some preconceived set of rules.Rhythm is a natural thing,so is speaking or singing.These all have a natural flow to them that anyone can learn to feel.So writing lyrics and singing them is a good idea in my opinion.Also studying rhythm intensely seems like a great way to go.

Music should have a lyrical quality,a singing quality,and a natural flow or rhythmic quality that enables the music to simply or naturally go where it wants to go.Like spilling or pouring out a glass of water,the water doesn't spill neatly and orderly and move in any one strict manner,as if adhering totally to some preconceived path...it simply goes wherever it wants to...it kind of goes all over the place!!

So music is kind of like spilling or pouring out water in that you can't really totally control everywhere that it goes,you can only "kind of" control where it goes or "guide" it.So part of you needs to just let the music go wherever it wants to go on it's own.

You can make a bug that's crawling along change it's direction by putting your hand down in front of it.Then when it turns the other way you can put your other hand down in front of it and make it turn back the other way again.If you keep repeating this you can control its movement and make it go in one general direction,even though the bugs movement is independent.You don't have total control but you do have enough to temporarilly effect what's happening and control or herd the bug in one specific direction.

So I guess what I am saying is that molding and shaping music is more experimental/organic, and less about following some preconceived notions or a prescribed formula.

You should just let the music develop naturally and go wherever it wants to go and look for or listen for anything that naturally comes along that surprises you.The music as it's developing should surprise you unexpectedly on it's own instead of you going into it and approaching the writing process with certain expectations.These natural ideas will be much better,even if they are in some random style or genre,than if you try to make the music develop according to your own expectations.Once you've got a good organic bit to work with you can always tweak around with it to get it to sound like a different style or genre or whatever, if need be.Sometimes that can work. Somtimes you may not need to do that.

Just try to keep an open mind.It's an organic process with lots of flexbality,not some rigid set of demands or expectations.


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(@cstar)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 28
Topic starter  

thanks for the advice. :D


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(@saber)
Reputable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 351
 

If you start trying to write music before you study theory, I think the theory will make more sense, and be easier to incorperate into your songwritting.

"Like the coldest winter chill. Heaven beside you. Hell within." -Jerry Cantrell


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(@improvgtrplyr)
Trusted Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 87
 

a lot of this thory business seems cool andi bet everyone posting here are great players.

BUT

after playing with tons of good players i find all i ever use from theory is major and minor pentatonics. that's about 70% of the time. other then that it's the major scale or maybe mixolydian.

i guess it depends on the style of music. most jazz guitarist i know relate to the chords they're playing over, more so then a scale modulation.


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