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Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

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Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby roalin » Fri Aug 09, 2019 2:09 pm

Here are 6 ideas to help you develop a piece from an idea:

+ Create 2 ideas instead of one
+ Separate creative mind from structure mind
+ Expand first, details last
+ Build from busy to simple
+ Easier if elements function musically by themselves.
+ Better done than perfect.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby MOF » Fri Aug 09, 2019 2:54 pm

My experience is that ideas start out simply and get more complex.
Knowing when to stop adding layers or simplify one layer is the hard part, if you like all the new layers individually, that are now getting in the way of each other.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby blinddrew » Fri Aug 09, 2019 2:57 pm

I frequently find I can come up with a verse and a chorus structure but then adding the extra bits of song structure to give it some variety (intros, bridges, middle eights) gets a lot more difficult. It's generally around then that I start having regrets about my complete absence of music theory. :(
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby John Egan » Fri Aug 09, 2019 4:13 pm

blinddrew wrote:I frequently find I can come up with a verse and a chorus structure but then adding the extra bits of song structure to give it some variety (intros, bridges, middle eights) gets a lot more difficult. It's generally around then that I start having regrets about my complete absence of music theory. :(

Songwriting for me is a bit of a magical mystery tour. Even if I have a subject in mind, I have to find the right angle to approach it from. Sometimes the song will tell you which direction to go in - and sometimes that can be very surprising. So far, I have about 250 in various stages of development. About half have been recorded - most of them acceptably so but virtually none of them has turned out the way I expected. In fact I now don't have expectations. Mostly, it's the lyrics that surprise me.
I've tried quite a few methodical approaches, but none has worked reliably yet. But I do find the process (?) enjoyable - even if it is often frustrating.
Regards, John
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby MOF » Fri Aug 09, 2019 4:29 pm

I frequently find I can come up with a verse and a chorus structure but then adding the extra bits of song structure to give it some variety (intros, bridges, middle eights) gets a lot more difficult. It's generally around then that I start having regrets about my complete absence of music theory. :(

I rarely struggle to come up with ideas, the top lines aren’t down to music theory, arrangements are though.

I tend to put a section on loop and then drag individual notes of a chord to different inversions (CEG becomes EGC or GEC) or move one note at a time within a chord up or down a semitone to get augmented or diminished chords, the same with adding an extra note on a basic chord CEG for example added A, A# B etc.

The basic chords are usually obvious from where your melody starts and ends on each phrase within the melody i.e. first and last note (bottom and top) then if it’s a sad song the middle note will be three semitones from the bottom note and four for a major. Sorry if I’m teaching Granny to suck eggs here.

I sometimes realise I’ve got two separate song ideas that can, with some tweaking, become one song. I’m doing one like that now.

My real problem is getting distracted by new songs and not finishing the old ones. That’s mostly down to not having yet replaced guide vocals with well performed vocals, improved the drum programming from basic time keeping drum tracks, less of a problem now that I use Drummer in Logic, and in some songs I need to spend some time getting better sounds on midi parts. Then it’s down to spending time on the mix downs.

For your intro’s etc have you tried reversing the notes you used in your verse or chorus or don’t use a top line, just the rhythm section (drums plus chordal instruments) of the first few bars of the verse or chorus?
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby GilesAnt » Fri Aug 09, 2019 6:33 pm

Inverting chords is always worth trying. Also try spreading them around the keyboard a bit to experiment with different voicings - some notes high, others low etc. As a keyboard player I find myself all too often 'trapped' with my right hand playing a triad around middle C somewhere and my left playing a bass line in octaves. I expect guitarists have similar problems trying to get away from playing the chord of E.

If your knowledge of harmony is limited just try some random chords - you never know what you might find.
For melodies there are some ancient devices like reversing a melody, turning it upside down in terms of the score notation (e.g. C D C F becomes C Bflat C G) or combining the two.

From the list of 6, the first is great - make sure you have two ideas, contrasting but complementary in both rhythmic and melodic ways. Not so sure about the last suggestion though - Brahms took 21 years to complete his 1st symphony because he wanted it to be perfect.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby MOF » Fri Aug 09, 2019 7:40 pm

Brahms took 21 years to complete his 1st symphony because he wanted it to be perfect.
I read it differently, I think the idea is to get it finished, if not perfect.
I’ve got old songs of a much greater vintage that I did on my old reel to reel gear that I’ve now gone back to, revised and improved, and now they are in the ever decreasing circles loop of finishing off songs. ;) Probably not helping myself by self distracting with the SOS forum, Facebook et al.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby GilesAnt » Fri Aug 09, 2019 8:19 pm

I read it the same as you - but was just pointing out that some famous names preferred perfection to completion. In fact Brahms famously destroyed any works he thought less than perfect.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby blinddrew » Fri Aug 09, 2019 11:26 pm

Cheers folks, some stuff to go and read up on. When I say my music theory is completely absent I'm afraid I'm not exaggerating. 1,4,5,6m is pretty much as far as it goes. :(
I came to music late and pretty much untutored so rest assured no egg-sucking is being taught. :)
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby MOF » Sat Aug 10, 2019 3:40 am

I came to music late and pretty much untutored so rest assured no egg-sucking is being taught. :)
What instrument(s) do you play?
If you don’t play keyboards then finding notes is easy. White notes are always the natural notes i.e. not sharpened (black note to the right) or flattened (black note to the left) by one semitone.
‘A’ is always the note between the second and third black notes in that group of three. ‘C’ is always the note before the left black note of the group of two black notes. It’s easy to work out all the others.
I think chords on keyboards are very logical but think they are impossible (short of memorising them all) on guitar.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 10, 2019 9:32 am

blinddrew wrote:1,4,5,6m is pretty much as far as it goes.

...and for many songs that's all you need. I expect you have realised that the list could be padded out with 2, 3, and 7 - and then there are all the black notes to explore too - the chromatic notes and chords. Your ears will be a better guide than theory, at least initially - the theory can help you make sense of it all later, and give you a bigger toolkit of ideas.

By the way, convention has it that chords are denoted by Roman numerals rather than digits. Upper case for major chords and lower for minor ones. Digits are then used for notes of the scale which might be added to these chords.

So for example I, II, III, IV....etc, or i, ii, iii, iv.....and V7 would indicate a dominant seventh chord....or ii6 a minor chord with an added 6th.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby blinddrew » Sat Aug 10, 2019 9:37 am

I'm mostly a guitar player but dabble in a bit of double bass, mandolin, and can bash out a few chords on piano. I did have some cello lessons for a short while but my teacher moved away and I bought the upright bass - which was much easier. :)
I guess I would say that i have a 'practical' knowledge that allows me to know that if x is following y then there's a good chance that z will also work, but I couldn't tell you why.

P.s. I'm not a luddite about this or someone who takes pride in my ignorance ;) just have limited mental capacity that is full of other stuff!
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby blinddrew » Sat Aug 10, 2019 9:39 am

GilesAnt wrote:By the way, convention has it that chords are denoted by Roman numerals rather than digits. Upper case for major chords and lower for minor ones. Digits are then used for notes of the scale which might be added to these chords.

So for example I, II, III, IV....etc, or i, ii, iii, iv.....and V7 would indicate a dominant seventh chord....or ii6 a minor chord with an added 6th.
Ah yes sorry, I knew it looked funny as I was writing it. :)
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 10, 2019 9:41 am

blinddrew wrote: I did have some cello lessons for a short while but my teacher moved away

Was your playing really that bad
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 10, 2019 9:55 am

blinddrew wrote:I guess I would say that i have a 'practical' knowledge that allows me to know that if x is following y then there's a good chance that z will also work, but I couldn't tell you why.

We probably all start out like that, and many would argue that you don't even need to know why things work.

Understanding the theory of why x, y, and z work together is satisfying in itself of course, but more importantly can open up new avenues that you might not have stumbled upon otherwise. Also the theory can help you shortcut the thinking process so you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby blinddrew » Sat Aug 10, 2019 9:59 am

Probably! :D

I think I was quite a frustrating pupil because I would really struggle with reading the music, particularly understanding the timing of a piece. But if she slipped up and made the mistake of playing it to me first, that was enough for me to be able to play it largely by ear and I would stop taking anything other than the basic note information from the music.
My pitch and fingering was generally ok though.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby blinddrew » Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:02 am

GilesAnt wrote:
blinddrew wrote:I guess I would say that i have a 'practical' knowledge that allows me to know that if x is following y then there's a good chance that z will also work, but I couldn't tell you why.

We probably all start out like that, and many would argue that you don't even need to know why things work.

Understanding the theory of why x, y, and z work together is satisfying in itself of course, but more importantly can open up new avenues that you might not have stumbled upon otherwise. Also the theory can help you shortcut the thinking process so you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time.
Yep, the thing i'm trying to work myself out of is stumbling down the same patterns again. I generally get there eventually but it takes a while.
Or I just decide that a short song is good and cut it all back so that what i have is enough. :D
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:28 am

MOF wrote:I think chords on keyboards are very logical but think they are impossible (short of memorising them all) on guitar.

I agree that chords on keys are easy to visualise but they are on guitar too, the problem is that most guitar players don't know the names of all notes on a guitar (most know the notes on the A and E strings, many don't know them above Vth fret on the other strings fluently).

Guitar chords are shape based too though and are as intuitive* to guitar players as keyboard chords are to pianists. Understanding them is easier on keys but once you have it......

* adding extensions etc. is just the same process as on keys, the difference is the distribution of the notes, a D9, for example could be D F# C E (R 3 b7 9) maybe with an E/5th on top. You can have either R 3 7 or R 5 7 in the first octave but not (usually) R 3 5 7 (C#7 using the open B would work).
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby GilesAnt » Sat Aug 10, 2019 8:39 pm

Perhaps guitarists have to work a little harder to find different ways to voice chords - learners tend to think there is only one way to play each chord as learned from chord charts.

On the keyboard it is probably a bit easier to visualise things, with the repeated patterns of 2 and 3 black notes as MOFS points out. Yes, I do see there are chord shapes on the guitar that you can use up and down the fretboard but there are fewer navigational aids, and the irregular tuning of the strings makes it harder too. If I close my eyes and play a keyboard I can orientate myself fairly quickly because of the arrangement of the black notes.

Specifically on topic then, I sometimes force myself to noodle in strange keys where I have to think a little harder. And for guitarists, maybe seek out new voicings further up the fretboard to add a little extra interest and maybe just find that next new idea.
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Re: Tips to Develop Songs from Ideas

Postby Duncanjp » Wed Aug 14, 2019 2:16 am

roalin wrote:Here are 6 ideas to help you develop a piece from an idea:

+ Create 2 ideas instead of one
+ Separate creative mind from structure mind
+ Expand first, details last
+ Build from busy to simple
+ Easier if elements function musically by themselves.
+ Better done than perfect.

I would put the last one, "Better done than perfect," at the top of the list, not the bottom. Completing songs takes practice. Twenty years ago, my then-girlfriend quipped to somebody at a party, "Yeah, he can play a hundred songs but never finishes any of them." That stung. But point taken. I started finishing everything, whether it was an original or learning a cover. Too many of my musical friends, including some in my own band, have a catalogue of unfinished originals which are no use to anybody. Still perfecting that one song they started writing in 1986. Please. Just finish it. Knock it out. Ignore perfection — because (1) it will never be perfect and (2) it's just an excuse to hedge against the critics. Damn the critics. Let your next song be the one that's perfect. Finishing your songs leads to finishing songs with ease — and building a catalogue of finished songs.
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