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Chords or melody first? What's your preference and why?


Andier

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I've been trying to write something these days. But for a newb I found it hard to figure out something to start with.. So basically I tried some chord patterns used in some songs. They are inspiring, but it would be hard to think and play outside the frame.... Some melodies I wrote, they stick to the chords so tightly that it becomes too straightforward..

 

So when starting from scratch, what do you think first? How do you develop a whole song?

 

Thanks~ Any feedback is appreciated :)

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I guess I start with a feeling... it might be the feeling prompted by a bit -- or more -- of lyric I want to build around... it might just be a feeling...

 

And, often enough, I'll be fooling around with a guitar and come up with a set of chords that moves me at the moment. It might well be chords I've used before but there's usually something a little different in the feel or perhaps just where I want the feel to go.

 

For me, melody tends to grow out of the chords and the harmonic movement of those chords through the song... (though, occasionally, the melody will suggest itself quite forcefully and I'll root around for the chords to support it, which is usually pretty easy at this point, for me).

 

Since the chord structure both tends to limit and suggest possibilities, having some chord underneath me typically gives me a start on the melody... from there it's usually just a matter of singing it different ways, sometimes tinkering the chords or the way they change or the playing. And, of course, when I find that melody starting to sound overly familiar (or as it's known around here, "too right"), I become leery that I'm inadvertantly rewriting someone else's melody and I try to go on guard against that.

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I generally come up with extremely dull melodies when I start with the chords. If I'm on the piano, I will sometimes trace out the chords and find an interesting melody, but I get really droney strumming and singing. I usually have a melody, then try to figure out the chords that fit underneath it, and end up somewhere slightly off from where I started. Either I want to add a more interesting chord, and drag the melody along, or I'm not able to find the chord I had in mind.

 

I guess I always have a lyrical idea before I start getting the music. I'll usually have the first line, tag line, or a chorus, and I'll reverse engineer the chord progression, then finish out the lyric.

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Thank you for you inputs.~~

 

I've been playing guitar for a while, but not long enough to be familiar with all the scales. So it would be a little difficult to play whatever I want on the guitar. Turning to a piano is a good idea, at least it's more intuitional.

 

Just like blue2blue said.... I always come up with a "too right" melody ... Maybe I'll make some "melody first" attempts. I guess I just don't have enough experience to discover the possible melodies..

 

Another thing is... What do you think of those theorems on textbooks? like a IV is not supposed to follow a V or anything similar..

 

I'm still not familiar with such "rules" or experience.. so basically I'm still working blindly, and solely base on hearing. I try and listen. If I feel happy then it's ok... But I know this is not the right way... But I don't know what I can do to improve..

 

have you been through such a phase ..? long long ago .....?

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Another thing is... What do you think of those theorems on textbooks? like a IV is not supposed to follow a V or anything similar..

 

 

Those rules were intended for more structured music than your general rock/pop music. I think they were disregarded by the contemporary "folk" musicians of their time, and are best disregarded altogether today.

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Normally I just try out things, for example I say, "Right, I'm gonna make a melody. It's going to have 6 notes in 4/4 time, 2 of them a quarter notes (2 beats altogether, 1 beat each) and the rest will be eighth notes."

 

So that's 2 quarter notes and 4 eighth notes. then I just need a scale to pull out the right notes (eg A, G, etc).

 

Okay, I haven't done it with the scales, but that's probably all I need to do to make a decent melody. Instead I just pulled out random notes off the fretboard, and this is NOT the way to go. Scales have 8 notes which are all somehow, mathematically or otherwise, related to each other, and that is why they sound good! So a god piece of advice would to get a scale chart or book of some kind.

 

But I do the melody first, as you might have noticed :p , and erm, yeah....

 

but about what blue2blue said about starting with a feeling.... I was feeling really crap the other week, as one of my best friends, if not my best friend, had moved away unexpectedly and my cat had died. Might not seem like a big deal, but I saw my friend every single weekday while he was here and my cat had been with me for 20 years. Well, with my family for 20 years. I'm only about 15 years old, so she's been there all my life. So they were both pretty big shocks.

 

So anyway, i sat down with my guitar and decided to write a song about my friend and Lily the cat, how unexpected their departures were and how everything seemed to be dissolving. And I just randomly played a melody. It sounded good. I recorded it so I didn't forget it, and took notes out, put more in, changed it around a bit and experimented to see what worked best. I moved onto the other strings and up and down the fretboard. Now I have an almost completed song, that takes place mostly on the D, G and B strings. It's kind of upbeat, despite its origin.

 

WOOOO! So, in conclusion, try to channel your feelings and most of all, what is happening around you into music, and also maybe try that scale thing I ranted on about at the beginning of this (lengthy) post.

 

erm, I didn't know I had written this much. oops.

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Yeah ~ I got your point...

 

Sometimes I do feel emotional.. But it's now always possible to translate your feeling to a proper melody.. I guess I just need more experiments..

 

And I do understand that there are different ways for different people. Some people are more sensitive to words, some can easily find a set of chords. And I'll probably have to find a way of my own.

 

I'll start trying~ thanks :)

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I've been trying to write something these days. But for a newb I found it hard to figure out something to start with.. So basically I tried some chord patterns used in some songs. They are inspiring, but it would be hard to think and play outside the frame.... Some melodies I wrote, they stick to the chords so tightly that it becomes too straightforward..


So when starting from scratch, what do you think first? How do you develop a whole song?


Thanks~ Any feedback is appreciated
:)

 

Someone posted a link to this free web service site (ad-driven), http://www.chordstudio.com/ -- and, while it's very basic, it looks like it might be a good way to jog your creativity a little and maybe even get over a creative hump.

 

It basically works a little like Band in a Box -- you plug some chords into a fake book like bar grid and it generates a basic arrangement. It lacks much of the finesse and customization features of the (pay for) Band in a Box -- but that also makes it pretty easy to grasp and use, too.

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I'd say 80% of the time I do the chords first, but as a fingerpicker I allow myself quite a bit of flexibility to go outside just the notes in the chord while coming up with the melody, adding my pinky or moving lifting up fingers and what not. Then once I have the melody I'll often simplify the guitar again, so that the extra note is just in the vocals, giving it an interesting effect.

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From all I have read in interviews you are basically going to have to try a bunch of different methods and see what makes songs the best for you or the project. If it's metal then I want to start with guitar riffs although I some how found the riffs where more flexible and made songs mostly with the drums.

 

I think you will develop a best way for the style you are trying to get based on what works for you as an individual. One way I have heard is to go with a formula. Kind of like how the other poster did by deciding on a timing signature and how many notes per bar. But there are other formulas, just take a part of a song you like and mimic it in a way. You like a song, hey it's the drums that drive that song and the repetitive guitar adds to the feel.

Mimic this with your instruments. try a bunch of different ways and see which works?

 

There are other formulas like copying the structure of a whole song and tempo. But you fill it with whatever you want in whatever feel that you think works. This facilitates in figuring out what kind of time (like 30 secs for the verse etc.) it takes to put a good bridge or whatever. I have never been able to do this one, but I will be trying this formula. I imagine you can come up wit a few more. But for the start it helps to sit with a stop watch and listen to songs with it. Figure out the basic drum tempo by counting the snare hits for a while, like 15 seconds or maybe just do a whole minute and make a note of how long the intro verse, chorus bridge are.

 

Make a diagram for example: Intro/verse1/chorus1/verse1/chorus2/bridge/verse/outro

 

Make notes on where the song faded in or faded out, how many seconds? Did the song come back with a little bit of a different sound after the bridge? Was it higher in notes or lacked the heaviness and kind of was spaced out in the intro. wind down or drive into repetition until it? Note all of this and use a similar structure or change it.

 

Maybe you don't like drum intro's or you want to do fade outs but you like the time of the songs. You just change the structure to fit the song you are creating as you create it. this tought me, although I can't do bridges that well at all and solos etc. I am a sucky composer, but this helped me with structure and timing. Form there you get to know which instrument is best.

 

I have yet to do it but I really want to study the structure of Aerosmith songs. They have a great flow with their ballads and generally have some great tunes. But the songs I am making now don't fit this mold to well. But there is something to learn anyway.

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I have yet to do it but I really want to study the structure of Aerosmith songs. They have a great flow with their ballads and generally have some great tunes. But the songs I am making now don't fit this mold to well. But there is something to learn anyway.

 

 

Good point DougH and one I practice. I listen to the artists I admire over and over until I understand the structure of the songs and the production which also plays a HUGE role in a songs success. Once you learn what a successful artist does you can start to write your songs and think "What would so and so do here?" I have found this to be a tremendous help in getting past "blocks".

 

Also, another great point you make is to listen to a part of a song you really like and in your own way, mimic it and make it something new. This is how John Lennon wrote a lot of his material and I have done this as well when ideas ran dry. There is nothing to be ashamed of here because if you let your voice bleed into the music, the song will be yours. You will have your own lyrics and your melody will start to come out of the one you "borrowed", and the same goes for the groove.

 

Several years ago I wrote a song that was totally acoustic folk and I had no idea how I was going to produce the track considering most of my songs to that point were in the lite rock category. One night it occurred to me that U2s "With or Without You" production would work quite nicely with this song and thats the direction I took it. Now people listen to the song and say that it reminds them of U2 but its me. Theres an example of taking a band you love and taking their production ideas, throwing in your own and coming up with your own song and sound and at the same time, paying tribute to the greats before us.

 

Keep Rocking,

EB

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I'm always interested to hear how my favorite groups/artists write. Some bands, like Queen, tend to write the music first before they start plugging lyrics into it. (You can sort of see this process in action on a documentary made about the recording of the "One Vision" single.) Others write lyrics first and then try to put music to the words. (I'm fairly sure Elvis Costello writes this way, but I could be wrong...)

 

For myself...well, I currently write lyrics and give them to my singer who does the music part. When I've tried to write music and lyrics, I tend to write a chord progression, then the lyrics, then the vocal melody. I'll write to the rhythm in the chord progression, but I try not to think melody when I'm coming up with the words. It tends to paralyze my brain. :freak:

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Okay, I haven't done it with the scales, but that's probably all I need to do to make a decent melody. Instead I just pulled out random notes off the fretboard, and this is NOT the way to go. Scales have 8 notes which are all somehow, mathematically or otherwise, related to each other, and that is why they sound good! So a god piece of advice would to get a scale chart or book of some kind.

 

 

I never really thought about it, but that's a good point about scales. I think those piano lessons I had as a kid really helped me out, as much as I hated them at the time. Now, I was never a good student; I got yelled at by the instructor quite a few times, because I never wanted to practice. I was also a music major for a brief period in college, but it didn't work out for similar reasons. However, I'm realizing all those scales the teachers drilled into my actually came in handy. Even though I can't sight read to save my life, by knowing what is a major scale, minor scale (harmonic and melodic), and blues scale, and exactly what notes work with which chords, I can "see" a melody better. It really helps out a lot with composing melodies.

 

I don't think there's anything wrong with pulling out random notes either. If that works for you, that's great. But if you ever get stuck, it's certainly handy to have a basic understanding of scales and theory to help you out.

 

 

Also, another great point you make is to listen to a part of a song you really like and in your own way, mimic it and make it something new. This is how John Lennon wrote a lot of his material and I have done this as well when ideas ran dry. There is nothing to be ashamed of here because if you let your voice bleed into the music, the song will be yours. You will have your own lyrics and your melody will start to come out of the one you "borrowed", and the same goes for the groove.

 

 

I do that all the time; it's a lot of fun to try and mimic a song you like, and yeah--it usually doesn't end up sounding like what you're trying to mimic, which is often a good thing.

 

BTW--in response to the original question, I normally do chords first (after lyrics), melody second. This is just my own preference, but the other way around can be good too. Whatever works. There are no rules, just guidelines.

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dang ... i have to revise my answer

 

actually, what i usually (usually) do is come up with

 

1. a neat piece of melody; or

 

2. a neat phrase (lyrics wise)

 

and then, i get to the guitar and explore around a bit

 

eventually, i end up with a structure for the song

 

then i fill in the blanks

 

and finish the lyrics last

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