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Any Tips on Writing Instrumentals?

Discussion in 'Sidewinders Bar & Grille' started by RnR Nolan, Feb 12, 2018.

  1. RnR Nolan

    RnR Nolan Strat-Talker

    Age:
    18
    204
    Sep 5, 2017
    Chandler, AZ
    Hello everyone,

    I've been playing the guitar for about 5 years now but only really seriously started learning it around 2 years ago.

    Recently I've gotten good enough (I think) to start making some music of my own. I've been making mostly instrumentals since I don't sing, but also since I'm just in that mood right now. I'm going through some rough times right now and as a result, I am inspired to compose mellower music as opposed to upbeat joyful music...

    Anyway, from a composing standpoint, I feel like I'm stuck as far as getting better at songwriting and arranging specifically. My problem is that I have trouble actually moving the song anywhere... For example, I may play a little riff or passage that I really like, and then I tend to have that same thing repeat throughout the whole song without having any different parts to the song. Essentially, it's almost like I'm jamming along to a loop and it gets boring to listen to.


    My question is, do any of you have any tips on writing an instrumental piece? Also, how are some ways you get inspired? Do you have a certain way you go about writing music like this? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.


    If you'd like to listen to some of the music I made to get an idea of where I am and what I'm talking about, I have a link in my signature for the only 3 songs I made that I think are tolerable and somewhat complete. Currently, I have them on Spotify and YouTube.


    Thanks for reading, and I'm thankful for any tips. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  2. fezz parka

    fezz parka On...for Omar. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 21, 2011
    Undisclosed.
    I come up with a melody or theme. Write it like a song with verses, chorus, middle eight, solo section.

    One of mine:

     

  3. Rudi

    Rudi Senior Stratmaster

    Apr 19, 2016
    Brisvegas
    I just listened to the 3 pieces on you tube.
    I like what you’re doing. Your emotions are coming through
    And that’s a good thing in my world.
    Maybe try to write structured like verse, verse, chorus, verse and than
    break the rules to your liking.
    Most importantly, keep going you’re doing well.
     
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  4. knh555

    knh555 Senior Stratmaster

    Age:
    46
    Dec 6, 2016
    Massachusetts
    I wouldn't dream to know more about this than @fezz parka, but as someone who only came to writing and recording original instrumentals a bit over two years ago, I think I can relate to your situation. Here's what I've learned.

    I start with the chord progression and build around that. The progression's rhythms and changes determine what melodies might work. (Unless you're @dogletnoir, then you can make anything work) I also think in terms of energy, which for me is a good way to think about developing a song to "take it somewhere". Don't get too big too fast or you'll have nowhere to go.

    There are lots of ways to build or reduce energy. On the rhythm track, a simple change in how the chords are picked or strummed, or perhaps adding another instrument partway through, like an acoustic guitar, might do the trick, all without changing the chord progression. The melody can build by moving it around to different parts of the fretboard. Higher pitches tend to impart more tension, all else being equal.

    In terms of workflow, once I lay down the foundation (rhythm and chord progression) I'll compose live in my DAW one verse or chorus at a time. This allows me to hear how the song develops verse to verse and chorus to chorus. If you're composing, you don't need to perform it end-to-end. I don't know if you're doing that, but it's worth stating.

    Here's an example on the mellow side of things to give you an idea of how I attempted to build and release tension with multiple parts and moving the melody up and down the fretboard. This is capo'ed on 4 and played in C# minor. Don't be shy about exploring the capo to give you access to open strings and useful drones.




    These are just tools and approaches, however. Sometimes, I'll nail something I like as a one-take beginning-to-end jam and I'm done. This can be most satisfying, but particularly difficult to recreate, at least for me.

    For this next one, once I figured out the chords to pick through and built a little melodic content into it folk-style, I wrote out a structure, recorded it, then improvised a lead over it by feel and decided it needed nothing more than the two acoustic parts. Sometimes you're simply in the right state of mind to create. If you don't like it, do it again. Or sit on the progression for a week or month or whatever. I've certainly done that to good effect. Use your ears and emotions and you'll know if it's right.




    BTW, here at Strat-Talk, we did both of these as challenges and jams at Sidewinders within the last year. As a new member, I recommend you mosey our way and partake. You'll get lots of encouragement and lots of practice.

    A lot of the fun of doing this is the journey and learning what works for you when creating original music. I love instrumentals and like to think of the lead guitar as a vocal. I also love to intertwine two similarly-toned guitar parts. It can get a bit busy and I definitely overdo it sometimes, but when I nail it, it's very satisfying. My point is, take the tips you pick up from the group here and experiment and enjoy the journey. Don't force it trying to get a particular song complete. Unless you're a pro with a paycheck on the line, this is simply about making music. Follow your instincts and they will keep developing.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  5. knh555

    knh555 Senior Stratmaster

    Age:
    46
    Dec 6, 2016
    Massachusetts

    ^^^^^^
    What he said. I like your stuff.
     

  6. BallisticSquid

    BallisticSquid Senior Stratmaster

    Oct 12, 2016
    US
    First off, @RnR Nolan, you have some cool stuff going with your tunes. A nice variety of sounds and nice playing. Very much enjoyed listening to your tunes!

    My "writing" has been done in terms of improving over backing tracks or recording tracks for covers. I've employed what @knh555 is talking about regarding energy...that's a good analogy I think. In my mind, I envision an arc...sometimes I take it back to the beginning, sometimes it ends up someplace different from where it started....it just has to move somewhere.

    I think @knh555 illustrated how this can work quite well (awesome stuff btw). I like how the layers of instrumentation vary throughout. Makes it very interesting to listen to.


    I recently recorded something for a project with contributions from a bunch of local guitarists. I took a chord progression I had been fiddling with for about a year. I extended it a bit and sat down to record what I thought was going to be a scratch track...2 rhythm tracks and an improvised lead. I was happy with about 80% of what I came up with, so I just cleaned some things up. Always have "tape rolling" because you never know when inspiration will find you.
     
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  7. knh555

    knh555 Senior Stratmaster

    Age:
    46
    Dec 6, 2016
    Massachusetts

    That's simply awesome @fezz parka. 60's TV theme?
     

  8. fezz parka

    fezz parka On...for Omar. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 21, 2011
    Undisclosed.
    A surf /hot rod tune I wrote for my old band Keg Rocket. It does have a TV theme vibe though. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  9. RnR Nolan

    RnR Nolan Strat-Talker

    Age:
    18
    204
    Sep 5, 2017
    Chandler, AZ
    Nice! That's a great track you got there. I also love the artwork for the song. :p

    Thanks for listening! I'm glad you think the emotions are coming through. That's good to hear.


    Thanks everyone for the advice so far. I'll do my best to use it from now on. :)
     

  10. fezz parka

    fezz parka On...for Omar. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 21, 2011
    Undisclosed.
    Here's some little shizz to remember:

    Chord progressions are harmonized scales.

    There are three main progressions to learn :

    Major, minor and circle.

    C Major (harmonized from the major scale CDEFGAB ) :
    I-C / ii-Dm / iii-Em / IV-F / V-G / vi-Am / vii*-Bdim.

    A Minor (relative to C Major, harmonized from the A natural minor scale ABCDEFG ):
    i-Am/ii°-Bdim/III-C/iv-Dm/v-Em/VI-F/VII-G.

    Same chords as the C major progression played starting on the vi instead of the I.

    Circle progressions:

    Major Circle chord progression: I-IV-vii*-iii-vi-ii-V-I.

    In C: Cmaj7-Fmaj7-Bm7b5-Em7-Am7-Dm7-G7-Cmaj7.

    The Minor Circle progression is this: i-iv-VII-III-VI-ii*-V-i.

    In A (relative minor to C major): Am7-Dm7-G7-Cmaj7-Fmaj7-Bm7b5-E7-Am

    All of your basic turnarounds back to the one will be in the circle progressions.

    Everything you need to build a song is above. Once you know these progressions, and can transpose them to other key centers, the world will be your oyster. :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  11. montemerrick

    montemerrick spiritual birthday, April 1 Strat-Talk Supporter

    so that's where the ii* V i and ii V I come from... thanks, I needed that!
     
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  12. fezz parka

    fezz parka On...for Omar. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 21, 2011
    Undisclosed.
    Dances right around the Circle of Fifths. Circle....geddit? ;)
     
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  13. Thrup'ny Bit

    Thrup'ny Bit Grand Master Curmudgeon Strat-Talk Supporter

    Age:
    59
    May 21, 2010
    Sheffield, UK
    Go Fourth, young man, backwards.(5,3,6) :p
     
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  14. montemerrick

    montemerrick spiritual birthday, April 1 Strat-Talk Supporter

    i'm really enjoying the period i'm in right now ... lots of connections in my understanding of how this or that thing fit together and the inseparable nature of chords and scales ... trying to play Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Tony Joe White is showing me how much you need to know where all your notes are as you move through the progression and the kind of rightness that is the only way i can describe how a melody flows through the progression ... like running the rapids or any river in its bank ... in any case, happy days in the woodshed are not as frequent as i'd like and this period of a growing mental model that is actually useful (and exquisite) is much appreciated, no matter how short-lived it ends up being ...
     
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  15. fezz parka

    fezz parka On...for Omar. Strat-Talk Supporter

    Apr 21, 2011
    Undisclosed.
    Perfect.

    Once you realize chord progressions come from harmonizing scales, it increases your field of vision, and the depth of that field. You'll come to find that (as Howard used to say) that through voice leading and thematic development, any note can lead to any note, and any chord can lead to any chord. The voice leading is the bridge, and the thematic development gives the continuity....the road that crosses the bridges that bring you back to where you started. Music is a circle. :)
     
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  16. Brian H

    Brian H Senior Stratmaster

    Feb 7, 2016
    Delaware

    I try find some melody to replace what would have been vocals and try to resist the temptation to solo too much.

     

  17. Nate D

    Nate D Senior Stratmaster

    Age:
    37
    Apr 2, 2016
    Ohio
    I'd write it like I didn't have to sing along with it...
     
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  18. Uncle Fiesta

    Uncle Fiesta Senior Stratmaster

    This is perhaps the best advice of all. If you make it too complicated, guitar players will listen to it ... but nobody else.

    You can of course be a little more adventurous with the melody than a song would. With a song the melody can be fairly basic, as the words give you an extra layer of interest. Take those away, and the melody is all you have, so it needs to grab the listener's attention. Then keep it.

    So not too complicated, not too basic. It's a fine line!
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  19. RnR Nolan

    RnR Nolan Strat-Talker

    Age:
    18
    204
    Sep 5, 2017
    Chandler, AZ
    That's some pretty important advice. That is one thing I realized I need to do. I'm currently working on it. I'm bad with melodies at the moment.

    Also, great song Brian!
     

  20. knh555

    knh555 Senior Stratmaster

    Age:
    46
    Dec 6, 2016
    Massachusetts
    If you wanna make a go at it, this week's jam gives you a chance to take an 8+ minute endless 2-chord progression and try to build tension and be interesting. If 8 minutes is too daunting, try two or three minutes and fade it out. Whatever works for you. This lets you practice what we're talking about while seeing how others approach the same track. I made two goes at it myself, with more of a focus on building tension in the second take. Anyway, here it is:

    http://www.strat-talk.com/threads/weekly-jam-no-75.463289/
     
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