Strange bedfellows

Strange bedfellows

A ballroom dance known as a Waltz, places an accented beat on the first of every 3 counts.

” ONE 2 3, ONE 2 3, ONE 2 3, etc…”

The dancers tend to move more on these accented counts, using them as strong beats. The other two can sometimes be thought of as lesser steps or motions.

All 3 beats are felt, but only the first one drives the train.

Then there is Swing music, some of the most powerful, dance-inspiring music on the planet.

I’m not talking about Glen Miller’s, “In the Mood”, although that was a swing classic. But the Big Bands that could really swing hard and drive the dancers crazy, such as Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and others.

The drummer and bassist lock in on the downbeats, creating a “walking” effect that is uniquely jazz.

The rhythms of jazz are syncopated and varied, but at its core is the hard-working quarter note. Some refer to this effect as a zoom – zoom feeling, the drummers’ cymbal and the bass locked-in as one sound.

Disco, on the other hand, has strong down-beats AND upbeats on every beat. Watch the John Travolta classic, “Saturday Night Fever” to hear many popular disco songs that helped propel that music into a national craze.

The drummer pounds his bass drum on every beat. It’s called, “four on the floor”. In addition to that, he sizzles his high hat cymbals on every upbeat… producing a breathing effect that gives the music a hypnotic groove.

Musicians hated this music, saying it was brainless and simple-minded. But it served its purpose… to make people hit the dance floor.

The important thing to notice is that the quarter note is at the core of these three musical styles, as well as many other styles.

So if it’s beginning music in elementary school, or any popular music genre of today, this is your starting place for understanding different musical feels. All rhythm is a splitting or subdivision of the basic beat and/or it’s up-beat.

To sum this up, no matter how complex the music may seem, if you understand how note values relate back to the quarter note… counting and playing your song is much easier.

Yes, Frank Zappa and Bela Fleck may use 5’s, 7’s and other odd rhythms in their compositions. But for most mainstream, commercial music…the quarter notes will be divided into 2 equal parts, 3 equal parts, or 4.

There are always exceptions, (as the theory teachers are screaming.) But understanding rhythm is not difficult, if you begin with the basics. It is then much easier to learn and build from there.

Tips for Songwriting

Tips for Songwriting

Tips for Songwriting Goal #1:
Aim for Music – Not Money

Great composers, songwriters, musicians, actors, singers, etc… can get paid VERY well sometimes. But, it comes after the fact. Your first motivation must be excellence at your craft.

The goal is the product, not the paycheck. Deliver the product, and the money will often follow

(Credit: หูฟังบลูทูธ ยี่ห้อไหนดี).

Tips for SongwritingGoal #2:
Develop the skills you need.

We live in a time when information is readily available for anything you need to learn. There are more opportunities for practical music education than ever before. Online studies, Videos & DVDs, books and private teachers are everywhere.

Don’t laugh at the fact that you don’t know what a G chord is… Learn it!

Tips for Songwriting GOAL #3:
Learn all you can.

Writing music still requires skill in 3 areas: Rhythm, Melody & Harmony.

From Ragtime to Rap…those 3 areas are your playing field. Find out what your weaknesses are and be honest enough to admit it. Then, you can get the musical help you need.

Tips for Songwriting Goal #4:
With your knowledge – Get Understanding.

Knowledge is not enough. You must learn when and where to apply it. (another name for this is experience)

I recently met a young man who manages one of his father’s restaurants. His dad didn’t start him in a management position. He started at minimum wage as an entry-level employee. Now, he has done every job available to truly understand and appreciate the importance of all aspects of the franchise.

After 2 years of college studies for a degree in Business, he has decided not to go back. When we asked him why… his response was not likely to be quoted on his college website.

He said, “The business teachers don’t know what they’re talking about. If you ran a business the way they say you should, you’d lose your ass!”

Likewise, If you are always reading and learning about music but never actually writing and recording.. you can easily become another educated idiot. Get busy writing and recording your songs.

Tips for Songwriting Goal #5:
Get Wise Counsel.

Since a wise person generally gives good counsel, learn from those who are successfully doing what you hope to do. If they’ve made a living at it, they probably have some wisdom to share!

This can be a little tricky with music… and here’s why. Great musicians aren’t necessarily great teachers. In fact, they usually are not. Likewise, great songwriters aren’t always good at explaining what they do… they just have a gift for doing it.

Your job is to learn from their music. You may not learn much from what they tell you… but what you learn studying their songs is invaluable.

Along the way, you will discover your own methods and tips for songwriting that are personal and effective.

Tips for Songwriting Goal #6:
Paint Pictures with your Music.

A great song magically takes you somewhere. Great music bypasses the brain and touches our emotions in ways we don’t fully understand. It’s a Vibe.

That’s why you can hear a song you knew 20 years ago and in an instant… you are there. You feel the same feelings you had when you were singing along with that song.

Of all the essential tips for songwriting and composing I can share, this is primo. Great songs go way beyond notes and rhythms… They capture a vibe, a feeling that you couldn’t express any other way.

Close your eyes, listen to great music and let it take you somewhere. What are they doing that you need to learn?

Tips for Songwriting Goal #7:
Learn how to Match Music with Emotions.

This is related to #6, and is something that you’ll be able to take to the bank if you get it.Watch movies. No kidding… watch great movies produced by Steven Spielberg, Disney, etc., and listen to their soundtracks.

See what genre is used for the emotional impact needed on the screen. I finally realized that music I personally enjoy means something totally different to a new listener. I may think it’s beautiful and melodic, while my wife finds it sad and weepy.

Musicians tend to get into the music… not what it does to you. Perfect example is how most of us musicians grew up playing for the dance, and never actually danced . We never thought in terms of what it makes your body do.

A great song has the music that perfectly fits the meaning of the lyrics. A funny lyric probably doesn’t need minor chords and Goliath-sized drum sounds that make you want to smack somebody.

The hit, “We Will Rock You”, (by Queen), doesn’t need violins or flutes. Listen to how they achieve a musical emotion to fit/marry the lyric.

Music has an amazing vocabulary of sounds that can lead us into most any feeling desired. If you learn the skills required to touch people with music… you just might make a living as a composer or songwriter.

These suggestions are what I consider to be fundamental Techniques & Tips for Songwriting… and talk is cheap. But I’m convinced that if you learn to set the right goals, recognize your strengths & weaknesses, then honestly work to improve… you can reach your dreams.

Put Your Energy Where It Counts

Put Your Energy Where It Counts

Many tips for songwriting seem too vague or unfocused. Do you have dreams of writing music and songs for Movies, Musicals, Games, Television, etc.? The following perspective might just help you develop the necessary skills and strategies for success in today’s marketplace.

These tips for songwriting will help you establish a realistic path for your future. If your efforts and desires aren’t based in reality, you may be living somewhere known as “la-la-land”. Suppose I want to write orchestral scores for movies, but am not willing to learn about Strings and Woodwinds. I have a problem.

Likewise, if I’m going to be the next Sting, (solo artist and singer for the Police), but my bass playing and songwriting stink… who am I kidding? Too often, our dreams don’t match our skills. (Watch “American Idol” auditions for a huge dose of that.)To make matters worse, We often don’t know what skills we lack… or… what skills we need! A music career is not like other professions with clear paths for success! I can tell you!

There are no guarantees of a paycheck for your efforts. (You won’t read that on the music school advertisements, will you?) My high school guidance counselor didn’t offer “Making Money with Your Songwriting Ideas” in his bag of tricks. He was disturbed enough by the fact that I wanted to go to college to major in music. That means we have to navigate this songwriting journey without much help from the educational system.

College programs have improved…some. At least Berklee and a handful of others offer programs with an emphasis in songwriting. But the truth remains that a career in music writing has unique hardships to overcome.

Let’s imagine for a second that you are sitting down with your very own guidance counselor. (Even if you are long-past the days of school, just go with me…)

She likes you and wants to help you achieve your dreams. She doesn’t care what profession you choose as long as you can make a living doing it.

Believe it or not, she’ll probably go back to the basics:

1. What do you want to be when you grow up?

2. What skills will you need?

3. Do you have the musical gifts required? (Yes, I know it isn’t politically correct to imply that you might not… but we’re not all songwriters. Some are doctors, electricians and bankers. Thank God we’re not all wired the same way!)

4. Are you thick-skinned and motivated enough to succeed?

You want to be a songwriter/composer. That is understood. Then you must be willing to develop the skills required. And you must possess both the basic abilities AND work ethic for success. Nobody ever handed me a clearly defined road map for a career in music. Even after a Master’s Degree in Music from a respected institution… I learned most things the hard way.

One of the most important things I developed was the ability to meet a deadline. It is easy as an artist to just enjoy the creative process and not the business aspects. This tends to breed many unfinished projects, songs, plays, etc… that COULD be quite good if completed, edited and produced.

I also found that “artistic types” are fun and exciting to be around, but somebody less creative usually gets the job done. The brilliant composer may not get the job simply because he can’t deliver the music on time. People who possess time management skills tend to break a big idea down into small steps. These little steps get books written, commercials scored and CDs recorded one-piece-at-a-time.

This is what goal setting is about. Clearly defining what the problem is and then taking the right steps to solve it.

Top Recommendations to Songwriters

Top Recommendations to Songwriters

These are my top recommendations to songwriters below. I own and have used (or my friends have used) all of these and I/they were more than satisfied with them. These are no doubt the best products in their respective fields.

When David Foster accepted an award recently, he listed his top 10 pieces of advice for songwriters. One of them was that it’s important for songwriters to learn to play an instrument. For most of them it’s the piano or the guitar. Without that, you can become a songwriter but you’ll never be a “complete package”. You won’t be able to communicate with composers/collaborators efficiently. You don’t necessarily have to write music but it’s important to understand how it’s made.

But don’t worry. Learning an instrument doesn’t have to be torture. It’s not like it was 20 or 50 years ago. These days there are entertaining, low-cost home-study courses that make it much simpler and faster to achieve this goal.

✓ The Gibson’s Learn and Master Guitar and Learn and Master Piano courses are the best I’ve encountered in this field. I strongly recommend that you give them a try!

✓ Masterwriter is a software program for songwriters and especially lyricists. It contains several essentially important built-in tools. Some of them you can find on the internet (like dictionaries, thesauruses) but it’s an exhausting process. And some of the important lyric writing tools in Masterwriter you simply cannot find anywhere else.

✓ Finale SongWriter is a piece of music notation software for songwriters who compose music and have at least a basic knowledge of music theory. It’s quite inexpensive and helps a lot in capturing, editing and printing music you’ve written. I’ve been using Finale Songwriter for a couple of years and to me it’s become indispensable.

Music Writing That Uses a Blueprint

Music Writing That Uses a Blueprint

Is your music writing missing something? Do you wonder why other people don’t like your songs as much as you do?

As a musician that has made a living helping others get their songs performed and recorded, I find that the end results are often less satisfying for the team of musicians, engineers and studio staff than for the artist.

It seems that 99% of the time, the artist is thrilled with the final product. The rest of the group, unfortunately, is not.

Everyone is pleased that the client is happy, of course, but they are also, painfully aware of problems and limitations with the songs themselves. What’s going on? I think I can point you to several common problems and then offer solutions.

First, I believe Technology has outrun talent in music writing today.

We’ve got computers with programs for music writing, recording, editing, sampling and correcting even the weakest of lyricists, musicians & singers.

But what if the SONG isn’t worth fixing? The result…? Songs that don’t work.. but sound great.

Secondly, I see that many aspiring songwriters do not have CLEAR GOALS for writing a song. They don’t lack confidence or ego, but they…
Lack of Musical Understanding.

Their music writing ends up like a buffet assortment of parts, grooves, words and licks… without a blueprint in sight.

It would be like me going to LOWE’s or HOME DEPOT, seeing all the cool stuff and deciding to build a house. I’ll take a few windows, those doors look nice, I need some toilets and pipes, maybe a few boards, grab some electrical cable from over there and I’m off to build a house. Good luck!

Lastly, we’re Afraid to be Simple. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen songwriters bring in tunes that were most effective with only them and their guitar. Nothing else was needed. But, they were convinced it needed all sorts of additional parts, and would not listen to experienced opinions.

Sadly, the customer is always “right”… so we made them sound like everybody else.

Let’s change gears for a minute to something totally different.

Birthdays.

Why do we sing the song,”Happy Birthday” to someone on their birthday?

To celebrate their birth. d-u-h-h—

Why do we always sing THAT song and why aren’t there lots of OTHER birthday songs to choose from?

u-u-u-u-u-u-h-h-h-h….

If you’ve been losing sleep over this, let me help you out.

1. It Works.
No electricity, marketing or musicianship needed.

2. Clear Goal.
No deep, hidden meanings. Obvious and to-the-point.

3. It’s Simple.
It was originally written (with different lyrics), for children. Easily sung & quickly memorized.

So with all the songs and songwriters in the world, the best we can come up with is…

A four-word sentence… HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU

Repeat it… HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU

Repeat it again with a variation… HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR FRED

Repeat it one more time. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU

What have you got….?

One of the most popular songs ever.

Now I’m not suggesting that writing a song should always copy this model.

Although, I can think of a hit song that uses this exact form . “You Are So Beautiful”, written by Billy Preston, recorded by Joe Cocker. Check it out. (And it is soooo beautiful!)

Simplicity is appreciated everywhere, in business, in economics, in education and in life. The most bang for the least buck…it’s what we all want.

Simple, Easy,and Memorable Music Writing.. How difficult can it be?

Piece of cake, right?

The Rhythm Family

The Rhythm Family

To understand music rhythm, the quarter note is our guide. He is the foot-tapping, neck-bobbing, rhythm-roadie that all rhythms are based on.

Most music is played “in tempo” with a steady beat. This beat is where you feel the music, like when your toes tap. If you ever played in the school marching band, you marched “in time” with this beat. It is recurring, steady & regular – like a clock ticking.

I’m calling this beat or pulse the Quarter note. It is felt and counted “on the beat”. When marching, there is one step for every quarter count. Every time your foot hits the ground, it is a “downbeat”.

Likewise, when you lift your leg, there is a moment when your knee is highest called the “upbeat”. You have now divided 1 beat into 2 equal parts: The downbeat and the upbeat.

If you can divide a quarter into 2 parts, it makes sense that you can divide it into other note values(rhythms) as well. All the other rhythms… 8ths, 16ths, 32nds, etc., are divisions of this important note.

The Family Tree of Rhythm comes from a single Trunk… Quarter Notes.

I can hear the music theory scholars yelling, “that’s not always true… what about 2/2, 6/8 and other time signatures where the quarter note doesn’t get one beat”. Call 911. Maybe even the Musician’s Union… they’ll send someone right out.

There are exceptions, but this concept is a good place to start.

Rolling Along with Triplets!

Rolling Along with Triplets!

Triplets are fun!

They have a relaxed & rollin-along sort of feel that is very different from all the other rhythms. Like rolling a ball instead of bouncing it.

They are used in all genres.

The “feel-good” music of early Jazz, Rock’n Roll, Blues, Country, Hip-Hop — all of these depended on triplets as the basis for hundreds, even thousands of songs.

The best way to learn it, is to feel it… experience it.

You’ll hear it at the GRAMMY awards each year. But it is one of the oldest rhythms we know, from earliest African traditions.

European traditions were based on notes being divided equally, into 2 or 4 parts. They used triplets, but as a variation… not the norm.

Many of the African dances and rhythm patterns were based on the basic pulse having 3 parts.These grooves were powerful and effective for calling people together for celebrations or preparation for war.

The potential for multiple rhythms, unexpected accents and syncopation is huge. Those drummers could work folks into a dancing frenzy long before DJ’s arrived. : )

Thousands of years later, a triplet groove still MAKES YOU SHAKE YOUR GROOVE THANG.

IT JUST DOES.

Ever heard Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?” Can you listen to that without smiling and moving something. If so, you’re 6 feet under and just haven’t noticed, yet.

It’s a great example of the whole band just laying it down fat & funky while Stevie does his thing over the top.

Check out the chart below to see the triplet’s value in relation to the quarter note.

THE FEEL OF A TRIPLET

It isn’t square, but is evenly spaced.
It “rounds the edges” of the beat, but is rhythmically precise.

You can’t cut it in half, like eighth & sixteenth notes, but it does have a front and a back.

It doesn’t go up & down like a March, but is steady as a rock.

It swings… and is used in Swing & Jazz music countless ways.

It shuffles. A term that drummers use often to describe a feel used in all genres, from Hip-Hop to Country.

If you haven’t read our other rhythm pages, you might want to start with Quarter Notes.

The more you practice, the more you learn to “round out those edges” and work that feel…no matter if it’s jazz, country, or hip-hop! You’ll be rollin’ along!

Did you miss…

The Ups & Downs of Melody

The Ups & Downs of Melody

A great melody seems to use just the right music intervals. Ascending, Descending… or not moving at all. They fit together like pieces in a musical puzzle.

Let’s look at how even the smallest intervals can have a huge impact on your songwriting. What is a music interval?music interval?

It is simply the distance between 2 notes.

Melodies and Scales are constructed with 2 INTERVALS:

 

  • Half-steps &
  • Whole Steps.

 

So, you mean all the belly-aching, headaches and hair-pulling about scales can be blamed on these 2 little thorns in our sides? Yep.

If you learn these two intervals well enough to Recognize, Write and Play them, there’s not a scale (or melody) alive you can’t figure out.

QUICK REVIEW – Two half-steps make a whole. Got it?…Got it.

A HALF-STEP is the smallest interval on the piano keyboard. It is the distance from a white key to a black key. Also, the distance from a white key to an adjacent white key.

A WHOLE-STEP is two half-steps combined. It is the distance from a white key to a white key IF there is a black key separating them. It is also a black key to black key IF one white key separates them.

A guitar fretboard works the same way. With only 6 strings, the intervals on each string are based on half-steps(fret to fret) and whole steps, (skip a fret).

All music intervals are built on the Half Step/Whole Step grid.

SO WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM?
The quickest way to apply your knowledge of intervals is with familiar tunes. Take melodies you already know, and learn the theory behind them.

Do you remember the song, “Row, Row, Row your Boat”? Let’s make it easy… If you know this song, you know these music intervals:

  • Major 2nd
  • Major 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Octave
  • AND… you sing a TRIAD. (Didn’t know you were so smart!)

That is a lot of bang for the buck, guys.

(For more understanding of numbers representing notes,
please read A Music Notation Shorthand.)

So, in our example, we used almost every interval in the major scale, in that one tune.

(We did not use the Major 6th & 7th, since it isn’t in the melody.)

That’s OK. There are examples of music intervals everywhere!

Very cool word painting here! His melody drops down to the 6th to tell us he “called…”

Then, the melody drops again(7) but not as low, to lead us “to say…”

Then “I LOVE YOU” …….. Brings “You” back up to his starting pitch. Perfect!

I doubt Stevie broke it down like that while writing it. For all I know, as gifted as he is, he woke up one morning and played it in his studio… the whole thing!

But we can analyze the melodic gold nuggets that great songwriters leave behind.

This is a perfect example of how theory can help you grow. Your ear gets better at discovering new twists and turns you hadn’t noticed before.

A simple little ditty can show you something about music intervals that might take a song of yours from fair to GREAT.

So, to wrap it up, (even though “We’ve Only Just Begun…”), sorry… 🙂

Music intervals can be identified two different ways:

  • The distance from the first note of a major scale to any other note in the scale.
  • Or by adding the number of half-steps.

You can now identify any interval within the Major scale.

Begin to listen analytically. To your favorite melodies. French melodies, Celtic melodies, Christmas melodies, Blues melodies, even melodies you hate… I don’t care which ones, as long as you learn from them.

They are all different in their up & down motions. They each lean toward certain intervals as trademark sounds.

The intelligent use of music intervals is the foundation of unforgettable melodies… good & bad.

You’ll begin to see how huge these little Half-steps really are. They can make or break a tune.

Don’t tell anybody, but one day, you might even enjoy practicing your scales.

Songwriting ideas, tips and techniques

Songwriting ideas, tips and techniques

Isn’t it great when you find the exactsongwriting ideas, tips and techniques that today’s songwriters are using to write, create, compose, arrange and record today’s hit songs?

Well, you’ve come to the right place my friend because I know the exact type of songwriting information that you’re looking for:

1. Today’s songwriting ideas, tips and techniques to create great melodies and harmonic chord progressions.

2. Don’t worry about writer’s block ever again – use today’s lyrical ideas to write out experiences and lyrics that express exactly how you feel – in any genre of music.

3. Use today’s popular song structures.

4. Learn the basic’s of songwriting to create that fundamental education that you need in order to keep creating, composing and recording great songs.

This is exactly what I strive to do……you know why? because it is exactly what I Love to do! that’s why!

Isn’t it fantastic when you complete a demo of a song and you feel so good for creating such a beautiful song. It gives you more confidence, security and inspiration to keep writing and composing more songs.

In songwriting-ideas.com I aim to deliver high quality free content with tons of great ideas, tips and techniques to help you write, compose and record hit songs that are waiting to be unleashed from within your inspiration and creativity.

Why? because sometimes we just need the right tools, ideas, tips, techniques and resources to guide us along the way, the process of great and enjoyable songwriting – the way it should be!

So Welcome and enjoy!!

That’s all for now, please feel free to subscribe to my newsletter for more ideas, tips and techniques.

Music Scale 101

Music Scale 101

A music scale is a series of notes, which ascend and descend in a specific order. Usually the notes of a scale belong to a single key. So they provide material for or being used to conveniently represent part or all of a musical work, together with the melody and harmony. Scales are ordered in pitch. The two most important categories in popular music are the major and minor scales.

Major Scales

Major scales sound bright and lively. All scales begin and end with the same note. For example, the F major scale begins with an F note and then ends with an F note. It’s true for all the other keys.

A major scale consists of two whole steps, one half step, three whole steps then a half step again: WS-WS-HS-WS-WS-WS-HS (WH stands for whole step, HS stands for half step, i.e. a whole note and a half note.)

Only the C major scale HAS no sharps or flats in it.

So here are all the major scales:

Minor Scales

A minor music scale sounds melancholic. melancholic. There are three types of minor scales:

Natural Minor Scale

Here are all the natural minor scales:

Natural minor music scales have a whole step, a half step, two whole steps, a half steps, and two whole steps formula: WS-HS-WS-WS-HS-WS-WS.

Harmonic Minor Scale

Raise the seventh note of the scale by a half-step as you go up and down the scale. For example:
Natural C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C
Harmonic C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – B – C

Melodic Minor Scale

Raise the sixth and seventh notes of a scale by a half step as you go up the scale and then return to the natural minor as you go down the scale. For example:
Melodic C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – A – B – C (as you go up the scale)
Natural C Minor Scale = C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C (as you go down the scale)