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Tips, thoughts & information on music & drumming.

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It's fairly common knowledge that both music & musical notation have their basis in mathematics. Each note within the system is assigned a specific time value and each relates to the others in a logical, mathematical way.

· One 1/16 note is equal to the value of two 1/32 notes

· One 1/8 note equals two 1/16 notes

· One 1/4 note equals two 1/8 notes....and so-on.


All very consistent, right? At first glance, it would seem so. Until you examine the way in which we deal with triplets. ^_^

For those of you not familiar with the concept of triplets, I'll briefly explain.

Essentially, triplets occur whenever 3 evenly spaced notes are played within a musical space designed to accommodate only 2 notes.

For example.....

· In 4/4 time a 1/4 note occupies the space of 1-full-count, which equates to 1/4 of the total measure.

· As was stated previously, one 1/4 note = two 1/8 notes

· But if 3 evenly spaced notes are played in place of those two 1/8 notes, the result is referred to as a "triplet".


The way in which triplets are played doesn't pose a problem for me. It's our traditional notation of them that I question.

In my mind, the problem is simple. When the actual time value assigned to a note changes, so should the numeric value of the symbol (note) used to represent it. But, that's not the case with triplets! When a 3-note-triplet is played in place of two 1/8 notes, the resulting triplet is shown by inserting three 1/8 notes in place of the original two. So...to quickly summarize, two 1/8 notes = one 1/4 note....except in the case of a triplet?????? Who in the world thought that was a good idea? That's every bit as consistent as saying that two 1/8 notes = one 1/4 note, except on Tuesdays.....when the moon is full-LOL Come-on!


Would it have been better to create a 1/12 note? If three 1/12 notes had been used to fill the space of a 1/4 note, that would have been mathematically consistent. So why wasn't it set up that way?

For the past few months, I've been constructing a series of tutorials on shuffle rhythms. "Shuffles" happen to be built upon the same framework as triplets. That's what got me thinking about this little inconsistency. Honestly, I haven't a clue as to why it was originally set-up this way. But, if we ever hope to inspire a change in the current system, I guess we'd need a viable alternative. As luck would have it, I did have an idea or two.

· As a drummer, I'm fully aware that 1/8 note triplets aren't the only type in use. Double-time triplets (1/16 note triplets) are also very common. So realistically, we'd probably need to create a 1/24 note in conjunction with our 1/12 note. Simple enough!

· So, how would we write our new notes? Our current system shows triplets in several ways. Generally, the number "3" is combined with either a half-moon shaped arch, or a straight-line bracket....shown either above, or below the staff. Well...we wouldn't need that number "3" anymore, but it might be useful to hang onto a familiar remnant from the old system. So how about incorporating that traditional half-moon arch? If we did that, the resulting notation might look something like this:



Would that work?

· It's no more difficult

· You'd no longer need to look above or below the staff to identify a triplet

· It would re-establish mathematical consistency within the system


So what's your opinion? Is it worth changing? After all, I'm just one guy with some impromptu thoughts on the subject? Does the idea make sense, or have I neglected to consider major obstacles in my quest to reinvent the wheel? :rolleyes: What's your take on it and is it worthy of further consideration? I'm simply hoping to get the conversation started. Hopefully, I've accomplished that!


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile



I'm going to try something different here....a dual format, 3-part blog series.

Each of these 3 installments will include:

- A 1080p video version, complete with audio & video examples

- A text-only version

Readers can select the format they're most comfortable with, or utilize both. Some who view the videos may find the text useful for review & quick reference.

The intent of the series is to deal with the thought process behind the composition. It's meant for songwriters & drummers alike.

All comments are welcome. 

YouTube Video Link - https://youtu.be/F1IDKRjpmAc


Part 1 Text

While I enjoy writing these drum tutorials, I'm always on the lookout for ways to incorporate my singer/songwriter side into them. This topic presented the opportunity to do exactly that. I've structured this series in such a way, that both drummers and non-drumming-songwriters should find it useful. Whether you compose through electronic means or utilize an actual drum kit, it's helpful to know what works best, what doesn't....and why. The thought process is the same, regardless of how the end result is achieved.

As a starting point, I thought it would be useful to come up with a short-list of variables. These are things I take into consideration when structuring drum parts for a new song.


1. What's the genre of the song?

For a multitude of reasons, I don't begin structuring a final drum part until the basics of a song are pretty well set.

By basics, I mean:

  • Melody
  • At least a rough idea of lyrical content & subject matter
  • Backing chord patterns (basics of the song's musical movement)
  • Tentative song structure (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc)

Once I have those basic components, I can tell what type of song I'm working with. That matters! Regardless of personal preference, the drum part you craft should be an appropriate match for the song & genre. For example, a typical metal drum line probably won't fit very well in a country/pop song. By itself, it may seem like a cool, impressive part. More so, if you happen to be a big fan of metal. The thing is.....no one will ever hear it by itself. It'll only be heard within the context of the song. Bottom line - writing new parts is always about how they affect the song as a whole, NOT about the part itself. As a drummer, I was slow to learn that lesson. As a songwriter, it was immediately obvious. It's simply a matter of perspective.

Genre is a vague concept. Because of that, it's not unusual for a song to straddle several. Proper arrangement choices can help push it in one direction or another. For example, say your song straddles country & pop. You could push it in the direction of country by employing twangy guitars and a country sounding drum part. For that to work, you need to know what a typical country drum part sounds like. So....regardless of your own music preference, make sure you're familiar with whatever style you're writing in.


2. How is the movement of the melody structured (meter, flow, rhythm)?

Remember...the melody is the single most important part of any song! Whether it's sung or played instrumentally,

that melody & its appeal to the listener have a huge effect on the song's overall likability.

If you're the songwriter, this is your money-maker. Protect it at all costs. If you're the drummer, you need to recognize & accept a harsh reality. Your drum part will NOT be the reason that listeners like the song! It can certainly be a contributing factor, but NOT the big reason. I know, I know....it's not fair! What can I tell you though.....it-is-what-it-is!

I was a drummer long before I became a songwriter, so I've been on both sides of this argument. Drummers want to write challenging parts that their musician friends will find impressive. After all....we're drummers, that's what we do! Once again, I empathize with your plight, but my advice is to focus on how your part impacts the song as a whole. It's simply a question of the big picture.

That big picture is made up of many small facets, the melody being one. Be sure you have a clear understanding of how that melody moves, so you can craft a drum part that compliments that movement. Once you have something specific in mind, try playing it along with the melody. That'll give everyone involved the opportunity to evaluate how well they function together. Trial & error is a big part of this process. Keep working with it until you have a part that compliments the melody, not one that competes with it. Remember, in the end it's all about THE SONG!


3. What type of arrangement do you have in mind for the song?

I'm not suggesting that you have the whole arrangement set-in-stone before starting the drum part. Chances are though, you'll have at least a rough idea of what may work.

  • Are you thinking of using piano?
  • Are you picturing more than one guitar track?
  • Might additional percussion be a good fit (congas, tambourine, shaker, etc)?

The point I'm getting to is this....if you have definite ideas for your arrangement, factor those into the writing of your drum part. Again, in the end, everything needs to work well with everything else. Here are a few specific examples:

A. If you're planning a busy arrangement with lots of instrumental movement, a simpler drum part may be better. A song isn't a contest for dominance! Ideally, parts of your arrangement work together....towards a common goal. For instance, if you have cool ideas for intricate piano parts & a tasteful signature guitar track, your drum part should allow those to shine through. No....the drums don't have to be boring! Just build the drum complexities into song sections that allow more room for them. Those piano & guitar parts I referred to.....let's say those are only for the verses & bridge. That means your chorus sections could employ dominant, driving drums. When you vary the dominant instrument from section to section, it builds variety into an arrangement. It also makes that dominant instrument much more noticeable to the average listener. When that chorus section rolls around & those drums start kicking butt, the change immediately grabs the listeners' attention. This type of approach not only works well for the song, but gives the poor drummer some well-deserved attention.

*If you're interested in specific examples of simpler drum beats, you're welcome to check out one of my previous tutorials - "Essential Drum Beats". It contains a number of basic patterns, with charts & video demonstrations of each.

B. Sometimes arrangements are very sparse. For instance, many songs employ sustained chords, struck primarily on major counts. Sometimes a writer will utilize just bass & drums for the verses of a song....really strip it down. Situations like these offer the opportunity to get really creative with the drum track. You can experiment with intricate or syncopated parts......really flex those creative muscles.

Limited, simple instrumentation = fewer potential conflicts.

C. If some instrument parts are already written, do those parts heavily accent specific counts? Do several of those parts accent the same counts? I ask these questions because it is possible to over-do accents. Typically, it's not good to have every instrument emphasizing identical counts. That can result in a very stiff feeling song arrangement. But, as with any other guideline, there are exceptions. You will hear the occasional song that actually benefits from an overly-rigid feel.

D. What impact, if any, would you like the drums to have on the songs' development....beginning-to-end?

In an effort to clarify that question a bit, I'll break it down into more specific questions:

a ) Do you want the song to build as it progresses?

If you do, you may want to utilize the drums to aid in that process. It's not uncommon to bring them in gradually, layering in complexity & momentum a little at a time.

b ) Do you intend for one specific section of the song to jump out & grab the listeners' attention?

One way to achieve that, is to hold much of the instrumentation (including all the drums) back, until that specific section.

c ) Would you prefer the drums play a minimal part in the songs' development?

That can be accomplished by utilizing a consistent sounding drum track. Something with virtually the same feel start-to-finish. If you're looking for a reference point, "Rain King" by Counting Crows should serve nicely.

d ) Would a change in the drum tempo, from half time - to full time be useful?

It's a common method for varying the feel of a song, from section-to-section. Let's look at specific example. Say your basic song runs at a rate of 120 BPM. The beat used in the verse sections can be made to feel as if it's being played at 60 BPM, while the choruses are played as full-time 120 BPM. It's that shifting from one to the other that generates the noticeable variety.


Part 1 Summary

Most of part 1 shared a common theme. None of these variables are even worth considering unless the basics for the song have already been established! Hence my earlier statement that to that effect. I'm not trying to tell you that this is the only way to do things. I simply feel that it's the best way!

Part 1 dealt with some of the general concepts, questions & variables.

Part 2 will deal with specifics of actually building (structuring) the drum parts.

I'll try to give you a clearer picture of what works best, where & why.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




You may have heard about the recent youtube scandal. That's the one where several major labels were supposedly caught cheating....artificially generating huge numbers of plays for videos of their artists. Anyway, as the story goes, millions and millions of plays were removed from the offending video stats. The articles I read left me with the impression that Google (YouTube) was concerned about....

  • big offenders
  • huge numbers of plays
  • mega-artists
  • and the perceived credibility of YouTube's "play" counts


Honestly, I recall thinking to myself - "good....maybe that will level the playing field a bit for smaller, amateur artists".

But, I wasn't expecting what came next!


Phase #1 - Jan. 2013


I maintain 2 personal youtube sites. One of them has been active a few months, the other for a couple years. This past January, I pulled up the oldest site (TomHoffman1). I immediately noticed it had gone from 8,000+ plays....down to 7,000+. Huh? Well...no big deal I thought. They must have made an adjustment....perhaps based on videos that I'd deleted from the site over time. Out of curiosity, I returned the following day. By then, I had lost half my plays........ approximately 4,000 out of the 8,000+ I had 2 days prior. That was a little bigger deal! I began wondering where this was all headed? How many more might I lose....and on the basis of what? I didn't have a clue!


Fortunately, I'm an amateur. So at least this didn't mean actual dollars to me. These sites, like most of my musical endeavors, are strictly passionate hobbies nowadays. But the whole thing was more than a little irritating! At this point, I could safely assume that Google had no intention of limiting its corrections to big artists or major labels.


BTW - It's probably worth pointing out, that I have never received any type of notice or explanation from YouTube/Google. The stats were simply changed.


Phase #2 - Feb. 2013


Earlier this week, both of my sites were altered. They're certainly staying busy over at Google these days :yes:


I'd actually been quite pleased with the progress of my newer drum-specific site (DrumStuffTH). It was only a few months old, but had already drawn over 5,200 plays. Honestly, I thought that was pretty decent. Anyway, I pulled the site up last night to add detailed descriptions to several of the recent videos. Surprise, surprise.....my site play total had been reduced to 3,215. I dont recall ever deleting any videos from this site. Wonder what they based this change on?


So, being the paranoid individual I am, I immediately pulled up my older site (TomHoffman1). Yup...you guessed it! Reduced again....down to 1,620 total site plays this time. Simply amazing! That's the 3rd time they'd randomly reduced the total for that site. Back in early January, I had over 8,200 plays. Now I had 1,620???? Just for grins, I added up the play totals for the 9 individual videos currently displaying on that site page. The play totals from just those 9, add up to more than 1,620. Now I'm even more confused!


As I stated earlier, neither of these are commercial sites. So I'd love to know exactly what they think they're accomplishing....and why? What's the end-game here? To my knowledge, they've never changed any of the individual video play counts on either site. They've just altered the site play totals. If this was part of an effort to legitimatize YouTubes' play-count numbers, they'd be concerned about individual vid counts....not overall site counts. Right?


Back in 2012, I began noticing another interesting YouTube phenomenon. Many of the individual video play counters, on both my sites, seem to lock up around the 300-play number. I truly don't understand that! I'll share a couple of specific examples:


· "Memories of Christmas" (TomHoffman1) had achieved a play-count of 301 by Oct. 2012. From Thanksgiving to New Years', I had links to that video posted on 8-10 different sites, had emailed the link to friends & family and had even played it myself a few times at relatives homes....on their computers. That's the heart of the Christmas season and it's a Christmas song/video, so you know it got played...at least a little. I checked the play count for that video on 2/22/2013. Guess how many plays it had? If you guessed 301, you're absolutely correct! Not only is that highly unlikely....it's damn near impossible! Yet, there it is....go figure!


· There's a 2nd example on my DrumStuffTH site. "Understanding Shuffle Rhythms/Beats (part 1)" reached 302 plays right around the first of the year. As of 2/22/2013, it still shows a total play count of 302....hasn't budged! As with my last example, I've played it myself on several other systems....just to see if the count would change. It didn't!


Absolutely amazing!! But in YouTubes' defense, they do still offer their sites FREE! Because I don't profit from my sites, I'd have a really tough time justifying something I had to pay for. I do appreciate the fact that they're still available. BUT.....I'd love to know why some of these questionable practices are of benefit to anyone? I simply don't get it! My sincere hope is that this blog article generates some comments. I imagine there are people out there who possess a greater understanding of these seemingly random practices than I do. I truly look forward to hearing from them.


Tom Hoffman





I've always been of the opinion that music serves very little purpose unless someone listens to it.

Really...what else is it good for? You can't wash your car with it, the grocery stores won't let you buy food with it and it doesn't make a very good hat. So....with that in mind, is yours' being listened to? Fortunately, mine is.

To those uninvolved in music creation, this question may sound like a stupid one.

Honestly, I wish it was!

But in the online music world, this topic doesn't garner nearly as much attention as it deserves.

Fact is, it tends to take a back seat to things like:

  • What your numeric market ranking is on Reverbnation?
  • How many "likes" your band/artist page has on Facebook?
  • How many "play clicks" you've racked up on your various online players?
  • How many subscribers you have to your YouTube channels?
  • How many false online identities you've set up to aid in promotion of your own material, sites & blogs?
  • How many "followers" you've racked for your "Fandalism" page?
  • How impressive the graphic design of your virtual presence is?

In the world of online music generation, it's almost as if "music" has become a trivial detail, rather than the end game itself. Music now serves as a virtual ticket, allowing entry into this huge online video game known as "Indie Music". Players don't win by improving at their craft. They win by doing whatever's necessary to generate numbers & the appearance of credibility.

I said the "appearance" of credibility because "likes", "play clicks", "subscribers" & "followers" can be purchased or generated through artificial means. This isn't a new phenomenon either! The illicit world of digital assistance-for-hire has been around as long as the internet itself.


In recent years, much of my online musical interaction has taken place on Songstuff.com.

While Songstuff is primarily a musician/songwriters resource site, we do our best to assist with any & all musically related questions.

More & more, questions from new members touch on subjects like:

  • The legal aspects of the industry (copyright protection, licensing, etc.)
  • The safety & security of their online songs/lyrics (how can they be certain they won't be stolen?)
  • How to get ahead in todays' music business
  • Can we recommend various types of short-cut software?....everything from scoring software to artificial music creation programs.
  • Can we help them get hooked up with a "Producer"?

I find this trend more than a little disturbing. Music creation should be about creating art, NOT about protecting rights & making a quick buck!

Personally, I was drawn to writing for 2 reasons:

  1. my lifelong love of music
  2. a genuine interest in creative self-expression

It truly bothers me that things are becoming more about short-term personal gain and less about the listener and the overall musical experience.

In my mind, when creation becomes more about the artist than the art, the world's in big trouble!


Anyway, returning to the question posed by the title. For someone like me, the internet age is an absolute Godsend! It allows me to offer my music to a vast pool of potential listeners. Despite my being a tiny fish in a huge musical ocean, listeners manage to find me at tune-smith.com. Although I do maintain a number of other sites, the bulk of my online music is there. I own the domain name, maintain the site and therefore control the encoding quality of the mp3s offered. Since I don't pay for professional mastering of my tracks, encoding control is particularly important.

Most sites of this type provide extensive tracking data. Honestly, I don't look at it much, but I do occasionally check to see what kind of traffic the site's drawing. The chart below is an example of one category of tracked data. It's also the reason I'm able to tell you with absolute certainty that my songs are listened-to! What you're looking at are stats for the month of January 2014, taken early evening on the 31st




  • From this data, I can not only see that "Don't Lie to Yourself" was the most frequently played track (551 times), but I can also tell you that virtually every listener played the entire song. See that "average size" column.....it reads 5.5 MB, which also happens to be the actual size of the song file.
  • "Someday" didn't do quite as well. It shows a 4.98 MB usage, with the actual song file being 5.47 MB. Although it did very well, it's obvious that it wasn't what some folks expected & they chose to move on prior to completion of the track.
  • The portion of the chart I copied covers only 6 of the available songs, yet the combined total of those 6 is in excess of 1,200 listens. Those aren't new songs either. Matter of fact, the average age of the top 5 is somewhere around 10 years.

So....in closing I'll ask you once again.....is your music being listened to?

Music isn't good for much unless someone listens to it.

***Next addition to "Tips & Tidbits" is titled....Online Credibility. Should have it posted late Feb.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile






When I started writing percussion tutorials for Songstuff, that section of our site library consisted of 3 articles.

My basic approach has been to:

- Define what I felt were the fundamental components of trap set drumming

- Cover the basics of each

- Further develop each component with additional articles....beyond just the basics

At this point, I don't see any huge holes in our coverage of the basics. There are however, small holes.

This blog article is intended to plug one of those & serve as a supplement to the tutorials.



Background & Purpose

For 9 years of my life, I was a gigging drummer. Back then, there was no internet.

Yes boys & girls, back in-the-day.....we beat our clothes on rocks to clean them, our primary possessions were stone-knives & bearskins and there was no internet! It was a barbaric existence! :001_tongue:

Anyway, prior to the existence of the internet, information & tips were harder to come by. Advice on subjects like "what extras gigging drummers should carry" was virtually nonexistent. Most of us learned from our mistakes....figuring it out as we went along. Kind of a learn as you earn process. That worked OK, but it did have one serious downside.

The mistake always came before the learning. These few, simple recommendations may help with that.



To perform (gig) with a band, two obvious things are required:

  • Something to play with (sticks, brushes,etc.)
  • And something to play on (drumset)

It's the little things that are often overlooked. So here's my short-list of recommended necessities:


1. Always carry extra drumsticks....2-3 pair minimum.


2. At the very least, carry an extra top-snare head (batter) & bass drum head. If money's not a huge issue, it's really nice to have extra top heads for your entire set. But snare & bass drum are the most crucial. The extras can remain in your vehicle. Just be sure that wherever you've stored them, you have quick access if needed.


3. Carry an extra drum key. Keys are very small, hence very easy to lose or misplace. For no more than the cost of a drum key, why take the chance?


4. Your bass drum pedal is an indispensable part of your kit. I see 2 available options here:

- Once again, if money's not a big issue, carry an extra pedal. If you do, make sure it's already adjusted & ready for use (mallet height, tension, etc.).

- If money IS an issue, as it always seemed to be for me :rolleyes: ,there is a practical option. Carry an extra mallet/shaft assembly & tension spring. These are the 2 parts most likely to create a problem.


5. Always carry a rug (mat) large enough to place your drum set on. Band performance areas are inconsistent, at best. I've set up on finished wood floors, flatbed truck trailers, asphalt parking lots, carpeted stages, marble floors, etc. You can never be certain what type of surface you'll get, how fragile it may be, how stable it is, or what acoustical properties it will possess. Have a rug! If you don't need it, don't use it, but always take it along.


As always, I appreciate your interest in these articles. Please feel free to post comments.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




As a participant in several online musician/songwriter forums, I can attest to the fact that the "lessons" question, is a fairly common one. It's natural to be curious about how others acquired their knowledge & skills. Many players are self-taught, but many take the formal lessons route. I actually recommend a combination of both. I'll spend the remainder of this blog elaborating on my preference & sharing some tips on how to get the most out of formal lessons.


Let me begin by giving you a bit of background. I was a drum student 44 years ago, followed by several years as drum instructor. I became a novice guitar student 17 years ago and in recent years, have done some basic instruction in that capacity. My point is........I've seen the pros & cons of lessons from both sides, several times, with various instruments. Bottom line.........I speak from experience!


Freelance music instructors are an extremely diverse group. When I say freelance, I'm referring to teachers who either:
- teach from home or
- teach in conjunction with a music store or some other type of retail entity (on or off-line)

In the US at least, these are the most common, readily available type of instructors! Their skill levels, knowledge & basic qualifications run the gamut from virtually unqualified to extremely gifted. There is no certification process and no standardized list of requirements. In most cases, instructors are completely unregulated. What I'm getting at here, is that the responsibility for choosing a decent teacher rests entirely upon the student. Buyer beware, or in this case....student beware!


Unfortunately...this model, which makes the student, or student's parent responsible for selecting the teacher, has one serious flaw. It assumes that the student (or parent) is qualified to make the selection....that they know what to look for. In many cases, they don't! Hopefully, I can offer a little assistance in that area. Here's a short-list of qualities that I look for in a teacher/instructor:


1) Reasonable competence as a player - They don't have to be great, but they should come across as being at least comfortable with their instrument.


2) They should seem more concerned about your learning, than about feeding their own ego by dazzling you with their ability & brilliance.


3) They should not only allow, but encourage questions from you. As a student, I never walked into a lesson without having at least 1 or 2 pre-prepared, written questions! Don't trust yourself to remember. Write them down! Typical lessons are only a 1/2 hour long. It's easy to get rushed, busy with something else, or simply forget....write them down! Always remember that the instructor is only half of the equation here. The other half is you! You're paying this person. Make sure you're getting your money's worth! This is the area in which a combination of self teaching & formal instruction can be most beneficial. Trust your instructor to guide the direction of the lessons, but don't hesitate to do extra reading & research on your own. This is where many of your weekly questions can come from. Use your teacher's knowledge to help you gain a better understanding of how all these musical concepts work together. Show initiative, be inquisitive & get them to share as much of that knowledge with you as possible. In doing so, believe it or not, you're probably making their job a little more interesting.

*One quick caution about on-your-own reading & research. Try and stick to concepts that you're already somewhat familiar with. When it comes to music theory, skipping too far ahead isn't a good idea. Chances are.....if you've ventured into material you're not yet ready for, you'll know it. It won't make any sense to you! Whatever the subject is...don't panic. You're just not prepared to deal with it yet. Yes, this too...is on my list of past mistakes.blush.gif The funny thing is though, when the time is right....and you're able to place that information in the proper context, it'll make perfect sense to you. The trick is that the fundamentals always need to precede the more advanced concepts. Fundamentals are the building blocks. Skipping over them would be like trying to learn how to read, without first knowing the alphabet.


4) This final quality is a little hard to describe, but it's also the most critical for an instructor to possess. They need to be capable of remembering what it was like to be a student! If they can't, it's unlikely that they'll be able to explain things to you in an understandable way. If your teacher has forgotten what it was like not to know, you'll begin to see that within the first few lessons. Even though it not their intent, teachers like this tend to frustrate students. Too many times, frustrated students become ex-students. They walk away, assuming that their inability to understand is somehow their fault........and they never pick up the instrument again. Obviously, that's not the end result you want! Always remember that a teacher is there to be of benefit to YOU......not the other way around. Regardless of how brilliant & talented they may be, if they can't find a way to pass some of what they possess...onto you, it's a waste of your time and money! With this type of situation, my advice is simple......find yourself a different teacher! I did!


When I first decided to take up guitar, I did what many folks do. I walked into the closest music store & signed up with an available instructor for lessons. Many times, new students don't even have the opportunity to meet the instructor before signing up. I didn't. However, I did have an advantage over many new students. I'd already spent time on both sides of this student-teacher equation and I knew what to look for! So.....my first lesson rolled around and I met with my instructor. He was a 21 year old, 4.0 GPA, pre-med student at a prominent local university. I'd played with enough good guitarists in my day, to recognize that this guy had skills! Anyway, if I had any doubts, he was only to happy to remind me of it....often wink.gif. In his defense though, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy & appeared to have nothing but good intentions. Unfortunately, as an instructor, he did have one pretty big problem. He didn't have a clue how to teach beginner or intermediate students! Apparently, his own knowledge had evolved to the point where everything seemed simple to him. Rather than bore his beginner students with fundamentals, he decided to dig right into subjects that he considered more interesting. As part of my 2nd lesson, he proceeded to explain to me how a diatonic major scale & it's relative natural minor scale, are essentially identical. The only real differences being the starting & ending points of each....& the fact that the same note holds a different numeric position, depending on whether it's part of the major or minor version. If I've just lost some of you, I apologize. For those of you who do understand the concept, so did I.............one year later!
I'm one of those people who still has every note, from every lesson he's ever taken. A year after that 2nd lesson, I pulled out my notes...looked them over and the light bulb went off in my head. After an additional year of guitar method & theory, it actually made sense to me! I understood exactly what he was trying to tell me. I also understood how completely insane it was for him to think it was appropriate to teach that in a 2nd lesson. But there-in lies the problem. In his mind, the concept was no longer difficult. Because he understood it so well, he'd come to believe that everyone would. He had simply forgotten what it was like not-to-know. Needless to say, he didn't remain my teacher for very long........3 lessons to be exact. I went to a different shop & got myself another teacher. My second teacher was also my last. He was very good at what he did. I wasn't unkind about leaving the first guy, but I did leave.


In closing, I'd like to offer one last suggestion. Before you decide to change instructors, take a good, hard look at your part of the student/teacher partnership.
- are you actually practicing regularly?
- are you asking questions?
- are you genuinely interested in learning & improving?

If you're not, the best instructor in the world can't help you! A good teacher can make an immense difference, but even the best can't teach someone who's not interested in learning! Be honest with yourself because there's nothing to be gained by placing blame where it doesn't belong. If it's you, fix that! If it's them, try a different teacher.

Thanks once again for your interest!


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile


OK, now I've gone & done it! I've just stepped on the proverbial 3rd rail of songwriting.... the importance of lyrics.-LOL If you happen to be a lyricist, you may be thinking to yourself...."of course they matter! Who is this fool?" In all fairness though, I'm not telling you that they don't matter. I'm simply asking the question.


For years now, I've been hearing the story about Sting's "Every Breath You Take". Supposedly, he's earned more royalties from that one song, than from anything else he's ever written. It's a fine song, so that's perfectly understandable. The circumstances surrounding that popularity are a bit more difficult to understand. You see, it seems that much of the buying/listening public, believes it to be a romantic song. Perhaps even you? Much of the song's historic popularity appears to be the result of that belief. But the thing is, according to Sting...the song's actually about "a stalker". If you really listen closely to the entire lyric, Sting's intended meaning becomes obvious. From what I can tell, the song's about a stalker...just as he claims. I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that I concur! :001_tongue:


So the million dollar question is this. If a significant portion of the sales, for one of the most popular songs in recent history can be attributed to a misunderstanding of the lyrics, how important can the lyrics really be? My next question would be....how is it possible for that many listeners to grossly misinterpret the meaning of a well-written lyric? Think about that for a second. It's not just that people are missing Sting's intended meaning. Somehow, they're all arriving at the same mistaken conclusion...that it's a love song! Absolutely amazing, go figure!


Now I can only guess that Sting has made peace with this misunderstanding, at least on some level. After all, I haven't heard anything to indicate that he's refusing the royalty checks. :001_rolleyes: As the expression goes...he's probably "laughing all the way to the bank". This story does cause me to wonder though, about whether there's a simple explanation for this phenomena? Given the widespread nature of it, there almost has to be. Doesn't there?


What if listeners do focus on the lyric....just not the entire lyric? What if the typical listener cherry picks...focusing on just bits & pieces? Perhaps they're ears perk up for things like:

  • Repeated lines or phrases
  • Particularly memorable/catchy lines, phrases or single words
  • Sections of lyric they can readily identify with...on a personal level
  • Portions sung in clearly understandable manner

That might explain some of those widely held misconceptions. If typical listeners only hear & retain certain portions of a lyric, that would allow much more room for personal interpretation. Unfortunately, that also increases the chances of misinterpretation. Oh well! What's a poor writer to do? It's not as if we can expect to control how listeners choose to listen? Maybe we could tweak our approach to writing lyrics? Let's explore that idea a bit further.


Most lyricists I know, myself included, tend to approach a lyric as a cohesive whole. In other words, we plan on listeners hearing, considering & understanding every word within the context of the overall lyric. Maybe we shouldn't! Maybe more of our focus should be on:

  • Easily memorable titles
  • Catchy, easily understandable chorus/refrain sections, with fairly obvious meanings
  • Memorable, attention-getting lines & phrases sprinkled throughout the lyric

Taking this one step further, since listeners seem drawn to content they can personally identify with, maybe we should focus more on universal topics? Perhaps we should write about subjects they'll find relevant, rather than invoking our own interests & personal demons. For instance....Sting's choice of "a stalker" as subject matter. It's entirely possible that Sting is the luckiest man alive!-LOL After all, how much public interest would there have really been for a song about "a stalker"? Other than some Hollywood folks, who would have personally identified with that particular subject matter? For all we know, if the listening public had understood Sting's intended meaning, the song may have been a complete flop. Fortunately for his bank account, things didn't happen that way.


So what do you think??? If you buy into this theory of mine, should writers focus more on how their lyrics will be heard, or on how they should be heard? As usual, I don't have a definitive answer, but I did think the question was worth asking.


Till next time!


Tom Hoffman

member profile-http://forums.songstuff.com/user/1454-tunesmithth/




Since much of the article was based on this song, I figured why not include it here at the end...complete with the lyrics.




As a musician and a songwriter, I'm very aware of the fact that I don't hear music in the same way that regular folks hear it. I'm not an isolated example of this phenomenon. Generally speaking, it's a shared trait among writer/musicians. Because of this difference, I can't help but wonder if we writers truly understand what our focus (priorities) should be? In other words, are we always concerned about the things that actually matter? Anyway, the topic seems extremely blog-worthy and I rarely see it discussed on songwriter forums. So here we go!


If you happen to fall into that regular folks category, this concept of differences in listening may be news to you. After all, how could you know? We musician/songwriters on the other hand, were once regular folks. None of us exit the womb playing instruments & writing songs. At some point in our lives, we listened as you listen. Unfortunately, many of us tend to forget what that was like. Forgetting simply isn't a luxury we can afford! After all, it's regular folks who make up the vast majority of the listening audience!


Even if we're hesitant to admit it sometimes, most songwriters would prefer to write material that's liked & appreciated by a variety of people. That being the case, how can we expect to write a song that appeals to regular folks, without first recognizing & accounting for the fact that they listen differently? In my humble opinion, we can't...except maybe by accident!


With each new instrument I've taken up over the years, I've gained a greater understanding of how it moves & how it typically sounds. I think most musicians would back me up on that claim. It's sort of a package deal. Anyway...as a result of that, when I listen to a song, my ears tend to hone-in on that specific instrument. It's not so much a conscious process anymore, as it is a reflex action. Because my ears & brain react to the sound in that manner...even though I'm listening to a song, what I'm hearing is more like a collection of the individual parts. Most musicians hear the continual interaction of those separate parts, along with the song itself. Our listening process tends to be a bit more analytical.


Generally speaking, regular folks (non-musicians) lack the detailed knowledge & training needed to understand much of what goes on within the context of a song. Their ears tend to take more of a holistic approach to listening. They hear the song as whole, rather than as an infinite collection of bits & pieces occurring simultaneously! Because most listeners have a voice, have some basic understanding of rhythm and are emotional by nature, those 3 song elements seem to be the ones that garner their attention. My experience has been, that typical listeners focus on elements they're able to personally identify with...voice, rhythm & emotional feel!


In an effort to support that theory, let's consider the massive success of rap music. If I understand correctly, rap's initial success happened without much, if any, support from the major record labels. There was no big money behind it, no credible advertising, yet it grew & grew until it became too big a force to ignore. What 3 primary song elements does rap typically consist of? You guessed it...voice, rhythm & emotion! So....rap music was built entirely upon the 3 song elements that most people find easy to identify with. Gee...no wonder it succeeded!


As the music industry has known for a long time, hooks also work well to grab the attention of regular listeners. Basically, a hook is anything within a song, that the listener remembers long after the song has ended. That just goes to show...if something is cool & catchy, it doesn't need to be understood to be liked & remembered!


So with those listening differences in mind, why is it that I see so many writers focusing great amounts of time & energy on issues like:

- real sounding drum tracks

- technical difficulty & complexity in instrumentation

- meticulously chosen tones & effects

- massive amounts of compression & volume on final tracks?

In a nutshell, I think we do it because those are elements that we appreciate & are drawn to. That's great, as long as we're the only one's listening to our music! Sometimes, if it's our own song, we allow ourselves to get hung up on perfecting facets of it that bother us. I can't help wondering though, if some of that time couldn't be better spent focusing on what the average listener hears? After all, if the average listener's not even capable of detecting many of those minor nuances, how important can they really be? Notice my use of the word "we". I'm not excluding myself here! My guess is that most writers wrestle with this issue to some degree. But the first step in addressing any issue is to become aware of it. That's why I chose this specific blog topic. I'd really like to see this subject discussed more than it is.


In addition to rap, one more pertinent example comes to mind. "Disco at its peak, was absolutely huge! I was still a gigging musician back when it was coming into its own. Most drummers I knew at that time, felt like disco was the devil incarnate! We all hated those incredibly artificial, cheesy sounding drum tracks! The thing is...I don't think I've ever heard a single non-musician complain about that cheesy sound. Musicians were the only people on the face of the earth who seemed bothered by it! When I look back on that now, I realize that...not only didn't normal listeners find it objectionable...they never even realized that they were supposed-to! It didn't even show up on their radar! So why were all of us so put-off by it, when normal listeners didn't care? Who knows? But we were!


So at this point, you may be asking yourself...what am I supposed to do with this information? After all, we writer/musicians hear all these intricacies in music. Are we supposed to simply ignore them? NO, not at all! I'm merely suggesting that we could do a better job of maintaining perspective. After all, there's no harm in addressing these things that regular listeners don't hear. But too many times, I feel as if writers allow those issues to become the priorities! When that occurs, I'm not sure it serves anyone's interests well. It's useful to remind ourselves occasionally, that not everyone hears what we hear!


In closing, I'd like to offer one more question for you to ponder. Ask yourself if you can think of another craft or product, in which the entire focus of the process is anything except the end-user? I can't! Even the more creative ones tend to create with the end-user & potential market segment in mind. My best advice is this - be honest with yourself about your motives for writing. If you truly don't care whether any other human being on the face of the earth likes what you write, then I'm sorry for having wasted your time here. For the rest of us though....it may be helpful going forward, if we remember to consider who's listening.


As always, I appreciate your interest in these blogs. Please feel free to comment!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Over the past few years, I've noticed a growing trend. Lyricists have begun referring to lyrics as "songs". It's becoming more & more commonplace on musician/writer forums like Songstuff.com. To be perfectly honest, it bothers me. I've considered mentioning it in posts...on the forum itself, but decided to do it in a blog article. A blog is less likely to be taken personally.


Back when I began to notice this trend, I whipped out my trusty Websters dictionary & looked up the word "song". Much to my surprise, one of the possible definitions listed is...."a poem easily set to music". Go figure! So I guess technically, it's not an inappropriate use of the term. Still, it does seem needlessly confusing. After all, we have a perfectly good, time-tested, accurately descriptive, universally understood term for lyrics...."Lyrics"!


Regardless of Websters one technical exception, use of the word "song" implies a number of characteristics....

  • That it's more than simply written text.
  • That it's able to be listen-to, or played (as in the case of sheet music).
  • That it contains some melodic, musical or rhythmic elements....above & beyond basic lyrical meter.


I'm willing to bet that much of the general listening public shares my preconceived notions. Don't think so? OK then....do a little test for yourself. Ask 10 of your non-writer friends to describe what comes to mind when they hear the word "song". Any bets as to how many of them respond "words-only"?


So why has this practice become so commonplace? I can't know for certain, but I can make a couple of educated guesses. After all, this is a blog. :yes:

  1. It's human nature to embellish whatever we do...along with its value & importance in the overall scheme of things. Bluntly put....it sounds more impressive to say that you write "songs".
  2. Safety in numbers...someone does it, someone else mimics the behavior...the more we see it, the less anyone bothers to question its' correctness.


So what am I really getting at here?

  • First of all, I'm not implying that lyricists aren't a valuable part of the songwriting equation. They certainly are! It's the word "part" that some seem to be ignoring. Here's a quick example of what I'm talking about. An engine is an indispensable part of a car. Fact is, a car won't do you much good without one. Yet, you never hear a mechanic refer to an engine...as "a car". Despite its importance, they recognize it as only a part of the final product. I imagine they also recognize how confusing it would be, if they began calling 2 different things by the same name.
  • I'm also a bit bothered by our seemingly endless need to alter the traditional meanings of words. Take the word "hero" for-instance. Use of that term was historically reserved for extreme behavior. Thirty years ago, when you heard the word used to describe someone, it was safe to assume that they had done something truly extraordinary! But nowadays...you can't turn on the news without hearing the term applied to countless situations where people simply did....what common sense would dictate they do. Forgive me, but that's not heroic behavior! That's living your life in a responsible manner! Yes....we should encourage, recognize & reward responsible behavior. We simply shouldn't label it heroic! Give us another 10 years & the word will be virtually meaningless.
  • This trend is making effective communication un-necessarily difficult. On musician/writer boards such as Songstuff.com, I regularly see member posts asking people to "review their song". Songstuff has both a "lyric critique" section and a "song critique" section. Which of those 2 sections would you guess that poster is attempting to direct you toward? Fact is....we don't know! We also get many inquiries about "how to post a new song for critique". Quite frankly, we don't know how to answer! You see, the procedure for posting an audio (song) file, is completely different from the procedure for posting a lyric (text-only).


Well that's all I have for this installment. Hopefully...if you're a lyricist, I haven't angered or alienated you. I promise that wasn't my intent. I'm simply trying to improve our ability to communicate.

Help us to help you folks! If it's a lyric, please call it a "lyric".

BTW - If you haven't already figured it out, the answer to the question posed by the title is - "When It's A Lyric"! ^_^

Till next time!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




YouTube & Copyright

Until recently, I knew very little about how YouTube deals with copyright violators. Sure…I’d heard stories from friends & colleagues, but I’d never actually dealt with it firsthand. Now I have! 

For those who aren’t aware, I’m a long-time YouTuber. I set up my first channel back in January of 2010 & currently administrate a total of five. Even with 5 channels, I’d never had occasion to post work I didn’t own, or have permission to use. A few weeks back, I decided to try something new.….a playlist series called “Play Along”. The videos consist of me playing drums to a prerecorded song. Not exactly a revolutionary concept! ;) You’ll find countless examples this type of thing already on YouTube. But….it was new for me & it sounded like fun! 

My original intent was to post each video without the play-along song. That would have avoided the whole copyright quagmire, but it also had an unintended consequence. It made the finished product much less interesting! After some deliberation, I decided to roll the dice. If nothing else, it could serve as a learning experience. 

When I formatted my video, I used an mp3 iTunes version of the audio (song). Typically, mp3s of this type contain tagging which allows the track to be detected on platforms like YouTube. I uploaded my project & classified it as an “unlisted” video. This is standard practice for me. Once I view the upload & verify that it’s intact, I change the classification to “public”. It was late, so I put that final review off till the next morning. 

By the time I logged back on the next day….

  • The legal owner had already detected my use of his song
  • Reported the violation to YouTube
  • Decided what options to offer me
  • Tagged & set up my video for AD monetization

Keep in mind, at this point, my video was still classified as “unlisted”. I hadn’t even checked the upload yet! It seems the wheels of progress turn quickly when there’s revenue at stake! :glare: Fortunately for me, this was the outcome I had hoped for.  Most of those 2nd hand stories I mentioned earlier had described a similar process. Below is a copy of the actual notice that YouTube/Google attached to my video…..

Your video has been blocked in some countries.

Copyrighted content was found in your video.

Because of the claimant's policy, this video can't be played in some countries.


·         Video blocked in 1 country 

·         Unavailable on some devices 


·         Monetized by claimant 

If you agree with these conditions, you don't have to do anything. 
Learn More

Copyright details





·         Look Away (Album Version) - The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

·         Sound recording

·         0:02 - 3:29 play match

·         UMG

·         Blocked in some countries 

·        Remove Song

·        File a Dispute


Additional details about original version of the notice:

  • When you hover over the Video blocked in 1 country” statement, it tells you which country…in this case - Germany.
  • When you hover over the “Monetized by claimant” statement, this notice appears – You can use the copyrighted content in your video, but ads might appear on your video.”
  • As you can see, the poster is given 3 basic choices:

1.    Do nothing, indicating that you agree with the arrangements already negotiated.

2.    Remove the copyrighted song

3.    File a dispute over the ownership of contested material, in this case the play-along audio track.


Clicking on the “Learn More” link took me to a page containing this statement –

“Am I in trouble?

·         In most cases, getting a Content ID claim isn’t a bad thing for your YouTube channel. It just means, “Hey, we found some material in your video that’s owned by someone else.”

·         It’s up to copyright owners to decide whether or not others can reuse their original material. In many cases, copyright owners allow the use of their content in YouTube videos in exchange for putting ads on those videos.”


In the spirit of full disclosure, that page also contains information pertaining to other potential outcomes. Occasionally, the owner of rights can strongly object. In some of those cases, your standing as a YouTube member can be affected….both negatively & permanently.

So, the bottom line seems to be this….doing what I did is a bit of a crap-shoot! There is a chance it could affect your standing on YouTube and more. BUT….the majority of the time, you’ll probably get an outcome similar to what I got here. For me it was win-win. They’re allowing me to use the audio and I gained first-hand knowledge of YouTube’s procedures for handling breach of copyright.

When I changed the video classification to “public”, I added this statement in the liner notes……

***The ADs you see here are not mine. The registered owner of "Look Away" chose to allow use of their audio content in exchange for placing ads in my video. Since I had no commercial aspirations for this project anyway, I thought that arrangement was more than fair!

For anyone interested, here’s the video that brought about this learning experience - https://youtu.be/VRdqL_UCQz0

Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile






I'd like to talk about learning a 2nd instrument and why that can be so beneficial......particularly for drummers. Many of my blogs, including this one, are inspired by lessons that I learned the hard way. By exposing you to my perspectives, I hope to provide you with some food-for-thought. Even if you choose to repeat my mistakes, perhaps you'll correct them more quickly than I did.


Most well-rounded drummers end up with a reasonable understanding of rhythm, timing, time signatures & dynamics. Typically, drums don't offer much exposure to the concepts of melody, pitch and harmony. That's a shame, but it's simply the nature of the beast. Because it's not essential knowledge for drummers, it's generally not taught. Unfortunately, that lack of knowledge leaves a huge hole in a drummers understanding of....and overall appreciation for music. It certainly did in my case. I simply didn't realize it at the time.


During my 9 years as a drummer/singer in various bands, I was perfectly content to concentrate exclusively on those 2 skills. Why....I'm not altogether sure? I guess I had convinced myself that widening my musical scope would somehow detract from the focus on my primary instrument - drums. Looking back, I realize that was complete nonsense! But, as they say.....hindsight is 20/20. Honestly, if I had it to do again, I wouldn't hesitate to take advantage of the excellent musicians I had around me. Off the top of my head, I can think of several who would have shared much of their knowledge with me for free. Oh well! I guess in the final analysis....whether we learn, matters more than when. blush.gif

Fact is.....I did eventually expand my musical horizons.


For anyone wondering about specific instrument recommendations, both guitar & piano (keyboard) deal with melody, pitch and harmony. Certainly there are other instruments to choose from, but guitar & piano (keyboard) offer one big advantage over many others. Both are capable of playing multiple notes simultaneously. In other words - chords. Chords & harmony are inseparably linked and are vital parts of the overall musical puzzle. Guitar & keyboard also offer the widest range of practical applications. Either will allow you to:


- recreate recognizable parts of your favorite songs


- play strictly for your own enjoyment


- play as part of a band


- write songs


- any combination of the above


An overwhelming majority of songwriters choose either piano or guitar as their primary writing instrument. My personal choice was guitar.


Finally....learning a melodic instrument aids dramatically in developing your sense of pitch. As a drummer, even a singing drummer, you may think you hear pitch well now. I did! But, it's simply amazing how much better you're able to scrutinize it after a few years of dealing directly with it. I first began to notice the difference in the accuracy of my hearing a couple of years after beginning guitar. I was listening to some of my old vinyl albums, from back in the 70s. Pitch imperfections in some of the vocal tracks were smacking me right in the face. These were songs I had heard hundreds of times before! It wasn't like I was listening any harder now. I was simply hearing things I hadn't been able to before. In one particular song, which happened to be a long-time favorite of mine, the main vocal in the first verse was really sharp. Honestly, it was tough for me to believe that I'd never noticed. Fact is though....I hadn't! It had been there all along.....I just couldn't hear it. At least not like I hear it now. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that truly needs to be experienced to be understood. So don't take my word for it.....go experience it for yourself!


That's all I have this time. Thanks for your continued interest!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Online Credibility

In this day and age of FREE advice, suggestions & tutorials on the web....how does one go about determining what's valid and what should be disregarded?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard......"The internet is full of bad advice and information".

Unfortunately, it's true!

There is an incredible amount of misdirection & incompetence....some deliberate, some not.

So what's the answer? What's a poor site surfing seeker of information to do?

The answer is simple.

We need to become more discriminating consumers. We have to force ourselves to examine & evaluate our sources of information.


The biggest obstacle to validation is also one of the biggest advantages to operating online.....anonymity!

The internet offers the perfect opportunity to pretend, or to function in relative obscurity.

As long as we talk a good game, we can masquerade as whoever or whatever we chose.

While there are valid reasons for wishing to hide one's online identity, there are at least as many questionable ones.

That being the case, internet trust should be earned, not given indiscriminately.


For musician/songwriters, the internet can be an incredibly useful tool. Sites like Songstuff.com provide an environment for people with similar interests to learn and interact. They also serve as a breeding ground for posers. Over the past 7+ years, I've gotten to know some great people! Unfortunately, not everyone fits into that category. Some choose to present themselves as more than they actually are. Often, it takes a while to figure out who's who, but that's a necessary part of the process.


So, how does one go about verifying online credibility?

Well hopefully, the individual in question has made that a simple task.

I'll use myself as an example.

  • I have little need or desire to mask my internet persona. In a nutshell, what you see is what you get! My name is Tom Hoffman.....I chose the Songstuff member name "tunesmithth" because my primary website is tune-smith.com and my initials are TH. I deliberately avoid exaggerating my musical credentials. What credentials I do claim, are easily verified.
  • The "About Me" section of my Songstuff member profile is detailed, historically accurate & publically available. It refers to me by actual name and member name, as does my "Tips & Tidbits" blog. It also provides a link to the Metro St. Louis Historical Site http://www.stlmusicyesterdays.com/Nickels.htm. You'll find my name listed near the top.
  • My Songstuff member signature, which displays at the bottom of every post I make, includes 6 links.....3 Youtube channels, my Facebook personal profile, tune-smith.com and "Tips & Tidbits". All clickable & readily available for examination.
  • Provided on those sites are 20+ original mp3s, ringtones, drum tutorials / demonstrations, guitar demonstrations, music videos, published articles, photos, etc.
  • The Library of Congress website is searchable by song title, or registrant name. Either will yield a history of copyright registrations for Tom Hoffman. They're a matter of public record.
  • What I never list on the internet is my exact date of birth, where I went to school, political preference, religious affiliation, etc. Identity thieves, data collection entities & special interest groups are the primary beneficiaries of details like that.


So....given that I've provided all the resources necessary to make an assessment of my musical qualifications, does that mean you should trust my online advice?

In a word, NO!

But it does mean that I've done my part.

All I can do is make the information available. It's your responsibility to research, evaluate & decide who to place your trust in!

No one can do that for you and you shouldn't want them to. After all, you're the one who will pay the price for being wrong.


When it comes to my own online interactions, I operate by a simple rule. Unless you've done your part, I'll probably disregard your advice. Sorry, but if I can't verify that you're qualified to offer me the advice, I won't be taking it seriously! I'll respond courteously, thanking you for your insights. I simply won't act on them! Why would I? If you're a relative stranger and you haven't bothered to provide some sort of qualifying credentials, how would you expect anyone to take you seriously?

In fact....shame on anyone who does!


So where does that leave the individual who's bound and determined to maintain online anonymity?

As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons for choosing to do so. Unfortunately, those reasons don't outweigh our need to verify.

Bottom line....if people aren't in a position to supply something, they can't be taken seriously!

Life's a trade-off.

People who truly have the need to operate anonymously should be willing to recognize the limitations imposed by that.

Fair or not, it's impossible to "consider the source" when that source is a nameless, faceless internet entity :blush:


Do yourself a favor.....take the time to learn something about folks who offer you online advice & information.

If you don't, there's a pretty good chance it'll be worth exactly what you paid for it ........NOTHING

As always, comments and feedback are welcome.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Writers' Block

As a long-time participant in online musician/songwriter forums, I've seen countless references to the infamous phenomena known as writers block. The thing is.....I'm not certain it actually exists! At least not in the way we've come to think of it.


Writers block is one of those catch-all terms. A shapeless, indefinable brain-fog held responsible for any & all blockages of creative or productive thought.

Whatever the issue, be it.....

  • lack of a viable idea
  • absence of inspiration or personal motivation
  • difficulty in finishing, or developing a specific project
  • inability to find a creative way to phrase a lyric, or make point

The tendency is to chalk it up to writers block.


Like many other creative fields, we musical types tend to shroud our process with a bit of delusional mystique. Simply put, we don't want to be clearly understood by the general public. After all, what we do is special and we wouldn't want just anyone to think they could do it. Would we? Our use of deliberately vague terms such as "inspiration", "writers block", "talented", "gifted" and "emotion-filled" help us to maintain that shroud of mystery. Seriously....I dare you to try and explain to someone what "inspiration" is! Clearly define it in 10 words or less. I certainly can't.


Our industry elites are often the worst offenders in this area. Most of us have had the pleasure of hearing a famous artist interviewed. Have you ever wondered about some of the stories and advice those interviews generate? It's a tough position to find yourself in, particularly when it's one of your favorite artists. You worship the ground this person walks on. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, you can't help wondering about some of what you just heard.

  • One of my favorite stories is the tried & true "it came to me in a dream". Good luck explaining to an aspiring writer how to go about writing a song in their sleep! :yes:
  • My nominee for favorite piece of misleading, useless advice is this one - "I never keep records of my new song ideas. If it's worth remembering, I'll remember it. If I don't, it probably wasn't very good to begin with".

OMG....seriously? Unfortunately yes! As closely as I can recall, that's what the man said. It's so wrong....on so many levels, yet I'll bet there were listeners who took him seriously. So, what's the motivation behind these fabrications of fact? Simple! They want to make our creative process sound just a little cooler, a little less attainable and a little more mysterious than it actually is. Fact is, the tales they tell are more interesting than the truth! So is telling everyone that you have "writers block". :whistle:

Despite its lack of definable meaning.....

  • everyone's familiar with the term
  • using it implies artistry.

After all, one must actually be a writer if one has "writers block"....mustn't one?


Over the years, I've noticed a pattern. The term writers block is typically used by younger, less experienced writers. That being the case, I'd like to point out a rarely discussed songwriting fundamental. There are 2 basic steps involved in creating a new song.

  1. First comes the idea itself. Without the fundamental idea, there can be no writing.
  2. Development of that idea into an actual song. This is the lengthy, grueling part of the process....the actual writing.

My fear is that far too many novices attempt to approach songwriting as a single step process. They schedule time to sit down and write, without having an idea.....hoping that one arrives, like a lightning bolt from the heavens. I have very simple advice for anyone employing this method. Stop!!!

Scheduled writing time should never be spent trying to come up with new song ideas. Either have them beforehand, or don't sit down to write! If your difficulty is in coming up with viable ideas, you are not experiencing writers block. You simply don't have any good ideas. The two are not synonymous.


Typically, ideas for songs don't arrive in a scheduled manner. They come when they come. In my case, they generally evolve from one of 4 starting points:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

Those 4 account for the majority of my step #1s. Many of these starting points (ideas) are discovered completely by accident. They come while practicing guitar, driving, watching TV, speaking to someone about a totally unrelated subject, listening to music, or waiting to fall asleep. The trick is to keep good, organized records. That way....when you do schedule time to write, you actually have a starting point (idea). From there, you can develop an actual song.


In my 18 years of songwriting, I never sat down to write without first having an idea. Not only have I never done it, it's difficult for me to imagine why anyone would. Think about it for a moment. Would you go out to change the oil in your car, without having a car? Of course not! Only an idiot would do that, right? Then why in the world would you sit down to develop & expand upon an idea without having one? The truth is, an experienced writer wouldn't!


I'll make one final point in closing. Not everyone is a writer! The ability to.....

  • begin with virtually nothing (a blank slate)
  • conceive a viable new idea
  • then develop that idea into a fully fledged song

....isn't something everyone can do. At least not by themselves.

Fact is, I know knowledgeable musicians who by their own admission, couldn't write a song if someone held a gun to their head. Most would love to and many have tried. For whatever reason, they can't.


If that last description sounded a bit like you, but you still crave involvement in the creative end of the process, try partnering up with someone. Figure out what your strong points are, then find someone who's strong where you're weak. If you're good at developing ideas, yet never seem to get any of your own, team up with someone who does! Last time I checked, 2 halves still make a whole.


Topics like this are difficult to address on a music forum such as Songstuff. Were I to post something like this as a response to a question or problem, I'd run the risk of someone taking it personally. In my opinion, subjects like this are better dealt with as blog articles. Hopefully, someone finds this one useful.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




People sometimes know me for years, before finding out that I'm an amateur singer/songwriter. It's not that I'm particularly secretive about it. It's just not something that fits easily into day-to-day conversation. Occasionally, if a discussion is already headed in a musical or technical direction, I'll bring it up. Experience has taught me though, not to be surprised if the news draws a strange or uncomfortable reaction. I've come to believe that many folks are simply thrown a bit off-balance by my hobby. Unless they happen to know someone else who writes, I guess they're a little unsure about how to process the news.


A few years back, I made a 20+ year acquaintance aware of my musical pastime. Her reaction was the kind I always hope to get...one of seemingly genuine interest & curiosity. Anyway, as a result of our conversation, I left her a computer burn CD containing some of my better-quality demos. I ran into her again a few weeks later...and she made a point of telling me how much she enjoyed it. She seemed amazed & impressed by the fact that one person could do everything she'd heard on the recordings. Then she laughed & said that her husband had a slightly different reaction. He was absolutely certain that I was being less than truthful with her! Naturally, I couldn't just leave it at that. My curiosity was killing me! I don't want to get too far ahead of myself here, but basically, it turned out that he was laboring under a life-long musical misconception......hence the title of this article. ^_^


As we continued talking, I discovered a little more about her husband's reasoning. Basically, it boiled down to this:

- He knew nothing about the concept of multi-track recording

- He was under the impression that all recordings resulted from everyone involved (musicians, singers, etc.) gathering together in a recording studio, performing the song similar to the way they would do it live...and recording that performance.


The bottom line was this....he wasn't questioning my personal integrity. He simply believed it was impossible for me to do what I had claimed! The thing is though, he was very mistaken! :thumbsup2: Afterward, I was thinking to myself...."here's a reasonably well educated man, in his mid-50s, who's been an avid fan of music throughout his life, but has absolutely no idea of how it all works! Gee! I wonder how many other folks are walking around thinking something similar?" At the very least, that might help explain some of those strange & uncomfortable reactions I mentioned earlier.


So here's my take-away from this experience:

1) We songwriter/musicians tend to assume a lot. Much of the time, we take for granted that the general public has some understanding of how our musical world functions. Many times, they don't!

2) For any non-musicians reading this article, recording is generally not done in the way this gentleman envisioned.


For many years, commercial recording has been achieved through the use of multi-track technology. Even though multi-tracking has evolved dramatically & continues to do so, the concept itself is not new. As a matter of fact, The Beatles utilized multi-track recording! That should give you some idea of how long it's been in existence. Basically, the technology allows for the recording of different sounds, onto different tracks. Typically, each instrument and vocal part is recorded to a separate track. This allows for separate control of each part. It also allows the parts to be recorded one-at-a-time, if desired. A musician or singer has the ability to listen to the previously recorded parts, while playing or singing along with them and recording their new part onto an unused track....all by itself. Pretty cool, huh?


Most commercial recordings are not the result of everyone playing & singing in the studio together. The version that becomes available for public consumption is generally the result of many, many individual tracks, which are blended (mixed) together into one pair of stereo tracks. Sometimes, 100 or more individual tracks go into the making of that final stereo recording that you hear. As you might guess, there's much more to it than what I've briefly described here. But hopefully, this serves to give you a basic understanding of the process.


That's about it for this time. With any luck, if you're a musician & were already familiar with most of this, you found it amusing food-for-thought. If you're not a musician and much of this was new to you, I hope you found it informative.


Thanks...and as always, your feedback is welcome & appreciated!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Musical forums like Songstuff draw more than their share of songwriting questions. Topics range from technically related software questions to structure & theory. Being one of the more experienced members, I try to assist these posters wherever I can. In the course of doing that, I've noticed something. Many of the inquiring members lack the musical knowledge necessary to understand the answers to their own questions.

For the sake of clarity, here's a sample, fictitious question....

Let's say a new member makes a post, inquiring about how to write a specific type of chorus section. The member sites several examples of popular songs with choruses of the type they prefer. It seems that, no matter what they try, they're unable to duplicate what they're hearing in those examples. They'd really love to be able to create chorus sections like those. What should they do?

Well..my first advice would be to take those popular song examples, break them down into specifics and analyze exactly what's happening. The poster knows their end-game. They want chorus sections that sound more like the examples. Simple enough! So, figure out how the examples did it. One way to accomplish that is by answering questions like:

  • Where does the melodic structure go....does the chorus melody ascend, or descend from the previous sections?
  • How does the backing musical (chord) structure compare to that of the previous sections? What did the writer change for the chorus?
  • What else is occurring? Are there extensive vocal harmonies being used....did they bring in additional instrumentation....does the emotional feel, or timing of the vocal change dramatically?
  • Is there a shift in timing...say from half-time to full-time?

In my humble opinion....a greater, more thorough understanding of what they already like is the shortest route to the answers they seek. Problem is....for that suggestion to work, the poster must already possess some knowledge of:

  • Basic key structure & melody
  • Chords & how they relate to key structure
  • Vocal harmony and what it consists of
  • Basic timing concepts....straight time, half-time, syncopation, lyrical meter, etc.

If they don't, my proposed solution would be no help at all. Honestly, nothing will. What they actually have is a knowledge gap, not a question about songwriting. They've been attempting to create, what they lack the knowledge to understand. That's gotta be tough! Would you be able to write a cohesive book without a firm grasp of your chosen language? Of course not! Unfortunately, that doesn't stop folks from trying to write songs before they truly understand what a song is. Essentially, music is the language of songwriting. There is a direct correlation between creating music (song) and possessing the knowledge to comprehend it.

That brings us full circle, back to the title of this article "To Write, Or Not To Write". Simply put, many people attempt to write before they should.

I can speculate a couple of reasons for this.....

  • We're living in a short-cut society. Everyone, particularly young people, crave a quicker means to their desired end....in this case songwriting.
  • Learning about theory, structure & your instrument aren't nearly as enjoyable as experimenting with creation. Fact is, they're tedious endeavors requiring repetition & personal discipline. The creative process can be more loosely structured and honestly...a lot more fun.

I get that because I've been there...done that! Perhaps that statement will make more sense if I share a little about myself. Rather than bore you to death with redundant info, I'll refer you to my Songstuff member profileIt's brief and the first 2 paragraphs contain most of the pertinent information.

I was fortunate! Because of my youthful involvement, I knew enough to understand what I lacked. So my first goal was to fill in those knowledge and ability gaps. I did not allow myself to begin writing until I had accomplished that goal. I knew that I'd be tempted to stray from that commitment, so I devised a simple, but firm plan:

  • Time is a limited commodity. Given that, I could see that consistent focus & structure was vital. Bottom line....I needed to limit my initial efforts to learning & structured practice. I decided that I would not begin writing until I'd acquired a grasp of all the basics and had become competent on my chosen instruments. My goals never included becoming a stand-out player, or an absolute theory-head. I was simply interested in achieving competency in both.
  • Once I'd reached that goal, I'd continue learning & practicing, but I'd spend much less time on both. That would free up enough time to begin writing.
  • From day one, I set myself up with notebook paper, tablature paper and a means by which to record impromptu ideas. Just because I wasn't going to write, didn't mean I should keep track of any and all viable ideas that came my way. For 2 years, as I came across riffs I liked....juicy chord combinations....catchy song titles or concepts....bits & pieces of memorable lyrics, I kept organized records. Once I was finally ready to begin writing, those notebooks & brief recordings were the first things I reached for. I'd simply chose an idea and run with it. Honestly, I had so many backlogged by the time I began writing, it was years before I worked through them all. Trust me...as a writer, too many ideas isn't a bad problem to have!

Although I spent 2 full years in the initial learning/practicing phase, that's NOT the norm. If you read those 2 paragraphs of bio I referred you to, you know that I took on 2 brand new instruments (guitar & bass guitar), had to re-learn a third (drums), began music theory pretty much from scratch and knew nothing about current home recording equipment or techniques. My goals were lofty, but I was positioning myself to function alone. Most folks don't go that route. They take a more reasonable approach, such as basic theory & a single instrument.


Congratulations....you've reached the end of this article! I'm all done making recommendations. Obviously, I can't control how seriously you take them, but I will leave you with one final thought.

Everything I've said here is based 100% on personal experience.

I didn't hear it from anyone...I didn't read about it in a book...it wasn't taught to me. I lived it!

Because of that, I can absolutely guarantee you that it worked! Tackling the basics BEFORE I started writing worked!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Back in July, I wrote a blog article about writers referring to "lyrics" as "songs". The points I attempted to make were that the terms are NOT synonymous & that using them interchangeably leads to confusion. The article had its' share of dissenters. If you haven't read it, I'd suggest doing so before continuing with this installment. I've included the direct link below for easy access.


In creating part one, I committed an error in judgment. Rather than offering the views of the music industry, online world & legal community, I presented personal reasons in support of my case. Part 2 is an attempt to rectify my previous error.


*All information listed below is the result of research done today (5/23/2014)*

1) Google search of "words to songs" - page 1 results matching that description, in order of appearance:

· Song Lyrics

· Lyrics

· AZLyrics

· Lyric Finder

· Lyricsworld

· MetroLyrics

· Instant Song Lyrics


2) Top rated online contests via Google search:

  • John Lennon Songwriting Contest - despite being called a songwriting contest, it doesn't offer a "lyrical" category....sound-file entries only.
  • International Songwriting Competition - ditto the above
  • USA Songwriting Competition - offers a "Lyrics-Only" contest category
  • Great American Song Contest - offers a "Lyric Writing" category & specifies that a typed "lyric sheet" must be submitted with each full song entry.
  • Indie International Songwriting Contest - was not able to find a breakdown of their categories, but here's a quote from their "rules" page - "Songs will be judged based on melody, composition, lyrics (when applicable), originality and phrasing."
  • Song of the Year - has a "Lyrics-Only" category for entries
  • American Songwriter - hosts a "Lyric Contest"


3) Musician / Songwriter Forums via Google

  • Songstuff - has "Lyric critique" & "Song & Recording Critique" sections. It also has a Showcase area for "Lyrics Collections".
  • Musesmuse - has "Lyrics Feedback", "Song Feedback", "Lyric Contest" & "Song Contest" forums.
  • Tunesmith.net - has "Lyrics", "Lyric Re-writes" & "Audio For Songs" critique sections.
  • Songwriter101 - has "Lyric Library" & "Tune Topic" forums.
  • Songwriter Forum- has "Feedback on Finished Songs", "Feedback on Works In Progress" & "Lyrics" forums.


4) Library of Congress (Copyright office) - quote taken directly from their Form PA online filing instructions. Notice the differentiation in types of work being registered.

- Nature of This Work: Briefly describe the general nature or character of the

work being registered for copyright. Examples: "Music", "Song Lyrics"; "Words"

and Music"; "Drama"; "Musical Play"; "Choreography"; "Pantomime"; "Motion

Picture"; "Audiovisual Work".


5) Merriam Webster Dictionary:


noun \ˈlir-ik\

: the words of a song

: a poem that expresses deep personal feelings in a way that is like a song : a lyric poem


So.....do you notice a pattern emerging? :yes:

Bottom line..... it's not just my opinion folks. Virtually everyone in mainstream music differentiates between "lyrics" and "songs". If some of you are still determined to call your lyrics "songs", go right ahead.

You simply need to recognize that your disagreement isn"t with me!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Musician/songwriter forums, such as SongStuff.com, are incredibly useful for certain things.
Seeking reliable, definitive advice about copyright related questions is not among them.
Yet year-after-year we see an endless parade of new-member posts inquiring about exactly that.

There are 2 generally accepted sources for information pertaining to copyright:

  • The Library of Congress (Washington D.C.)
  • Entertainment Attorneys

Consulting the first of those sources is free, but you'll need to do the research yourself & draw your own conclusions based on that research. Typically, entertainment attorneys are not free! You'll probably have to pay for their advice, but they will get the answers for you. If you're undecided about which of these avenues is best, I recommend asking yourself one simple question.
Can you afford to pay an attorney?
If the answer to that question is NO, then there is no decision to be made.
The Library of Congress is for you!
That's exactly how I learned & I've been registering copyrights for 16+ years.
Believe me....it's much easier to find information now, than it was 16 years ago.


Here are a number of direct links you may find useful:

If you're still bound & determined to ask your question on a musician/songwriter's forum, here's what you can expect.
- You'll get an array of responses & contradictory advice, from well-meaning individuals with a variety of qualifications.
- Those responses may be based on personal experience, personal knowledge, guesswork or opinion. You'll have absolutely no way of knowing which, since the people offering it are virtual strangers.
- The conversation will stray from your original question. Based on years of personal experience, I can tell you that it always does. You'll end up reading responses, which have little or nothing to do with your original question.
- If you do get lucky enough to find a forum member who is actually a practicing attorney, there's no way they'll be willing to risk whatever liability may result from offering you free online advice. If they are willing to offer an opinion at all, it'll be strictly a personal opinion, NOT a legal recommendation. Even in the best case scenario, you won't have advice that you can afford to count on.

BTW - this will always be the case, regardless of the specific forum!


When it's all said and done, you'll come away with unreliable advice.
It's your work.....right?
That is why you asked the question to begin with...right?
So are you really willing to base your decision on advice offered by a bunch of total strangers?
If you're truly concerned about protecting your work, you can't afford to guess. You need to know!


Hopefully, this blog article doesn't offend anyone. That's not my intent.
I am simply amazed at our chosen methods for acquiring information these days.
Many seem to feel that asking complete strangers is better than figuring it out for themselves.
I find that incredibly sad.


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile


I was thinking about my early days as a songwriter. Reflecting back on the antiquated, tedious process I worked with
for almost 6 years. Hard to believe what I went through every time I needed a drum track for a new song!
That being said, when I listen to those old recordings, I’m amazed at how well some of them turned out. :yes:
Hopefully the details of that process make for an interesting article.


*Examples of those old recordings are available throughout the article.
“Slow Down” - http://www.tune-smith.com/Slow_Down.mp3

My adventure as a songwriter & home studio aficionado began back in 1994. Digital home recording devices were starting to make their way onto the market, but analog was still the dominant force. It was also the more cost-effective of the two.
That being the case, I opted for a 4-track analog cassette style recorder…a Tascam 424 PortaStudio.




The PortaStudios were decent devices, but they had their limitations:

  • No onboard effects or compression
  • No phantom power
  • Very few microphone inputs

To overcome those limitations, I purchased a number of supplemental devices:

  • An 8 channel Peavey analog mixer w. phantom power
  • A Peavey DeltaFex effects processor
  • A DBX analog compressor



These were used in conjunction with the PortaStudio….providing me with reverb, compression, multiple microphone inputs & phantom power (overhead condenser mic.)

Without getting overly technical, here’s an overview of that setup….

  • Drum set mics were fed into the Peavey mixer. Depending on the song, anywhere from 6-8 mics were used….Shure SM57’s with an EV condenser mic overhead.
  • The Peavey EQ’d each channel individually, added a preset amount of reverb to each channel signal, combined all the incoming signals into one stereo signal, sent that 2-channel stereo signal out to its next destination.
  • That next destination was the DBX compressor. It processed the signal, then sent it to the Tascam 424 recording deck. On its way to the Tascam, that 2-channel stereo signal was reverse-Y’d into a single mono feed, which was then recorded to high bias cassette tape.

Unfortunately, with only 4 recording channels available, that final drum track had to be mono. Eventually, that mono track was bounced over (premixed) & combined with the bass guitar track. Fact is, the majority of my analog masters are set up that way. The final drum & bass guitar recordings share a single mono track.

There were a multitude of issues associated with the process I’m describing:

  • All drum mic adjustments had to be made pre-tape. That meant I had to balance each mic volume as best I could…accounting for bleed, make EQ adjustments per-channel at the mixer, set type & desired amount of reverb for each channel, adjust individual & master fader volumes to non-distorting levels. Needless to say, once these parameters were set, I made only minor adjustments from recording session to recording session. Essentially, I tried to improve whatever shortcomings existed in the previous recordings.
  • Once a final drum track was recorded, it was set-in-stone. The BPM was locked in…mic volume, tone & effect were virtually fixed. If the ride cymbal was too loud or the snare sounded over-compressed, I had 2 options. The entire track could be re-recorded, or I live with the imperfections. Simple as that! The decision always hinged on 2 variables. How much imperfection was I willing to tolerate? How noticeable would those shortcomings be in the finished version of the song?
  • Because of the need for premix bouncing, my bass guitar recordings were also fixed. I had to estimate what EQ settings might be best once the other tracks were recorded. Same was true for the volume of the bass in relation to the drum track. Once drums & bass were bounced over, the combined mono premix was fixed. Unlike digital systems, analog recorders didn’t offer virtual track storage. So….once a bounce was complete, both original tracks were erased. That opened up additional track space, allowing new instrumentation & vocals to be recorded.
  • Since I worked alone, components that required monitoring were positioned close to the drum stool. In other words, I had to be able to see the meters while I was playing drums. Fortunately, once the initial parameters were set, the only thing I had to monitor was input signal to the mixer. That signal couldn’t venture too far into the red. The photo below shows where the Peavey was positioned. The recording deck meters were not in my line of sight, so I had to trust the accuracy of my preliminary settings. Playback was the only way to verify results. If something had gone wrong, the track was rerecorded.


* “Love Will Find Me”https://youtu.be/7Y8ycXZY4gI


As if that wasn’t difficult enough, there were other issues. Once a new song had been written, arranged & roughed-out…it was time to begin the final recording (keeper version). If the song had drums, they were always recorded first. As is the case with live performance, better results are achieved when everyone plays to the same rhythmic center…in this case drums. But getting them down first wasn’t a simple task.

  • With the old cassette style recording decks, click tracks weren’t possible. Track bleed was so bad, that ghosts of the original click would remain audible even after complete erasure. That being the case, the logical alternative was to play to an electronic metronome. That gave me a timing center, but virtually eliminated the possibility of over dubs. Since the click was completely independent of the recorded drum track, there was no way to match the 2 for auto-punch patchwork. Bottom line…the vast majority of drum tracks were the result of start-to-finish takes. In other words, the entire part was played straight through.


Electronic Metronome


  • Another standard practice for drum-first recording is the use of a guide track. Guide tracks give drummers a basic outline to follow. That way they’re hearing a roughed out version of the music while playing along with the metronome (click track). It helps in remembering the feel of the song, where various sections begin & end, etc. Bottom line….I couldn’t use a guide track! The reason once again was track bleed. Ghosts of that roughed out guide were audible on the finished drum recording. So I became very good at memorizing new tunes, start-to-finish. By the time I was ready to record, I knew a song so well that I could hear it playing in my head all the way though. So….none of those analog tracks were played to music. The only thing playing besides the song in my head was the constant click of the metronome.
  • 2 measure count-ins were recorded at the beginning of every song. This was an absolutely must! Since drums were recorded first, there had to be a way to accurately tell where the song started. How else would I know when to begin playing or singing as additional tracks were added? Obviously, that section of the tape was later erased. Since beginning sections were trimmed off in final production, track bleed really didn’t matter.


Current Drum Kit


At the beginning of this article, I mentioned thinking back on this whole process. The reason for my nostalgia was simple. A few months ago, I set up a new YouTube channel called “The Story Behind The Song”. Several of the songs used for the channel were early recordings. Some of those made passing reference to the fact that I had changed from real drums…to an electronic method of creation. The videos weren’t the proper format for an in-depth explanation of why. But I thought a blog article might be. If nothing else, it can serve as reminder of how much simpler things are for home recording enthusiasts today!


* Links to several additional Video Examples of these early drum recordings are listed below.


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile


A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who's an aspiring drummer (and will remain nameless.....for a price wink.gif ).

He got himself a full drum set a while back and began taking lessons. Long story short....after just a few lessons, he had to stop....at least temporarily. He was still playing and learning what he could on his own. Apparently, his hands were fine, but he was having a problem with his bass drum speed & general technique. I believe his exact words were - "my bass is so terrible it's not even funny". He did remember his drum instructor telling him to "always keep on his toes for the pedals", but not much beyond that. He asked if I had any tips or advice that might be helpful. Since helpful is my middle name, I elaborated a bit on what his teacher had already told him & gave him a list of things to try.

Then it occurred to me......

  • there may be other folks out there experiencing this same issue
  • this topic had all the makings of a good blog

To begin with, there are several schools of thought on whether to play flat-footed or on your toes. For the most part, I'm in agreement with his teacher. I've always preferred playing on my toes. The disadvantage to that approach is that balance & weight distribution become big issues. To help offset those issues, here are a couple suggestions:


1) Stay with the "on your toes" approach for bass drum, but try playing off your heel for the high hat foot. If you keep that heel planted most of the time & only your bass drum heel is kept elevated, I think you'll find that many of your balance issues disappear. With that left heel down, you have much more stability & leverage to utilize on that bass drum side. You'll also find it very helpful when doing crash cymbal work or moving extensively around the set for fills.


2) Stool height & placement are possible issues. Again, this goes to balance. Experiment with various seat heights & with moving closer to....or further away from your set. Eventually you'll land on a position that seems most comfortable. Try that one for a while and see what you think. I'd love to tell you that there's only 1 correct place to sit, but that's simply not the case. Much of it has to do with your height, weight, overall fitness & personal preference. As you take your stool higher, more of the action fall on your upper leg & hip. A lower stool position tends to rely more on your ankle & knee. It's common to see drummers sitting so low that their knee ends up even-with or higher than their hip. Personally, I prefer a higher perch. My upper leg actually slopes down somewhat... toward the bass drum. But again...it's all in what you find comfortable.


3) Try adjusting the amount of tension on your bass drum pedal. I use more than a lot of folks. The more you increase the spring tension - the harder it will be to push the pedal down, but the more effortlessly it will return to the "up" position. You can also adjust the length of your mallet shaft....higher or lower. Unfortunately, there's no quick answer. Much of what I've suggested is simply trial & error. With the hands, things are at least a little simpler. There aren't nearly as many adjustment options or variables to deal with. Good luck, but most of all...try to have fun doing it!


As supplements to this article, I put together a couple brief demonstration/drill videos.






That's all till next time.....when the topic will be "Center of the Rhythmic Universe". I know it sounds a little pretentious, but hopefully it's useful. It deals with fundamentals that every gigging musician should know.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




There are as many answers to that question as there are songwriters. The reason for that is pretty simple. There is no definitely correct way to write a song!


Art is universally understood to be a subjective medium. Every artist creates differently and every consumer interprets differently. To call it a vague concept is an understatement! Personally, I think Webster's should add "art" as one of the officially recognized definitions for the word "vague" ;) . The difference between good & bad art, truly is in the eye-of-the-beholder.....or in this case, the ear-of-the-listener. For those who create art, that vagueness is both a blessing and a curse.


The blessing part of that equation is fairly obvious! If there are no absolutes governing the creation of art, then the artist really can't make a mistake. Can they? If there are no strict rules, then....whatever decisions are made, must be correct, at least in theory. From a creative standpoint, that truly is a blessing. It means that artists have complete creative freedom! They begin their process with absolutely nothing.....then end it with their version of a completed work of art. Generally speaking, I imagine that the public is aware of our blessing. But, I doubt whether much thought is ever given to "our curse".


In a nutshell, it's that same complete freedom, which endlessly complicates the creative process. The question presented by the title of this article, is merely one example of that complication.
"When Is A Song Finished"?
· Exactly how does a songwriter go about making that decision, given their complete creative freedom?
· What do they base the decision on, since there are no hard & fast rules?

Chances are, unless you're a songwriter, those questions have never even entered your mind. That's one of the reasons I chose this particular topic. Hopefully, those of you who don't write are getting a glimpse of what's behind that mysterious creative curtain.


For purposes of this article, the term "song" will be used to refer to only the essential elements.....lyrics, melody & single instrument accompaniment. Believe it or not, the complexities multiply about 1,000-fold once you begin factoring in elements like the arrangement, effect choices and final mix. Honestly, I can feel myself growing older just thinking about it! :rolleyes:

With just those 3 basic elements to consider, how complicated could the process be....right? After all, we're only talking about words, a melody for those words and some backing chords to be played by 1 instrument beneath that melody. That does sound simple! You would think that, once a writer has created those 3 elements for a song, the song would be done....right?
Yeah....till the writer begins asking themselves questions like:
· Is the meaning of my lyric as clear as it could be?
· Will most listeners be able to come away with the message that I hoped to convey?
· Does the rhyme scheme of the lyric work well? Did I include enough rhymes, or did I make it too rhymy? In either case, does that detract from the overall message I'm trying to convey?
· Does my lyric contain a solid, easily memorable hook? In other words, is there something built into the lyric that's catchy & repeated, that will help make the listener want to hear the song again?
· Are all of the verses solid, or do I need to rewrite the 3rd ......it seems a bit weak?
· Is my title catchy & cool? Will it be easy for people to remember? Is it short? After all....long titles are frowned upon.
· Will other people find my lyric interesting? If not, why not? Should I change something to make it a bit easier to identify with?
· Does the meter of my lyric (feel & flow) sound natural when it's sung?
· Does the melody work well with the single instrument chord structure behind it?
· Are both the melody & the feeling of the music good matches for the lyric? Do all 3 elements point the listener in the same direction? Do all 3 complement one another?
· Does the song need a bridge section? If so, what type & where should it be placed within the song?
· How's my introduction? Is it short enough? Will it keep a listener engaged, or make them want to turn the song off?
· Is my song too long?
· Does my song flow naturally from section- to-section, or does the change from verse-to-chorus sound too abrupt? Should I have included pre-chorus sections, rather than trying to move directly from verse-to-chorus?

Some of you may be asking yourselves....is he serious? Believe it or not....totally!

None of these questions are far-fetched. As absurd as it may seem, they represent merely the-tip-of-the songwriting iceberg. There are many more. This internal battle we wage, is simply a necessary part of the process & songwriters learn to accept it as such. But, sooner or later a song has to be finished....right? So the real question becomes...how much of this examining process should we allow ourselves to do? At what point does it cease being useful & instead become a neurotic exercise in futility? Once again, there is no single answer. Each writer's process is different. That's our curse....the never-ending questioning of one's self!


Though I can't pretend to speak for every writer, I can certainly speak for myself. For me, the process became manageable once I learned to define, control & embrace my own version of it.
That's right....I actually
· examined my process
· considered my specific goals & motivations as a writer
· made realistic assessments of my up-front expectations, the tools I had to work with and my available time.

Keeping in mind that there is no such thing as "the perfect song", I made some simple decisions. I weighed what I was willing & able to put into a project....against my expectations of the end result. I tried to achieve a balance between what I was willing to accept....and what it would take to get me there. From that, was born my version of the process.


I've been writing songs for over 16 years now. Somewhere along the line, I stopped viewing songs as finished or unfinished. I prefer to look at everything as a work-in-progress....at various stages of development. When I'm done with a song, I'm essentially "done for now". Because I also recognize the incredible importance of re-writing, I never rule out the possibility of returning to a project at a later time. As a matter of fact, I just finished doing that to a 2007 song - "The Real World".


So in closing, I'd like to leave a simple piece of advice for novice songwriters. Do yourself a favor & figure out what your personal version of "finished" is going to be. If you wait for inspiration, intuition or divine intervention to let you know.....you could be in for a very long wait! :P Don't buy into the fairy-tales you've heard about how this magically works. Get in there & figure it out for yourself. You can always make adjustments to your process as you go.


Happy writing everyone!


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile


Time for the final installment of this 3-part series. As with the previous installments, it's provided in 2 formats - hi-def video and text. Unlike the previous installments, part 3 depends heavily on video demonstrations & charts.

Bottom line....you won't find those in the text version.

For this 3rd installment, I strongly advise viewing the video, then utilizing the text as supplemental review.

Video Link - https://youtu.be/Y_R7SLHzsLA



Parts 1 and 2 of this series dealt primarily with the theory & thought process behind crafting drum parts. Now it's time to dissect a specific example. "Pentatonic Playground", an instrumental of mine, will be the example used here. I've chosen one of my songs for a specific reason. Since I made every decision for every part of this arrangement, I have the best possible insight into why those choices were made. Hopefully, that insight makes for a better, more informative tutorial.


Choosing A Direction

"Pentatonic Playground" is a rock-alternative instrumental. It was never intended to have mainstream appeal. I'm telling you this because, as a writer or a drummer, it's important to understand where you're trying to go with an arrangement. Simply put.....you can't accomplish a goal, without first having one. Knowing that I was striving for uniqueness, provided me with a basic direction. Even though I didn't have specific drum parts in mind yet, I understood that I probably wasn't going to achieve uniqueness by utilizing cookie-cutter drum parts. I would have to stretch my creative muscles a bit.


About The Song

1) The structure of the song is pretty basic.

verse / chorus / bridge / verse / double- chorus / ending

2) My songs generally evolve from one of the following starting points:

- a chord progression

- a riff/pattern

- a section of melody

- a central theme

This particular song grew from a riff that I stumbled upon while practicing stretch scale patterns. Major pentatonic patterns to be exact.....hence the title of the song. All of the verse & chorus guitar parts are based upon variations of that pattern, in the key of G.

3) Even though "unique" was the overall goal, a contrast in feel & flow from section-to-section often makes for a more interesting song. Some song sections (the verses) would have a decidedly unique feel, while others would employ a more comfortable feel & flow.


The Breakdown

OK! I've given you some background information on the song and a general overview of what I intended. Now it's time to break it down into specifics.....section-by-section. I'll try to provide you with insights into what decisions were made and why.


The Verses

- Rather than construct a separate introduction for this song, I started it with the distinctive guitar riff/pattern that inspired it.

The pattern does a nice job of setting up the unusual feel I wanted.

- I was interested in establishing a fairly consistent flow throughout the verses, so the drums don't build. They simply begin, along with the riff, then remain constant throughout the entire verse sections.

- I decided on a 2-measure beat, set in 4/4 time. I'll talk a bit more about the characteristics of this beat after the demonstration. It utilizes cymbal bell, snare & bass drum. Snare & bass drum were components from the start, but I did consider other options for the right-hand element. I tried high-hat, but it seemed overly staccato. Ride cymbal was too ringy and lacked the high-end clarity I desired. Cymbal bell seemed the best choice. It sounded crisp & distinctive, yet subtle.

As promised, I'd like to talk a bit more about the characteristics of this 2 measure pattern.

Unlike more traditional beats.....

a ) there is no snare on primary counts 2 & 4, except at the end of each 2-measure sequence

b ) the bell line is mostly 1/4 notes, but is sprinkled with groupings of 16th notes.

The end result is a pattern with a half-time feel. When played in combination with the verse guitar riff, it creates the impression of circular flow. This effect is a direct result of its unusual structure. Let's look at it from a slightly different perspective. Even though I wrote it as 2 - 4/4 measures, it could also be viewed as 2 - 3/4 measures.........followed by 1 - 2/4 measure.

Those consecutive 3/4 measures give it that circular (revolving) characteristic. The final 2/4 measure adds a resolved/finalized feel to it every 8 counts. However we chose to view it, the bottom line is this. It contributes to the song in a positive way and works nicely with the other verse elements. When constructing parts for new songs, your top priority should always be .........how the individual element impacts the song as a whole.

In this particular case, it's win-win. The pattern is cool & it works well within the context of the song.

In addition to what's shown on the chart, 3 cymbal crashes were used.....

- one marks the entry of a lead guitar melody

- a 2nd marks the exit

- and a 3rd is combined with a roll & utilized at the end of the verse section. The roll fills an intentionally vacant musical space and also serves to announce the coming change into the chorus section. The final crash, following the roll, marks/accents the actual point of that change.

As you can see, each element is there for a reason.


The Chorus

My intent was for the overall momentum of the song to pick up at the choruses. They're meant to represent the high point of the song's energy. In part, I accomplished that by shifting the drum track into a more traditional sounding, straight-time structure. The primary guitar parts also change. The chorus guitars create a smoother, more traditionally melodic flow.

They lack that busy, dysfunctional feel generated by the verse guitar arrangement.

The chorus section drums are essentially made-up of two, 2-measure beat patterns........sprinkled with roll/crash combinations.

Coming up next, I'll list some of the specific choices made & connect them to the various concepts discussed back in parts 1 & 2 of this tutorial.

- The 1st roll/crash combination fills a space, adds variety to the drum line and announces entry into the second half

of the chorus section.

- The 2nd roll/crash combination fills a space, adds variety and announces/marks the beginning of a new song section - the bridge.

- Overall, crashes are used more frequently in the chorus sections. They re-enforce accents, add color and assist in raising the energy level & volume of the sections.


The Bridge

Because this tutorial's already a bit lengthy, I'll briefly summarize the final song sections. After that, I'll provide you with a direct link to the actual song - "Pentatonic Playground". That'll allow you to hear the finished drum track within the context of completed arrangement.

The bridge section enters immediately following the first chorus. The drum part consists of variations on the chorus patterns. There's not a dramatic change in the feel of the drums.......only a subtle one. This is the only section of the song that was intended to have a melodic, flowing, pretty feel to it. For the most part, that's accomplished by means of the surrounding instruments (strings, chord-based guitar, etc.). The bridge drums weren't supposed to stand out. They simply needed to blend into the background & work well with everything else.


Summary of 2nd Verse / Final Choruses & Ending

- The basic beat patterns are almost identical to that of their earlier counterparts.

- Since I didn't add much variation with the patterns themselves, I got it done in other ways. Several new elements were introduced in these final sections, allowing me to achieve the variety, color & additional momentum I wanted.

1) Intermittent breaths were introduced in the final verse section.

2) A tambourine track was added at the beginning of the final chorus. Once introduced, both the tambourine & breath elements remained in for the duration of the song.

3) The final choruses & ending are interlaced with additional rolls & crashes, which assist in raising the overall momentum of the sections.


The Finished Song

As promised, here's the direct link to "Pentatonic Playground"



Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Have no fear faithful readers! I have NO intention of whining endlessly about my personal pet peeves. Actually, I thought it would be nice to try something different...more of an interactive format. I'll get the ball rolling, but leave the longevity and future direction of this installment in your capable hands. Please feel free to contribute to our ongoing pile of peeves. :yes:

Now that I've dispensed with the preliminaries, here are 3 forum-related peeves to get things started.


1) The "Scamortunity"

Has a nice ring to it, eh? As you might guess, the term is intended to describe a scam disguised as an opportunity. To be completely fair, music forums have no monopoly on scamortunities. Countless variations exist out there in webland. But indie music....and therefore music forums, have more than their share. As sites like Songstuff grows larger, they become more attractive to prospective scammers. In their minds, more web exposure equates to a larger pool of potential victims (suckers). Bottom line - buyer beware! The more it looks like an unbelievable opportunity, the more skeptical you should be and the more thoroughly it should be researched. After 7+ years on Songstuff, I find that my patience is wearing thin for these opportunists masquerading as helpful souls.


2) The "Decoy Question"

"Decoy questions" are those asked by people who have no sincere interest in actually obtaining an answer. The question itself is simply a ploy to draw attention to their post. Many times, this type of thing is done by new forum members. Because they're new, it's impossible to judge their level of sincerity. Most times, site staff will give them the benefit of the doubt. Problem is, in the case of a decoy question, the poster has completely wasted our time. Not only is this disrespectful, but it consumes time that would be better spent assisting someone who actually wants help.


3) The "Drive-By Poster"

The typical "Drive-By Poster" joins the forum with a single purpose in mind - self promotion. Most don't bother to review site guidelines because they have no intention of adhering to them. Makes sense, right? :whistle:

  • They join
  • Make their self-serving post, usually in an inappropriate section
  • Quickly present themselves in a credible light, as someone worthy of attention
  • Do little or no follow-up to that initial post
  • Reap whatever benefit is available to them ("plays", "likes", "subscribes", "fans")

Depending on how they feel about the benefit derived, many are never heard from again. Some will double or triple dip, attempting to duplicate the results from that initial effort. Once they've exhausted those short-term benefits, they're off to the next website.

Don't get me wrong....we all have some selfish motives when we join. But the keyword in that sentence is "some". My problem with the "Drive-By Poster" is that they have "only" selfish motives. Sites like Songstuff need members who are willing to give and take. If no one was willing to give back, there would be no Songstuff !

OK...that's all I have. Now it's your turn! Step right up & voice your grievance!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




If you're a musician/songwriter, the title of this article may remind you of a past nightmare. If you & I were playing a round of "Jeopardy"...and the answer I gave you was "practicing scales & writer's block", your response might be "what are 2 things we try to avoid"- LOL But what if I were to tell you that routinely practicing scales might help you avoid that dreaded writer's block? Would it be worthwhile then? Obviously, I can't answer for you. But my personal answer is a resounding YES!


As a member of online musician forums, I've seen countless posts & conversations about both of these topics individually. Typically, posters complain about scales being mindlessly boring and inquire about how to fix supposed writer's block. From what I can tell, many people view writer's block and the absence of ideas & motivation as 2-ways of saying the same thing. Personally, I've never cared for the term writer's block, but I guess that's easy for me to say. You see...in over 15 years of songwriting, I've never had it! ^_^ Seriously....never! I certainly have my share of other problems, just like everyone else. But, I've never had that one. My biggest obstacle has always been available time. Are all of my ideas brilliant? Absolutely not! But that's not my point. My point is that I'm never without at least one viable song idea.


I can't attribute that continual flow of ideas to any single variable. But I can tell you that I've stumbled across a number of them while practicing basic scale patterns. "Too Small To Save", "Pentatonic Playground", "Reluctant Love", "Bottom Feeders" and "Middle Class Blues" are all examples of this accidental discovery process. Each sprang from a riff that I came across while doing my typical warm-up routine. I'd love to tell you that these riffs came to me in a dream...that I immediately woke up & wrote them down...& that I felt as if they were inspired by God himself. But that would be an absolute load-of-crap! Unfortunately, the entertainment industry has already bestowed enough of that upon us to last for several lifetimes. So I'll try not to add to the delusional mystique that is so commonly used to shroud the creative process.


OK, back to the subject at hand! Let me try to connect-the-dots a little better by providing some detail about that typical warm-up routine I mentioned. Years ago, I got myself in the habit of using scales to warm-up on guitar. Generally, I'll pick 1 specific type of scale/mode (natural minor, diatonic major, mixolydian, etc.), pick a key & run a basic block pattern...6th string thru to 1st string then back again. Once I've started to loosen up:

  • I'll allow myself to begin deviating a bit...within the confines of that same basic pattern
  • eventually, I may shift to a pentatonic version in the same key then fiddle around a while
  • by selecting different starting & stopping points, doubling back on various strings, incorporating hammers & pull-offs...basically farting around, but remaining within the structure of that same scale pattern.

It's this final farting around (improvising) stage of the warm-up that's proved useful in generating riff ideas. Once I'm warmed-up, I allow myself the creative freedom to roam around inside the given scale structure, trying different combinations and free-forming. Since I'm already operating within the parameters of a set scale, I have the advantage of knowing that anything I come across will be theoretically sound. I don't have to consciously think about what notes I'm playing. I simply play & listen for any random combination that I like. I've always been of the opinion that creativity happens when we allow ourselves the opportunity to play around & experiment. That's become easier for me, because I routinely practice scales. That practice has helped me to develop finger memory. Finger memory means that my hands know the shapes of the scale patterns. Because of that, I'm able to allow my mind the freedom to play around & hopefully discover. Bottom line....if scales weren't already a routine thing for me, that simply wouldn't be possible!


Will this work for you? There's only one way to find out! Do yourself a favor though....if you do decide to try it and you stumble across an idea, make an immediate record of it. Personally, I never trust a new idea to memory! I always make a quick recording or a written record of it. Most times, I do both! For quick recordings, I've typically used either a cassette-tape boom box or a hand-held digital recorder. My written versions are usually tablature. Once that's accomplished, I forget about it & move on to whatever I had originally intended to do. I'd be willing to bet, that right about now, someone is asking themselves -"what...you don't drop everything else & continue working on that new idea?" No! Almost never! I find that my life and my work flow in a more orderly fashion when I plan my work, then work my plan. And no, I didn't just make that up. It's an old adage in business. My life is less chaotic that way and my projects get finished! As with most other things in life, I do leave room for the occasional exception. But it doesn't happen often.


If you can get yourself in the habit of keeping organized, detailed records of all your ideas, you may find that you begin to develop a surplus. Wouldn't it be nice if your biggest problem was finding time to develop your ideas, rather than not having any? I've always thought so!


Since a picture is supposedly worth 1,000 words, I thought it might be a nice touch to include a video attachment with this article. It's a quick guitar demo of the primary riffs in "Middle Class Blues".




Thanks...and as always, your feedback is welcome & appreciated!


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




Time for the 2nd installment of this 3-part blog series, dealing with the thought process behind the composition.

As stated previously, each installment includes:

- A 1080p video version, complete with audio & video examples

- A text-only version

Readers can select the format they're most comfortable with, or utilize both. Those who opt for the video version may find the text useful for quick reference.

Video Link - https://youtu.be/sgsYxI2cImg


Part 2 Text

Part 1 of this tutorial dealt with many of the general concepts, questions & variables involved in constructing drum parts for original songs. Part 2 deals more with specifics. I'll break down the individual components of a typical drum part, discuss them at length & explore options for each. By the end of this installment you should have a much clearer picture of the thought process involved.


Selecting Beat Patterns

Have you ever heard a new song on the radio and been instantly being drawn to it? Most of us probably have! For years I simply accepted that at face value....never bothering to ask myself why. Then I began to write songs. As a writer, I found that it's in my best interest to explore the "whys". Why am I attracted to specific songs? I'm inclined to believe there's no universal answer to that question. But for me, the overall feel & flow of the song has a lot to do with its immediate appeal. It's safe to say that the choice of beat patterns plays a large part in establishing that feel & flow.

You may have noticed that the subtitle for this section is plural.......patterns. Ideally, you're going to select more than just one. It's not uncommon to utilize 2 or 3 variations of a basic pattern for the verses of a song, then select an entirely different pattern for the choruses. Many times a bridge section is given yet another pattern.....something with a completely different feel. After all, one of the main functions of a bridge is to break the monotony of a song by introducing something unique.

There are some fairly common tricks-of-the-trade that I haven't covered previously. Now's a good time to talk about them.

BTW - All of these examples assume a right-handed drummer.

1) You can vary the specific part of the drum set being played by the right hand, from song section to song section.

For example, hi-hat for the bridge, ride cymbal for the chorus sections. It's a fairly small change, but the impact on the overall texture of the song can be quite dramatic.

2) You can vary the hi-hat technique within a given song section. Playing it tightly-closed produces a very crisp, structured sound. Whereas playing it semi-opened gives you a looser, free-floating feel. It's common for heavier, harder-driving songs to go with the 2nd option. Lighter-edge pop, rock & country employ a lot of the tightly closed version, but will often combine the 2 techniques. For example - tightly closed through the majority of a verse, then semi-opened for the last measure or 2. That produces a slight change in feel just prior to the entry of the chorus section. The variance also serves as an announcement to the listener that a change is about to take place. Many times it will be employed as a prelude to a cymbal crash, punctuating the actual change.

3) You can employ a very basic right hand rhythm, then utilize a misc. percussion instrument to embellish the feel of the pattern. For example - a quiet 1/4 note right-hand hi-hat (1-2-3 & 4 counts), then on a separate track record a tambourine or soft-shake to fill-in the straight 1/8 note feel. That gives it a busier, more constant texture. It also adds variety & depth to the songs' rhythmic feel.

4) It's fairly common in the metal & hard rock genres, to hear the right hand playing a straight pattern on the edge of a crash-ride cymbal. This technique produces an effect that essentially sounds like one-prolonged crash. When it's combined with the heavy rates of compression that are commonly used in those genres, it tends to add a blurred, heavy edge to the song.

Before leaving this section, I have one final piece of advice to pass on to non-drummer songwriters. Please do everyone a favor.....especially yourselves. When you put together a song demo, DON'T select a single mechanical beat pattern, then utilize that pattern all the way through. It kills me to hear people do that! In my humble opinion, nothing makes a demo sound more amateurish! Spend a little time & effort on it. It doesn't have to sound like Neil Peart, but it does need some variety. Every part of an arrangement impacts a listener's impression of the final song. That includes the drum track!


The Story on Rolls (fills)

You'll find that opinions vary widely on.....

  • when to use a roll
  • what type is most appropriate
  • how complex they should be

For drummers, many of these decisions are determined by personal style. Since most non-drummer songwriters lack a drummers' expertise, they tend to be guided by their years of listening experience. For the purpose of this tutorial, I'm going to stick to basics and allow everyone plenty of room to exercise personal discretion.

Beats serve primarily to establish fundamental rhythmic feel, but rolls can be used to perform a number of functions:

1) Add variety / prevent monotony - In other words, break up the consistent flow established by your beats....making the overall rhythm track a bit more interesting.

2) Serve as fills...much as lead licks, keyboard or bass riffs do. It's not the only common application, but rolls are frequently placed between lyric/melody lines to help fill gaps & maintain the overall momentum.

3) Indicate (announce) a coming change. Some examples would be....

  • the start of a new vocal sequence
  • a change from verse to chorus
  • a shift in dynamics from quiet to loud, or visa-versa

Rolls can also be used in combination with lead licks, or other fill elements. When they're employed in this way, caution should be exercised. You want to avoid timing conflicts between the various fill parts. Bottom line - it's harder to pull-off cleanly, but very cool when it's done right!

It's also common to alternate fill instruments. You can use a drum roll this time, a guitar lick next time, followed by a keyboard run, and so on. This will get you even more variety, with the added benefit of making each fill instrument more prominent. Listeners notice them more because they're the only thing presenting a variation at that particular moment.


To Crash or Not-To Crash

Cymbal crashes are useful tools when employed tastefully. Here are some examples of common applications:

- to accent, or call attention to a specific count within a measure

- to add dynamics to a section of music by boosting the high-end frequencies & overall volume of that specific section

- to mark a change in the structure of the song (for example, moving from the verse to chorus)

- in combination with rolls, particularly longer, more elaborate ones.........to break them up, reinforce accents and add color


Recap & Preview

Congratulations....you've now reached the end of the theoretical portion!

Parts 1 & 2 of this tutorial were intended to give you a grasp of the thought process. Going forward, we'll dissect an actual song....part-by-part. We'll look at what specific decisions were made...and why. Unlike these first 2 installments, the 3rd will be heavy on video examples & light on text.


Tom Hoffman

Songstuff member profile




20 Questions

A self-serving survey of sorts (#alliteration), these are musically related questions for those with an interest in songwriting.
The article is set up in a self-interview format, with me being the first respondent. Ideally this will become an interactive survey, with readers adding their own responses to various questions. All comments & responses are welcome. Questions are bolded in black…my personal responses are listed in dark blue. Where things go from here is entirely up to you!


1) Do you need inspiration to write a song?
No! It certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s not an essential element.


2) Which do you write first…lyrics or melody?
The overwhelming majority of the time, I create melody first. I may refine it a bit as the lyric develops, but the basic melodic structure is written first.


3) How do you decide when a work-in-progress has become a finished song?
Tough to give a definitive answer to this one, but I consider a number of factors:

  • my available time
  • what I had originally envisioned the song to be
  • intended use (specific or not)
  • externally imposed deadlines (work-for-hire, contest, publisher call-out)
  • when I can honestly view the finished product as “reasonable quality”
  • when I have no more brilliant ideas on how to improve it :yes:

4) Do you worry whether others will like what you’ve written?
In part, that depends on “why” I’ve written it. In the case of “The Ballad of John & Rosemary”, yeah! It was written specifically for them, so I’d better worry a little. But under normal conditions, NO…it’s not a concern. I think everyone prefers to be liked, but it not something that consciously guides my typical creative process.


5) As a songwriter, do you live in constant fear of your material being stolen?
No! I keep accurate…organized records, file for an official copyright through the Library of Congress and relax.


6) Do you avoid placing your songs online because they may be stolen?
No! If you’re primarily a hobbyist songwriter (as I am) ask yourself something. What else do you think you’re going to do with them? Seriously….what? If you don’t make them accessible online, you may as well shove them in a drawer because odds are….they will never be heard. Music’s not good for much if no one ever hears it.


7) Do you attempt to sell your music?
No….not in any form (downloads or CDs)!


8) If so, what’s your primary motivation in doing that? In other words….are you hoping to earn a living, supplement your existing income, prove to yourself that you can, fulfill a person goal?


9) If not, why not?
I get asked this question a lot. Usually I’m evasive, but I figured I’d take a shot at answering honestly:

  • I’ve been an active participant in music for 30+ years now….online & otherwise. Based on what I’ve learned through participation in online communities, research, contact with publishers/song libraries, the experiences of others + simple observation….I see absolutely no upside in trying to sell it. If I did, I would.
  • My personal self-worth is in no way tied to whether others are willing to pay for what I’ve created. Good material does NOT = $ earned!
  • As much as I love our digital age & the advantages it offers to writers like myself, I do NOT care for the indie business model. It does not exist for the benefit of those creating the material. It exists to support the financial interests of business entities servicing those creators (artists). Virtually everyone, except the creators of content, is paid up front. CD Baby, iTunes, demo studios, professional recording studios, mastering houses, website design, SEO entities, song-pluggers (Taxi), many music libraries, label/artwork design folks & so on. They all get at least a portion of their revenue up-front. The creating artists however, are asked again & again to wait. “Be patient”, “invest in your future”, “believe in your material”, “have faith”! When it comes to physical CDs, I know artists who’ve spent a little & artists who’ve spent a lot, but they all have one thing in common. None of them ever made money on their CD projects! They all spent more up-front, than they were able to recover in sales. Bottom line – if your reasons for selling are income related, you may want to think twice. I did! BTW– most of these artists were not regularly performing acts. There is a case to be made for sale of music/merchandise in conjunction with frequent live performance.
  • The prevalence of digital piracy & illegal file-sharing in today’s market. Like it or not, it is, what it is!
  • I like my family and friends! Don’t kid yourself….if you think for one minute that those closest to you won’t mind being subjected to a constant barrage of “please share”, “please buy”, “please like”, “help support independent music”….you are sadly mistaken. It gets incredibly old, incredibly fast….even for those who genuinely care about you.

10) What do you think of the Internet Radio concept?
Honestly, my opinion is changing as the concept continues to evolve. Like most of today’s “Indie” platforms, it exists to support the business interests of those who service music creators…NOT the creators themselves. In other words, it’s not about making money for songwriters! For hobbyists like myself, it’s another no-cost means of exposure. As an earnings platform for budding songwriters, it leaves much to be desired.


11) Do you participate in large-scale songwriting competitions?
From 2003 – 2011 I did! Typically, I’d enter a few each year, but never really viewed them as serious opportunities. More like cheap entertainment & self-challenge. Again…these contests do NOT exist to benefit songwriters! They exist to benefit the hosting business entity. As long as you recognize that, participation is fairly harmless.


12) Are you still writing new songs/music?
Not for the past year or two….for a number of reasons:

  • Lack of available time
  • Overall life circumstances
  • With those 2 reasons in mind, I asked myself a question. What could I do with a bunch of new songs that I can’t already do with the ones I have? Simply put…NOTHING! So for now at least, I work on refining & utilizing my existing catalog. That being said, I hope to return to writing at some point in the future, if circumstances allow.

13) Should every aspiring songwriter learn to play a musical instrument?
Absolutely! 20 years ago, this would have been an irrelevant question. But in todays “shortcut society”, that’s not the case. My advice…if you’re serious about your involvement in music, learn to play at least one instrument competently.


14) Do you have to be “musically talented” to learn an instrument?
No! You need a genuine desire, dedication & the basic physical capabilities required for that particular instrument. Personally, I think inborn talent has more impact in advanced stages of skill development.


15) Have you been in a band, or bands?



16) If yes, did you like it?

Definitely! As with everything in life, there was a mix of good & bad. But overall….absolutely!


17) For those who have already, would you like to be part of a band again?
Yes! Although, at this point in my life, I’d want to gig less frequently…..maybe once or twice per month.


18) When you look back at all of your experiences & achievements as a participant in music, how do you feel?
This is an easy one for me….”extremely grateful”!


19) If you could change one thing about today’s musical priorities, what would it be?
I’d like to see more emphasis on music….less on stardom & making a quick buck.


20) Should two 1/8 notes = one 1/4 note, except in the case of a triplet? Does that make sense to you? It never did to me….which is why I dedicated a blog article to the question!

For anyone interested, here’s the article link http://forums.songstuff.com/blog/75/entry-1283-is-it-time-for-a-12th-note/


Tom Hoffman
Songstuff member profile