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Composing Instrumental Songs


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Hey guys... so I go through these phases, right? Every few weeks I switch from songwriting, to learning classical stuff, to learning cover songs, to focusing on lyrics, etc., etc. After just finishing (more or less) a song recently, I've been listening to alot of classical stuff again. I kinda want to try my hand at composing a simple instrumental song on my guitar; this is where my inspiration is going right now. I wanted to ask you guys your experience trying to write purely instrumental songs. I've tried before but have a hard time getting past the first few bars cause I have so many ideas from improvising or whats in my head. It's hard to organize it all. Currently though this is what I'm working on so I figured I'd see what ya'll thought. What are your thoughts about writing, structures, melodies, harmonies, etc.. when it comes to this?

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I can't advise on this Sean, sorry (don't play anything) but I've made it a staff pick because it's a great topic for discussion and I hope by doing so, you'll get some feedback.

I hope to learn something to :)

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I am very much "learning, too," but here is one idea that has been very useful to me from other forms of creative-writing that I do ...

First, capture the material. Get a big piece of (note) paper, or a nice empty directory on your hard drive, and just start writing things down. I use an open source music-scoring program MuseScore (which is excellent, by the way ...) and what I do is to notate an idea, leave a few blank measures, and then notate something else. If I have an idea to change something, I copy it to the clipboard, paste it into a new section of the same (or a different) document, and make the changes there. Either way, I am capturing ideas and inspirations but I am doing so non-destructively. "The Delete key should be temporarily removed from the keyboard."

Then, assemble various ideas. Again, do it non-destructively. (You're never going to run out of disk space, and if you're getting close, buy a bigger or just buy another drive and keep going.) When you are assembling, you're trying to find a suitable organization of things that you already have "in stock." Of course new ideas will pop out as you do that. "See step #1."

They say that writing consists of re-writing, and I have very much and very often found this to be true. Whether I'm writing words, or (trying to write) music, or even performing my daily pays-for work of writing computer software. "You won't get it right the first time. You probably can't. Don't throw it away. Instead, shoot for a strategy of successive refinement." That strategy will get you to where you want to go (or to another even-nicer place that you never expected to find).

Edited by MikeRobinson
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Mike great thoughts in your reply post and a great way to build a working catalog...

"First, capture the material"..i find that any kind of 'loop' helps me a lot. With a loop I can lay a tempo and work from there, when it feels right hit save, and start another loop. On higher end 'loopers' there is a memory card and you can throw it all on the drive and build a catalog of ideas. I like this for fast changes and I have a bit of A.D.D. so mid idea I can save and come back to it later.

This lends its self to guitar but can apply to all. I just found out about the app. LOOPY for i phone. 3 dollars gets you a 6 bank looper that is great for idea capture and has some great features.

As for instrumental song writing a strong hook is very important, after you have that hint at it and very or augment it. Pain

after reading the last line i was tempted to edit it out, seems over simplified.

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I don't think that it is "over-simplified" at all.

Also, if you find that "ideas hurl themselves at you" and don't align themselves, don't chalk that up to ADD or anything else: I believe that this is how creativity works. You have to find a way to organize it, to persuade those high-spirited race horses to accept a saddle and a bit without losing their fire. "Capturing the material, as it happens, however it happens," has been compared to catching a lightning-bug in a jar. Don't kill the thing, of course, but catch it, and then you can determine what to do with it. Here's where the very-loose analogy ends, of course.

One thing that's a little bit different for me is that I do everything with the computer. My performance skills, frankly, are lackluster. My hand/eye coordination is only so-so. (Aww, heck... truth time... truth: I haven't practiced :pianoplay3: like I know I should, in years.) I'm a crazy "musical-scores are actually fun" geek :alien: but maybe that is kinda-sorta like the composers who used to write stuff for player pianos by punching holes into long strips of paper. Perhaps you can find a way to use the computer like a word-processor. Find a way to let it help you create music that, perhaps, you can't play, but that you can imagine.

Edited by MikeRobinson
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  • 1 month later...

Hey, Mike:

A lot of work went into getting me to this point: (Click link below and Scroll down:

Ed's backing tracks

I use a laptop with a 7200rpm HD, Garage Band, an Alesis Digital interface, a mike and a guitar plugged into the interface, and headphones.

Using composer software, I use Band in a Box, there are many to choose from, lay out the bars, usually four times two, three, or four. Set intro to be same as last line of chorus. "Sacred" or "Christian theme #4" is

Intro: CGCG

1)CCFC

2)CCGG

3)CCFC

4)CGCC

That's what I mean by laying out the measures. Your screen will have a grid with these chords on it.

If you have not used BIB or other then by now you are maybe lost. BIB is fairly easy to learn. I am Mac

based so my system uses Apple. They are all good.

Push a button and the software will generate the song. Convert it to a usable file.

Drag it into the first channel of your recording program.

Open up a couple of blank tracks. Assign one track to the guitar. Set the level. Pour one short Jack Daniels, you may need it. Play along with the backing track until you know it. Actually, you have already played it a couple of hundred times through your regular rig. When you are ready, push record.

As you play, you will accidentally hit the wrong note. Good. You have made the first step and are on your way to writing your first original melodic arrangement using 21st century technology.

That song? Recognize Amazing Grace? You won't after you finish.

Play back. Mark sections, delete, copy, adjust volume and pan, and all that.

If you want help, let me know. We are revolutionizing the song writing business. The more that are doing it, the more options we will be able to offer lyrics writers.

Edited by edshaw
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  • 2 months later...

Writing instrumental 'songs' doesn't have to be that different from 'normal' songs. It kind of depents on the style you are after. If you want to write classical-periode style music there are other things to focus on then when you want to write baroque-type compositions. You could write 12-tone like Schonberg, or avantgarde.

Maybe you could pick a style you like and listen to some composers from that periode. Read some theory that explains something about the style. You can spend a lifetime learning about one style-periode, so there's lot's to explore I'd say.

In essence you often use baroque, classical, romantic, etc. idioms for pop-songs as well. So it will probebly be beneficial for your songwriting process too.

I would suggest a book by Schonberg, named 'The essentials of composing'. It explains what the basic elements of compostions are and builds on that to teach about writing more larger forms. This is all directly applyable in songwriting as well.

Edited by Gijs
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