This week we worked on finishing up the composition and practicing of all of our songs. We finished with Michelle’s song a laid back indie/pop song with fantastic melodic composition in relation to vocals, lyrics, guitar parts and bass. I was filling the role of lead guitarist in this piece playing lead parts over sections of the song where there were gaps in the vocal lines or when there were no vocals at all. It was like playing along to one entire hook, the entire song was catchy and had a very unique compositional structure. The song actually ended on a build up after a chorus, which usually would be the total opposite with a build up leading into a chorus or double chorus then finishing. This song built up over 8-12 bars and finished at the height of a build up leaving the listener wanting for more. I found this to be a very strategic writing element as it would entice people to re-listen to the song. After this song was completed we spent our time rehearsing over the other songs for the upcoming performance.
With the performance now just around the corner we needed to draw up technical sheets and lead sheets. The tech specs, as they were referred to, were our list of needs which were to be given to the sound engineer to make sure we had ample equipment and space on stage to perform with. Our tech specs included P.A system for vocals, keyboards and acoustic guitar, electric guitar amp, bass amp, shakers and a drum kit. Without any of these elements it would make our performance impossible.
Lead sheets were also created by each member of the group containing the structure of each song, any lyrics that were in the song and the chords for the musicians to follow. For my lead sheet, Oedipus, having no vocals meant I had to be very particular on which section was which and had to go into detail about what each instrument did at each section due to the artistic styling of the piece. As acoustic guitar and bass are the tow main voices in the song the chords were worked out from the bass notes and used for the lead sheet. This was decided as the bass has the most impact on a foundation level, harmonically, and any notes above it that may fall in and out of tune are passing notes which are essentially based around the notes the bass guitar would be playing. After drawing up this lead sheet I realized that we had completed our semester of band work and instrumental composition and arrangement and that the performance was just around the corner. With this in mind I arranged two extra practices before the event, one two hour session just three days after our class (in which we practice every week) and one three hour session the day before the performance.
This experience was fantastic and I would gladly do it again. Having an opportunity to write music with people is stress relieving and fun, you also get music out of it too! I found that exploring creative interests with like minded individuals to be a great class exercise and learning experience. We are all supportive of each other’s pieces and are becoming nervous due to the performance as we do not wish to ruin any of our own member’s songs on stage. Now that the goal of this blog has been completed I believe it is time to say that this will be the last blog in this series, thank you for reading!
Modulation is the changing of key in a musical piece. Modulation can be done in a number of ways. During lectures we were shown how to change from the key of C to Gmajor. To modulate to the new key from C one must have a chord sequence running playing a variant of chords from the key of C. The easiest way to change is to move from the tonic chord to the dominant seventh of the new key and then revert back to chord one of the new key e.g C-D7-G. This modulation can be used to add layers to a piece, show off a progressive nature through extensive use, create a feeling or mood within your music and many other things. This was a valuable lesson to learn and something that I find I will have to consider whenever I’m writing my own music in the future.
In relation to band work the group were working on my own song, an artistic piece written for my philosophy module the previous semester. It’s a piece I was really confident in melodically which was also technically challenging. There were key changes and time changes which made it an overall complex piece in my opinion. I chose to use this song as it was still very new to me and I was interested to see where it could go with other instruments thrown into the mix. This song however had a very abrupt modulation from one key to another. It was a very dramatic and interrupted change, separate from the rest of the song up to the point where the change occurs. This was intentional however, as the piece is composed around the life of Oedipus from the Book Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
This piece was very minimal and contained extremely minimal drum parts, a shaker part, some electric guitar and most importantly bass support throughout. The bass and guitar really worked together on this piece to create a groove and kept a flowing motion throughout the piece even though there are rests before entering new sections at times. For example on the changeover from one picking section to strumming blues section the bass work compliments the guitar in ways that I hadn’t imagined before hearing it. The bass notes really bring out a tone from the piece that really solidified the change and made it seem more pronounced. The electric guitar parts too added various dynamics to the track as it exuded a lead melody in a very subtle way throughout the piece and ebbed and flowed into the song without being extremely noticeable. The shakers created rhythm in the very relaxed piece which I found became crucial to the song, after only hearing them once it was decided they were not expendable and needed to be in the song. The drums provided a very solid beat which the other instruments were able to groove around and work through their melodies, without the minimal drumming the song would have changed in a bad way stylistically and would have been ruined. Overall I am delighted at how the piece turned out and have been considering recording it after we finish up for the semester.
This week in lectures we looked at string composition. There are four string instruments contained in a quartet, these are two violins, a viola and a cello. These are included because of their differences in register/pitch. Two violins can be used in harmony with each other because of the dynamic range of the violin and the high/low pitches it can reach. The viola is used for a mid section, written in the alto clef, this string is the tie between the violins and the cello (bass). The quickest way to identify the alto clef (other than the alto clef signature) is that “C” is on the third line, so if you are accustomed to working with regular ledger lines and middle C etc, you would start writing there as middle C. String instruments use a variety of techniques like legato, tremolo, staccato, detaché, octave and pizzicato. A common use of strings is to have the lower sections play elongated base notes while the violin(s) play shorter, faster melodies as a sort of lead section.
In relation to the band this week we decided we would not use any strings in our pieces as none of the members could play a string instrument (excluding guitar/bass). Work continued with Jack and Dave’s songs and we looked into another song too. With regards Jack’s song there were some issues with the keys in the backing track being out of time, this caused a huge problem as using a backing track meant we had to be 100% on the ball when performing a sit was, but with odd timing going on in the track it was virtually impossible to play along to. This track needed to be edited so we adjourned work on that song for the week. Dave’s song moved along swiftly and smoothly with no complications. As his song was pre-written it was simply a matter of us each learning our parts for the song and adding our own flavor to it.
The new track we looked at this week was my own song. This was an instrumental piece I had written for a project in the previous semester. It was written as an artistic piece and was very stylistic, not encompassing any particular genre within itself. The piece was originally written to be just acoustic guitar but we began to work on learning it and assigning roles for who would play each part on the song. The group took a recorded version of the song and settled on listening and working on ideas over the course of the week. This concluded our practice and work for the week.
So far we’ve completed: 2 songs (group composition and Dave’s song)
Left to complete: 3 songs (mine, Michelle’s and Jack’s)
Note: There are 5 in the group and there must be one song per person but one person is also allowed to claim the group song as their own based on the work they put into it. Kayleigh, who plays piano in the group took that song as her own as her part is the most memorable form the entire song.
Moving onto new songs this week we began to look at Jack’s song “Jack it up”. This was a straight up modern pop song, synth-laced backing track and backup vocals included! This piece was entirely different to the previous song we had written together, being more upbeat it was a good change and we were all pretty positive going into working on it. While there was no single person in the band playing the keys on this track, there were parts written into the backing track which we needed to work around. To make this work the guitars needed to work in a certain way around the keys parts.
As this song relied on the main melody the guitars in the song (electric and acoustic) were playing simple chords to back up the main notes of the synth lead parts. By playing the basic chords on guitar this allowed the lead track to flourish by arpeggiating notes and giving a wonderful and complex sound to the song.
As a group we decided to look at all of the upcoming songs we needed to learn and how many had already been written by the members of the band. Dave’s song “can’t get out of here” was written as a kind of Brit pop or pop/rock song relying on catchy vocals and a main chorus lead section to hook the listener. To incorporate all of the members of the band in this song the lead sections from the guitar were taken and changed to parts for keys.
What could have been very problematic is that the piano and the guitar can sometimes play the same role in a band. They can accompany, solo, supply rhythm and play melodic material. The potential conflict between piano and guitar is something that is often ignored. All the musical decisions are up to the two members of the group playing keys and guitar when it comes to this area. If each ignores the other, the support that is the function of the rhythm section is lost. Good communication between the guitarist and pianist adds tremendously to the sound of a band. Just like the rhythmic qualities of the drummer and bassist playing together (as mentioned in previous blog) to create rhythm parts and accents, guitar and keys can do this too, a long with a vast array of other techniques to enhance the musical dynamics and compositional layers of the song.
This was avoided by consciously deciding to have the keys and guitar work together in Jack’s song with the same melodies and compliment each other in Dave’s song with alternating melody lines and lead sections.
At this stage it is crucial to review the work that has been done with the band. Previous blogs have dealt primarily with the theory side of things and there was less focus on the band work going on, so in this blog I shall go into detail about what has been done/ how it has been done to date.
When the group was formed we began practicing together in the college using an acoustic guitar, small bass amp, keyboard through monitors and electronic drum kit. Not knowing how each other member of the group played music/ what their style was it was awkward starting a song as no one wished to step on anyone else’s toes or seem too “bossy”. We eventually agreed to allow the guitar player in the group write some verse and chorus ideas and that we could then structure a song around that.
When this had been done drums were added to keep the timing so others could join in and play. Keys and bass parts were added then followed by vocals finally. The keys and guitar worked together in terms of chords while the bass and drums worked together (primarily the bass drum) to keep a rhythm going and accent certain beats. The bass drum and bass guitar would at times play the same notes to give a sense of strength or to add an accent to a section of the song. When this song had been completed, experienced musician John Buggy came to give his input on the songwriting process to the groups in the class. This input allowed us to revise our previous work and add dynamics to the song. An example of this would be a section we added after a chorus where all instruments except the guitar and piano drop out and support the vocals for eight bars before breaking back in with a powerful section leading up to the end of the song.
After reworking the song, making use of the critical input from Mr.Buggy we finalized the piece and moved on to working on other songs for our group. The task assigned was to now, each of us, write an original song and present it to the group. Once accepted we would all write parts for each other’s songs and have a complete arrangement of one song per person at the end of term for a performance in the college cafeteria.
Piano is played with two hands using all ten fingers, each finger is numbered 1-5 on both hands. One hand is used to play the treble clef and one to play the bass clef usually. One can play sustained chords with both hands, harmonising melodies or a combination of both. Keys are used in almost all genres of music including pop,rock,indie,metal and electronic music. In recent years the use of keys/piano has increased with the rise in popularity of electronic music and artists who use piano and synth sounds in a lot of their music including Skrillex, Asking Alexandria, Periphery and Lady gaga.
Piano can be used as a main instrument or as an accompanying instrument. Depending on which it is used for it will be played almost entirely differently. If used as a backup instrument it will usually use backup chords or short uncomplicated melodies to enhance the dynamics within a song. If used as a main instrument it can play nearly any way the artist desires and accompanying pieces can be added if needs be.
Guitar is used in many genres of music and comes in the form of acoustic and electric. Most popular genres will make use of a guitar at some point. The guitar has 6 strings, when in standard tuning they are tuned in EADGBE tuning. For pop music this is the most common tuning. Other tunings like dropped D (DADGBE) or Dropped C (CGCFAD) are used in music such as rock and metal most commonly. The guitar can be played in multiple ways. Acoustic musicians like Andy Mckee play a style known as finger-style or percussive guitar (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsD6uEZsIsU). Others will play chords and use progressions entirely i their music. Sometimes (more commonly found in metal and rock) single note playing is the norm and guitarists play a succesion of single notes quickly to create a rhythm and lead melody. This style of playing allows for an intelligent use of harmony that coincides with the main “riff” being played.
Different chord types and progressions are used depending on genre and different scales can shape the entire feel of a song. Major pentatonics can be used in pop music while minor pentatonics and diminished scales are used in metal more commonly.
Popular techniques such as sweep picking, natural harmonics, pinched harmonics, tremolo picking and legato playing can be used on the guitar to give a desired sound or effect.
So far our group for class has almost fully completed our first song (it’s pretty much done, just needs to be tweaked a tiny bit and have the structure decided on 100%) and we have moved on to our second and third song simultaneously. One is an original song written by our singer Jack entitled “Jack it up” and the other is an instrumental acoustic piece I wrote for a previous project that I plan to adapt to include other instruments and possibly vocals. I will update here as more developments occur with the song. So far everything is working great in our group and we are lucky to have musicians that are capable and have a good song writing dynamic.
The bass guitar has four strings unlike normal guitars which have six. These four strings are large and thick and resonate at lower frequencies which are great for filling up the low end of a mix or song and has become standard to have in almost every group/ popular style of music. Bass guitars can be played in different ways like fingering, slapping, popping or by using a plectrum.
Writing a bass line can be done in two ways which are commonly used. Two in a bar is when minims are on the beat 1 and 3 in the bar. The bass guitar plays the route of the note, if the second chord in the bar does not change then the second bass note is the 5th of the chord. Alternatively one could play the walking bass line. This is where a string of quarter notes are played moving in step wise motion up and down the scale. With walking bass you should always place the root note of the chord on the beat in which the chord is introduced. leading into each new note can be done with an approach note that is a half step above or below the root. The repetition of a note is allowed.
Sub bass is when a bass line is duplicated an octave lower (usually found around 80hz in a mix). Sub bass synths are used for effect more than for listening pleasure. Music genres like dubstep rely on sub bass heavily for their “drops” and to give that effect that a large change has suddenly occurred in the song.
Things to look out for when writing: Ensure the bass has a clear rhythmic identity that complements the rhythm track. Ensure that it provides a clear and effective support for the harmony of music. It should preserve a sense of melodic identity throughout the respective chord changes.
Drums were originally played as a collection of different instruments. Eventually for travelling musicians it became easier and cheaper to transport one drum kit and one person to play it rather than a group of people to play each piece individually. Drum kits consist of three main parts: bass drum, snare drum and cymbals. There can also be rack toms, floor toms, cowbells, chimes and other additions to the kit. Drums are usually played with either sticks or brushes. The drum is an integral part of of music and is responsible for keeping the rest of the music/performers in time. This is done by playing different beats and time signatures. Typically a 4/4 drum beat is used in pop and rock music. This can vary however for effect or feel and in some genres like progressive rock, djent and progressive metal polyrhythms are used where more than one time signature are playing together and the snare will accent weaker beats in the bar for variation.
Depending on the way the drums are played the feel can be totally different. Focusing on certain parts of the kit can give a different impression in relation to the music. An example of this would be focusing on the hi-hat. When this is focused on with repetitive 8th notes and snares on the 3rd notes a hip hop impression can be given. If focus is placed on the ride cymbal and is played in note groups of two followed by a snare hit immediately after, (when repeated) this can give a swing or rockabilly feel.
Variation is key with drums to keep the piece lively and add excitement to it. Usually variations on the kick drum, snare hits and adding fills/rolls can give this excitement.
In my own opinion I’d say the most important thing to remember about drums is to focus on keeping time and building a basic structure first. Then once that has been completed worry about instrumentation and variety and giving the song/drum beat your own unique twist.
Composing a melody consists of:
- Melodic composition.
- Harmonic composition.
- Holistic composition.
Stable melody notes are 1, 3 and 5.
Unstable notes are 2, 4 ,6 and 7.
Stable harmony chords are I, IV and V.
Unstable chords are ii, vii and iii.
Most unstable is vii.
Common chord progressions can be found in all popular songs. TheAxisOfAwesome on Youtube have created a medley of popular songs that have hit the charts over the years and all use the same chord progression. Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOlDewpCfZQ
Common chord progressions include, I-IV, I-IV-I-V and I-IV-V.
Cadences are terms used to describe certain chord progressions and the sound or feel they give off. A perfect cadence gives a sense of resolution while an interrupted cadence can often give a feeling of tension or incompletion. The cadences are:
- Perfect cadence V-I
- Plagal cadence IV-I
- Imperfect cadence ?-V (?= any of the chords from I to Vi)
- Interrupted cadence V-? except I (Move from V to any chord except I)
Harmony is a huge part of song writing and melodic composition. Some groups make their own sound based on repetition of harmony. A perfect example of this would be Parkway Drive, who use triads and harmonising in thirds so often that it has defined their entire sound as a group. one of the easiest ways to harmonise is to study the melody and see where harmony can be used intelligently, i.e will it make your song sound better or will it cause the song to have too much going on and have detrimental effects? After doing this experiment with different types of harmony to see what suits your song. This is key as it can vastly improve your song and sound pleasant or take away from it and sound harsh (assuming that your intention is to create a pleasant sound). You wouldn’t associate dissonance with pop music but it is a type fo harmony where two notes are clashing to form a harsh sound. This is used excessively however, in modern metal music like “IWrestledABearOnce” and “Bring Me The Horizon”.
The “middle eight” is a section in a song where it differs from the main for eight bars. At the end it would usually return to the “home key” (the key in which the song is in). This can prove difficult if you write a long progression of eight bars on its own. For simplicity two bars of four would make things easier than eight single bars on their own. The cycle of fifths can be used to help write your middle eight.
Other tips include:
Change the backing rhythm e.g. the drum pattern.
Change the instrumentation.
Change the meldoy.
Our group for class has now written one song pretty much in its entirety and we will be moving on to other songs soon. We received help from a local musician who tours and writes his own music named John Buggy. He gave us some insight on how to write pop songs and how he writes his own music. Hopefully our other songs come together as quickly as the first one did!
This week we went over lyric writing in our lecture. The form for lyric writing is:
- A genuine idea.
- A memorable title.
- A strong start.
- A payoff.
- The appropriate form.
A genuine idea can be about believable people in recognizable situations. It can express a clear attitude or emotion. Strike a common chord/put the singer in a favorable light. It can make people want to hear it over and over, but, most importantly is must be substantial enough to set to music.
A memorable title means that the song is identifiable after one hearing i.e you will recognise that song and its name instantly and not confuse it with other songs. It can summarize the essence of the lyric’s statement, although I would argue that this is not essential. An example of where the lyrics do not summarise the essence of the lyrics’s statement would be Periphery’s music e.g. “Facepalm Mute”, this song name was created by a fan of the band and was submitted to Misha Mansoor the guitarist and lead composer in Periphery in a message board online. It is a play on words using the internet term “facepalm” and the musical term “palm mute”. It does not summarize the lyrics of the song but it is memorable as a title.
A strong start is where a song starts with a memorable sentence/lyric. I believe that for an opening lyric to count as a strong start it must either mention the title of the song, reference to the overall meaning of the song, be tied to the chorus or, be unique/ambiguous enough to be definitive as that song’s lyric and no others e.g. “I can’t fight this feeling anymore” - REO Speedwagon, “Carry on my wayward son” - Kansas. These songs begin with the first line of their choruses and are extremely memorable because they lead into a strong chorus with a powerful melody and they summarize the lyrical content of the songs.
A payoff is when the musician/lyricist can make the audience feel a certain way through their music/lyrics. In the example used above Kansas use the song “Carry on my wayward son” to express forgiveness and the payoff is hearing the chorus repeated throughout the song and drawing the conclusion that resolution has been reached when finally the song successfully concludes and gives the feeling of completion.
This song is also successful because of its plot structure. The song establishes a meaning/goal at the start with the lyrics:
- “Carry on my wayward son, There’ll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest, Don’t you cry no more.”
It then deviates from this and establishes more plot with the verses, always reminding the listener of the goal/meaning in the song by returning to the chorus. This deviation from the situation setup in the chorus and opening lines (the song opens with the chorus) allows the listener to learn more about the situation at hand and become involved in the plot. By then returning to the focal point the song is based around it completes its lyrical/plot structure and exudes a feeling of completion.
The principals of lyric writing are:
- Genuine feeling.
Using these can help write your own successful song!
Another important piece of song writing is rhyming. While often thought of as rhyming words, lyrical rhyming is actually a connection between syllables and not words.If all three of the following conditions are met then the piece is considered a perfect rhyme:
- The syllables’ vowel sounds are the same.
- Their ending consonants (if any) are the same.
- Their beginnings are different.
There is also masculine and feminine rhyming to take into account.
Masculine rhymes are rhymes between monosyllables or stressed last syllables.
Feminine rhymes are 2 syllable rhymes where the 2nd last syllable is stressed.
Note: A handy tip when writing a song is to create a relationship between different sections of your song.
I’m into a lot of different types of music and like to think I’m open minded with most things, especially music! I’ve always said “if it sounds good I’ll listen to it, regrardless of genre”. From Jazz death fusion band Trepalium to One Direction, I’ll listen to damn near any type of music. I have a deep seeded passion for playing music and love experimenting with different instruments too. For Instrumental composition and arrangement class I need to keep this blog and update it with new things I learn in the class, in week one we covered phrasing. Phrases can be short or long. Short phrases are 2-4 bars long while long phrases are a combination of short phrases. The end of these phrases cna be used for breathing! When writing vocals it is important to allow rests to seperate phrases and give adequate breathing time to the singer. On the “Lead Sheet” the lyrics and notation for singing is written, other music doesn’t appear here unless maybe there is an intro before the lyrics.
We moved onto melodic intervals then which are basically different names for different types of melodies e.g. a melody focusing on one repeated note is called a chant because of the monotone sound used in genres like gregorian chant. We also looked at melodic form which was basically looking at the number of bars that make up a section of a song e.g. 2-4-8 pop songs and 12 bar blues.
Another area of the projects is writing original music. We’ve been put into groups and are workign together to write and record songs. I’ve been put on drumming duty and I’m loving it! It’s a slow pop song so not much variation I can add really without breaking the mood, plus I’m practising on a rather small kit. Once we get into the studio however it’ll be magic! We all really like the song and so far it’s been a pretty positive reaction from everyone and I’m feeling good about the group!