General music stuff

Found anything useful along the way that might be helpful to the rest of us? Whittling on some music theory or composition stuff? Learning a cool song with something interesting about it? I think we probably had a thread on this at the old lounge.

Sometimes I find it good to random jam out some chords, riffs etc. over a bridge section where it’s unclear what you want to do. I make about ten recording passes and play them back all at once even though it’s usually something of a mess of somewhat differing viewpoints.

Sometimes out of the jumble appears the idea that’s been lurking in the subconscious i.e fastracking piecemeal toward the line sought.

Free jamming for me is the best way to bring about the music end of a song for sure. Neverminding lyrics, just playing rhythms and phrases freely over time. I mean, if something I play catches my ear, it goes into my daily playing rotation and naturally develops further without pushing for it. The ear just wants to hear certain things along the way. Vocal lines and song forms too (or simple forms anyway), but those seem to come really fast for me once I have rhythms that I like playing, usually in one short playing session. Lyrics though. Taunting little word bastards.

Over the last year my guitar playing has matured quite a bit, mostly from free playing, having taken a clue from some much more developed and brilliant improvisers. Just play and let it develop as it will. I guess improvising to me is really just a collective of ideas from many free playing sessions that end up sticking around and that can be called upon easily due to repetition. Something of an illusion. There is still a shit ton I want to work on and explore, of course. But I think at this point I need to steer away from focusing on guitar playing and fix my attention square on learning what I can from songs that I dig and songwriting.

Time is a bitch.

The gtr skill begets the need to then apply it to original songs. Songwriting further enhances gtr skill. I don’t often ‘practice’ gtr as such anymore, though I occasionally play in bands.

For original stuff I jam out ideas as Brainio described and then develop those until a song appears, then to enhance it I draw on experience from back when I practiced like crazy.

If I think the song idea is worthy I’ll stick with it through hell and high water to see it through. If I’ve already invested an hour on something then I don’t want that hour to be wasted, but I do sometimes abandon tracks I’ve not really committed to in terms of time and effort. ‘Abandonment’ usually meaning stored in the spare parts division for later appraisal.

I find I can still play tricky stuff I haven’t practiced in years. The reason being I practiced it so thoroughly at the time until it was hard wired. I ‘built’ a technique like building a brick shed or something that’s enduring.

Now I tend to play variations of some of that or something that’s just ‘along the lines’ of some of that technique etc.

But it’s not what I use to write the basic song ideas, which 95% comes from impulsive jamming.

I avoid noodling type solos; whereas prolonged jamming in an adventurous way is good training to discover good stuff, the song is imo where instrumental technique is best condensed and packed into an effective song arrangement that suits the song and doesn’t meander into aimless noodling, though sometimes a prolonged outro e.g might suit the track.

All subjective opinion of course, I realise that there’s esteemed players who use other songwriting methods, inc. e.g mathematical formulas and other hyper theoretical stuff to good effect.

Yes, it’s pointless. As I’m playing rhythms, little phrases tend to appear, which tend to expand over multiple sessions. If I were noodling through (or intently constructing phrases), I would never hear those come about and develop further. It seems there is that naturally inspired inbetween approach, which is neither noodling nor direct composition.

I’m thinking here today that I should drop back to square one on songs. Start in learning a lot of songs that I dig and thinking about why they work along the way in terms of lyrics and structure, as well as some exercises such as the one mentioned in a previous post (rewrite lyrics to an existing song, rewrite music to an existing song). I haven’t committed much time to learning songs in years (just one here and there), and when I did it was for the sole purpose of having material to play in various bands. Last cover band I played in we learned ~50 songs in just a few or more months. Not much thought in it about the songs themselves. Time to beat on the old acoustic with a notebook and pencil.

That’s almost always how I get the starting point of a track, usually 2 to 4 bars of something, a chord prog or riff. Later on there might be a bunch of arbitrary chords in the middle eight or whatever to construct a solo over but it’s just about always that initial impulsive freewheeling jam phase that gets the ball rolling.

That is how I have always done it too. But when I was recording daily, I would capture that novel inspired piece and then push to expand it, essentially constructing the rest. My approach now is to just add the inspired piece to my daily playing and jam on it to an amount that feels right and inspired. It eventually expands itself naturally, which has made a big difference for me. That isn’t to say that I’m not intentionally trying on different things along the way, but with the latter approach I end up not pushing and settling too quickly and getting something that sounds contrived. I suppose I should try the same for lyrics, now that I think about it. My approach to lyrics has been pushing. When I read those verses that I posted recently in the lyrics thread, they sound like disparate lines, almost like disjointed catch phrases, rather than a flowing cohesive whole. And it makes sense to me now why that is. I didn’t get those lines through any process resembling a natural flow.

Studying scores is fun and I always get something out of it. The petrucci library is a terrific and free resource (obviously you have to be able to read notes and have some basic music theory background).

Interesting read on tempo maps of famous songs

I think tempo mapping is the way to go for one person doing it all into a daw, to help keep the robot away. Realistically, it’s probably going to take a few or more attempts of the first track for using as a reference for tempo mapping. Then actually working out the tempo map is some tedium. I have heard a number of tracks at other forums where someone is doing the one man thing, where the person is a good drummer, not using a click and sounding very good, organic, not robotic. This was before tempo mapping was a thing. Good drumming makes a big difference, tempo mapping or not. That ebb and flow of time, dynamics, and interesting phrasing kills the robot. I talked to a couple of these guys on how they did their stuff and they were punching in and out as needed to get down a good drum track as a bed, sometimes with a scratch guitar track first, sometimes not. I suppose there are all kinds of ways to cook your bird.

It would probably be best to work out a personal tempo mapping process using some cover songs, so that you don’t get burned on your own stuff.

Yeah Tempo mapping is to beat the machine and some how convince myself that I am being more authentic than I would be using a click track. Bullshit of course, but honest attempt.
I have a new plan, no click, no tempo map, just do it and if it works, keep it, and if not throw de fudger away.

Possible maybe is to build the track to a click and when that’s done record another performance of it just voice + inst. at close to the same starting tempo but no click or any other guide.

Then somehow use the time stretch functions or playrate automation or something on the rendered first track to close match it to the second.

Could intersperse those two performances in places where maybe the touchy feely emotey bits weren’t properly captured in the first track due to keeping up to the click for example.

If it feels like good music when you play it, I think that should translate well. My problem with a click in the past was that playing to one never felt like good music and translated as such. But then there can be the slop monster to deal with. I think the answer here is to play the thing enough spread over time (not a bunch of times in a row the same day) so that what is being played is always felt and so that the repetition helps the ears to tighten things up. To me, playing the thing over and over and over seems to be forcing. And playing the thing spread out over sessions seems to be natural development. It also probably wouldn’t hurt to record each session for later review. Any way, I think some things can be mechanized, such as an extreme number of repetitions for getting down a picking sequence. But I think that playing good music that is felt can’t follow that same approach.

I’m curious what any of you think on this. I seem to have taken binary approaches to playing in the not so distant past, either free jamming or ‘writing’ with very little bridge between the two, or even looking at them as being the same thing instead of treating them as separate processes. Fragments that feel like good music come up nearly daily, sometimes a bunch in one day. And in the past those would just drift off into the ether. And the things which stuck around were the things that I intentionally constructed. Maybe I grabbed onto one of those fragments as a starting point for the ‘construction’. But tt has become true for me that those things that come up which feel like music often just need to be played more as is, spread over multiple sessions, and allowed to develop and expand further without too much forced ‘constructing’.

It may be that the same approach works for recording. You have a song that you want to record, but banging it out over and over to a click kills the feeling dead. The flip of the binary being to just free-ball it without a click, and it might end up too sloppy. But playing it daily should tighten things up without too much end-to-end repetition to a click to kill the feel. It seems that one of those sessions along the way would be a good take worth keeping.

^^I almost added that myself in my previous post i.e that the track would be rehearsed over the days that the click track version was being built. That version having necessarily programmed insts. But if the click version can’t readily be adapted to the later non click version one then that method might just be a big headache.

But yeah I’m notorious for recording non click stuff too early and then taking way too much time trying to tidy/tighten it all up only to realise that if only I’d rehearsed it once or twice daily over several days I could have just tracked the entire thing in a couple of takes with a good feel.

So I’d kind of defaulted to using the click so my impatience wouldn’t lead to the problematic premature recording issues stated above, the click being the lesser of two evils but the well rehearsed non click version is really the one to go after imo.

I figure it’s probably good to rehearse it [occasionally, over days] but then leave a two or three day gap totally ignoring it and focusing on anything but that track, then come back to it and nail it right off the bat with feeling derived of renewed enthusiasm and familiarity.

Ok I take it back after reading your posts @brainio and @morgo
I tried the approach of building the song to a click with the intent of recording a performance later. Somehow the brain forgets the plan and I start treating the clicked version as the performance. Garrick yah silly fucker, this is the arrangement, not the performance.

Thank you gentlemen!

If any of you find an hour of free time, this talk with Brian Eno on exploring creativity is pretty great. One interesting idea that Eno talked about is control vs. surrender. I can relate to that in a little different way via thinking about music in terms of constructing vs. letting a thing evolve over time.

What do you know about Bauhaus? Not the band, the school of art.

I guess the Eno talk (and another Eno talk) is melting in with thinking about song forms and lyrics and where alot of approaches came from in music and lyrics that I dig.

So I suppose I’ll have to research this more later over time.

Movie trailer

Haven’t watched the Eno vid yet, I will though. I watched one of the Bauhaus vids and checked out the wiki. I figure I’m of the same basic philosophy about everything being functional and nothing too gaudy tacked on just for show, such as those big tailfins on some cars way back. I kinda feel the same way about those fake ‘spoilers’ on the backs of cars which if anything only create random unwanted wind resistance and are totally for show whereas on a race car they’re specifically designed and tweaked for aerodynamic functionality.

I try to use functional devices on my tracks that have a reason for being there but don’t ‘outstay their welcome’ e.g brief intro’s which set a mood, tempo and then move on, lyrics which have phonetic dynamics but make sense on some level. Solos that fit the song and no rambling showcase of technique for the ff sake of it.

On the subject of lyrics, sometimes I spend quite some time on a line here or there to achieve those phonetic/dynamic/thematic elements in tandem.

I’m reminded also of someone’'s quote about how a work [of art, literature] is finished when there’s nothing else that can be effectively removed from it [paraphrased]

The most fundamental and resonating thing that I’m taking away from what I have looked at Bauhaus so far is:

The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare moments of inspiration, moments beyond the control of his will, the grace of heaven may cause his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in his craft is essential to every artist. Therein lies a source of creative imagination.

Personal translation: Spend your work efforts on the craft of songs, not trying to pry art out of the air. And in doing so, when inspiration does come, you’ll be better skilled to take advantage of it. Bringing together craft and art.

To me this goes back to what McCartney said about learning less common songs and writing new songs for function (to have songs that other acts weren’t already playing). McCartney and Lennon weren’t writing songs (in the beginning at least) to make art. That came about later. They just needed new songs to play to set themselves apart from the other acts of the time who were playing the same cover songs as all the other acts. They spent some years playing cover songs, then adding early functional songs, then came the good stuff.

So then I’m thinking of it as: Play that role as the songwriting apprentice. Work at learning plenty of songs, and think about them and tinker with them, learning what you can. Things like forms, lyric devices, and harmonic progression for desired movement. What basically makes those songs tick, like machines tick (Bauhaus thinking here). Progress at that and transition to writing songs based on any arrived at observations, theories, and rules, treating it as a craft. Work at breaking out of those norms and see where you can make effective twists and turns. Rather than, skipping all that, prying at art.

It very much is a problem of mine that I get inspired, run with the thing, but don’t have the skill in crafting songs to pull it together. At least it is true for me on the lyric side of things. I’m doing pretty well on the music end, or at least to a personally satisfying level (and at least on guitar, anyway). But I tend to struggle the thing to death over lyrics.

I can count the number of songs that I have learned over the last year on one hand. And it isn’t for lack of ability. I guess I somehow told myself that I was beyond that by now, which is apparent now that isn’t the case at all. I haven’t spent real quality time learning songs for years, since the last cover band that I played in years ago, and I wasn’t that interested in those songs to dig into them. And I guess I never have spent time digging into songs that I really like and gaining an understanding of how they work. Obviously there is a lot to learn and tinker with here, even on the most fundamental level.

And come to think of it, I know someone who is deep into music listening but who just began playing bass but needs some guidance. I think helping her along in learning songs could be beneficial in thinking back to basics.