Want to write but where to start?

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Ive got enough kit to lay down the basic ideas for songs but Im struggling with where to start. I think its just how my brains wired that I need a structure/template to follow for a start then I get all wacky in my own time. For example Ive got a drum plugin that Im learning, guitar (obviously) and an idea, the problem is I dont know how to construct a song.
 Where do you start? With a drumbeat then lay guitars over it or the other way round? What determines the length of the verse/chorus etc?
Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15136
    Sometimes - not that I do this very often - I start with a guitar riff.

    Sometimes - ditto - I start with a bass line.

    Sometimes - guess what - the start point is messing about with a drum pattern.

    Sometimes - ! - it's pressing random keys on my midi keyboard and then random patch selections.




    But I don't think I've ever started out with a structure or template.  That's just too "structured" for the way that my brain works with music!

    But then, I've got no music theory training/knowledge/understanding, so I tend to just mess about rather than aiming to produce something that has X bars of this, followed by Y bars of that, and then the obligatory Z bars of something else.

    (Yes, I know, it should be Z *C*ars, not Z *B*ars)
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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    Start with something that feels exciting to you or that matters to you musically, it will shape everything that follows.

    Michael Jackson started with the bass line, Paul McCartney often started with melody.  If you want people to dance you start with groove, if you want them to cry then melody or chords.

    I usually start with drum groove or melody, then chords and bass.

    The subject of structure is complex but there are I think 6 different structures that together cover almost all chart music of the last few decades.  Ralph Murphy goes through them in this lecture, among other things https://youtu.be/8wBOUJ5Mbrk

    On the the other hand this guy Freidmann Findessen opened my eyes with this book on the current (post advent of the DAW) trends in arrangement and structure: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Addiction-Formula-Captivating-Commercial-Songwriting/dp/9082391309

    Thats more than you need at the moment though.  If you’re trying to get your first song down then simplify by predeterming a dumb structure : 4 bar intro, 8 bar verse, 4 bar bridge, 8 bar chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, mid 8m bridge chorus, ending.


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  • Jez6345789Jez6345789 Frets: 1011
    I work perhaps from a riff or jamming a long to a basic drum pattern see what come out (usually rubbish ) recording everything. 

    I often at that point leave it and it and move on then when I have a bit more time I will review the noodling and if there is anything worth it even a little run of notes or a chord groove. 

    I will try working that up to something a little bigger. Ultimately my success rate is probably 1-100riffs or noodles that go through to end up a finished song.

    so it’s not very efficient. What I have learnt over the years is that I lead a very busy work life have done for years and the few times I have taken a guitar on holiday a few days off from work and the ideas flow very fast without  the work a day stress it comes much easier.

    my final motivation when I have time to go from start to finish in a day is to just use a very simple common progression trying to find that one off riff or tune  is wasted on me I just play 3 or 4 chords round and round  then try and right 3 verse lyrics everything around those chords letting the lyrics just free form again I have everything plugged into the iPad or use pocket memo. Once I have verse and a chorus the rest for me is just window dressing and I can do intro pre chorus whatever quiet easily.

    all this presumes I ever have  time to just do music ultimately these days with my own business it amounts to a few days writing per year.

    i used to take a week of and work with my oldest guitar mate but I find that hard these days as I like to work quick and dirty try and get an idea down quick and rough and he likes to sit their with all his plugins and build a huge production as we go and I find whilst I am waiting to see wether he likes a sub octave on the bass or whatever the moment leaves me. So that week off seems to have hit the back burner at the moment.

    so I think what I am saying is just try stuff and find a method that works for you.


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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    I work perhaps from a riff or jamming a long to a basic drum pattern see what come out (usually rubbish ) recording everything. 

    I often at that point leave it and it and move on then when I have a bit more time I will review the noodling and if there is anything worth it even a little run of notes or a chord groove

    I did this a few months ago and was quite happy with the rough, loose, messy jam until I noticed a little line of descending notes in one guitar that had more worth in it than all the other 4 minutes put together.  I sat down to figure out what those notes were and a whole descending line through four chords just came out sounding like Here Comes the Sun rearranged by JS Bach.

    Less than a day later I had the entire song written with little effort.  I’ve spent weeks writing stuff that’s not half as good.

    So yeah, record as much of your meandering as you can - you may not notice the one little nugget while you are playing it.
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  • Flink_PoydFlink_Poyd Frets: 2355
    TTony said:
    Sometimes - not that I do this very often - I start with a guitar riff.

    Sometimes - ditto - I start with a bass line.

    Sometimes - guess what - the start point is messing about with a drum pattern.

    Sometimes - ! - it's pressing random keys on my midi keyboard and then random patch selections.




    But I don't think I've ever started out with a structure or template.  That's just too "structured" for the way that my brain works with music!

    But then, I've got no music theory training/knowledge/understanding, so I tend to just mess about rather than aiming to produce something that has X bars of this, followed by Y bars of that, and then the obligatory Z bars of something else.

    (Yes, I know, it should be Z *C*ars, not Z *B*ars)
    Hmmm, I think this may be my problem. Over analysing how things should work.
    mixolyd said:
    Start with something that feels exciting to you or that matters to you musically, it will shape everything that follows.

    Michael Jackson started with the bass line, Paul McCartney often started with melody.  If you want people to dance you start with groove, if you want them to cry then melody or chords.

    I usually start with drum groove or melody, then chords and bass.

    The subject of structure is complex but there are I think 6 different structures that together cover almost all chart music of the last few decades.  Ralph Murphy goes through them in this lecture, among other things https://youtu.be/8wBOUJ5Mbrk

    On the the other hand this guy Freidmann Findessen opened my eyes with this book on the current (post advent of the DAW) trends in arrangement and structure: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Addiction-Formula-Captivating-Commercial-Songwriting/dp/9082391309

    Thats more than you need at the moment though.  If you’re trying to get your first song down then simplify by predeterming a dumb structure : 4 bar intro, 8 bar verse, 4 bar bridge, 8 bar chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, mid 8m bridge chorus, ending.


    But then again....
    Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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  • horsehorse Frets: 595
    edited March 10
    For things I'm serious about I'll write the song first away from recording, then record a guide guitar against click, then add rough drums, bass, vocals, other tracks, often experimenting as I do. Then when it is coming together I'll go back to improve the drums, maybe re record the vocals, and anything else I'm not happy with before mixing. The sense that everything can be replaced helps me work.

    I also have a 'scrapbook' folder where I'll record less fully formed ideas I might want to come back to - riffs, chord progressions etc

    What determines the length of verse / chorus etc for me is mainly my lyric ideas (or lack of), and / or just creative ideas - eg maybe repeating the chorus would work at this point
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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    edited March 10
    There’s also a simpler way to look at it: when you have a part (X), repeat it then do something else. When you later come back to play part X make sure you add something to it.

    Never play something three times the same way.  Never play something only once, unless it’s the middle 8 but even it will usually be one section played twice.


    Human brain need repetition.  Human brain either getting more excited new stuff or it getting bored.

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  • Flink_PoydFlink_Poyd Frets: 2355
    edited March 10
    Basically I want to get drums and rhythm guitar down, pretty much a backing track that I can add vocals to if they ever come to me.



    then my brain starts going off on things like "how many bars should the next part be?" and it all falls apart.


    Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    Basically I want to get drums and rhythm guitar down, pretty much a backing track that I can add vocals to if they ever come to me.



    then my brain starts going off on things like "how many bars should the next part be?" and it all falls apart.


    Yes because you are doing things in the wrong order.  You don’t know the excitement levels of the different sections because there’s no melody so you can’t see where boredom starts to set in. Boredom is the great teacher, if you can see it you know when to change section!
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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    edited March 11
    Ok I’ve listened now and there’s definitely the start of a dramatic song in there.


    The drum intro breaks the rule by doing the same thing four times=BORING!

    But I did hear some small noise in there, by putting in noises along the way you can start to tell a story in that first 20 secs and justify the four bars of drums.

    Yeah bar two there’s a subtle noise of something being switched on, that’s great.  Bars 3 and 4 need noises in increasing number or volume to create drama and anticipation for the coming verse.

    Im not saying ut those in now, I’d just write down “add x here”, “crescendo y here” and move on at this stage which is planning.

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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    The following bars where guitar and drums enter are better, they tell a story of increasing musical pressure as we come into the groove.  The melody really needs to come in at the end of that bit as we’ve been kept waiting a while already.

    Youve already got some melodic content from the guitar part.  The melody could take those idea and use them in a different way while the guitar retreats to accompaniment mode.  I also hear droning background harmonies - low and masculine - but that’s just me.
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  • mixolydmixolyd Frets: 346
    edited March 11
    Yes here’s an idea if you are struggling for melodic ideas.

    Low vocal melody in 8ths feel, hitting a lot of one note then moving a little to a stable tone.  Try a suspension here or there.

    This allows the melody to gain energy over s few bars so it can work up to reiterating the melodic idea from the guitar intro: this is going to be the lift/bridge where the melody moves upward to get toward the higher register for the chorus.  Guitars and drums go a bit mad and boom you’re in the chorus.

    See how this way of thinking tells you where the next section begins based on the way the parts build tension and energy?  It’s impossible to do it this way if you write all the non vocal parts first.  OK R.E.M. did it but there’s a reason many of their songs sound a bit samey and they were masters.

    Make sense?  I don’t mean to tell you what to do, but you did ask and I love talking about this stuff!  

    Listening again.  There’s great use of space in this intro, that creates anticipation and which gives the dramatic feel.  A bit like “Us and Them” from DSOTM but here it’s the guitar that stabs and waits against the groove instead of the vocal.
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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 434
    I'm new to this but my approach tends to start with jamming riffs/grooves. Once I have something to develop I think about what type of track it will be (e.g. anthemic or angry, romantic or heartbroken) and what message it might say - literally and musically. I develop things from there with the vocal and overall message being what guides the rest. The structure should come naturally. 

    I also find that singing a rough melody can be better than constructing it on guitar. That avoids going to default licks /scales.

    The last thing I do is work out what I've ripped off and if it sounds too similar. It's really easy to spend a lot of time working on something where the pattern feels fresh only to realise you're playing an already famous riff in a different key with inverted chords.
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  • spark240spark240 Frets: 987
    My process is varied..lots of good advice already .

    a lot of drum programs have a basic song pattern built in, I use those sometimes.

    otherwise, a few chords progressions, usually acoustic on repeat, then try some guitar hook lines.

    Main ideas lately have come from synth groove presets, they can often spark off a feel just with the rhythm and sound,


    Mac Mini i7, 2.3Ghz.
    Presonus Studio One Pro.
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  • poopotpoopot Frets: 1623
    edited March 11
    Ive got enough kit to lay down the basic ideas for songs but Im struggling with where to start. I think its just how my brains wired that I need a structure/template to follow for a start then I get all wacky in my own time. For example Ive got a drum plugin that Im learning, guitar (obviously) and an idea, the problem is I dont know how to construct a song.
     Where do you start? With a drumbeat then lay guitars over it or the other way round? What determines the length of the verse/chorus etc?
    Start with whatever inspires you and work from there... doesn’t matter if it’s a drum loop, bass riff or a couple of chords... and don’t have any preconceived ideas about the tune either... don’t sit down and say to yourself “I’m going to write a 30 minute prog rock spectacular” you’ll end up frustrated and with no tune at all!...

    think simple... then add the complex parts after... 

    for example, my entry for this month Rotm comp started as a simple 1-4 chord progression. Emaj to Amaj worked out a tempo by tapping an app on my phone, set the auto drummer going in logic, found a bass loop I liked and edited it to match the E and A... set the whole thing to loop... messed about with some guitar riffs until I had something that I thought was catchy... 

    now i have drums, bass, backing and a hook riff.

    then you go in and change it a bit... I played the Emaj in a different shape, inverted chord, tweaked the drum pattern to give me more of a groove and tarted up the riff... submitted to Rotm...

    sent the submission to bandmates to get their opinions on it and within 15mins had the mp3 sent back with the singer humming a melody over it... so now we have a chorus!... time to get a verse out of it... took a simple approach to this... went with 1-4-3 chord progression but changed it to the minor... so Emin, Amin & G...

    now we have a chorus, verse and intro (same as chorus) chopped the parts into 8 bar loops for ease.

    quickly laid down 8 bars of intro (riff heavy), 8 bars chorus, 8bars verse, 8 bars chorus, 8 bars verse, 24 bars chorus.

    The track is now with the singer for him to come up with lyrics, the final structure will be decided after we see what he has...

    so from simply strumming an E and an A we now have a start on a compleated new track... prolly won’t get to number 1 in the charts but it will get our lot up and dancing!... could be musical gold I tells ya!... 

    Very poppy/dancy track... and I originally set out to write an 80’s hair metal riff for the comp!...

    take inspiration from wherever it comes from and work from that!
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  • kinkin Frets: 574
    I heard of an interesting approach the other day. It's probably not a new idea, just new to me.

    I often come up with a riff or progression and then find it very difficult to know where to go with it next.

    The idea i heard about was to basically record the original idea and then noodle around over the top of it and record anything interesting that comes along, then mute the original idea and noodle over the second idea and so on.

    This can give you several different ( but connected ) ideas to piece together. It can also lead to the original idea being discarded and flying off in a completely different direction.


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  • spark240spark240 Frets: 987
    Just listened to your ideas, thing is,,,,are you looking to compete a song.....or what people think is a good song?....it’s 2 different things completely !

    just take any existing. Song that you like, and build bars to the same structure, you can’t go far wrong initially.

    also, listen to all the ideas posted in ROTM etc , which ones do you think are good and why ?

    ive taken lots of ideas from those entries I can tell you .

    i notice the few you posted seem a little melancholy at the moment, that may Well Be the vibe you want, but these can be bought to life with some nice guitar Melodie riffs,


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    Presonus Studio One Pro.
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  • RockerRocker Frets: 2837
    A different approach is firstly to write a paragraph or two (of text) that details what it is that you want to say or the story you want to tell in your song. Reading through the text may give you a starting line or suggest a verse. Then I suggest you decide what rhythm or groove 'fits' your draft written verse(s). IMHO you don't want your song to be a vehicle for a guitar riff or solo. Riffs and solos can enhance and illuminate/clarify the song words. If the message/story in the song is not delivered, the song will not retain the interest of the listener. In that case it has failed in its primary aim. IMHO of course.
    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein]

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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 434
    spark240 said:

    also, listen to all the ideas posted in ROTM etc , which ones do you think are good and why ?

    ive taken lots of ideas from those entries I can tell you .
    Aargh please don't use my ROTM from last month... I've just to finish the last few lyrics then record the vocals. :-)
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  • spark240spark240 Frets: 987
    spark240 said:

    also, listen to all the ideas posted in ROTM etc , which ones do you think are good and why ?

    ive taken lots of ideas from those entries I can tell you .
    Aargh please don't use my ROTM from last month... I've just to finish the last few lyrics then record the vocals. :-)
    I wouldn’t nick it entirely !......I just use the vibe


    Mac Mini i7, 2.3Ghz.
    Presonus Studio One Pro.
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  • FunkfingersFunkfingers Frets: 3480
    Where do you start? With a drumbeat then lay guitars over it? 
    Pretty much, yes.

    The drumbeat nails the tempo and basic *feel*. It also frees the guitar/bass/keyboard/horn from having to suggest the underlying tempo. 

    What determines the length of the verse/chorus etc?
    Short answer - the quantity of words that need singing. 

    Generally speaking, if you are creating repetitive chord sequences, you will reach a point when the moment feels right for a change of key or to move to a different chord sequence. 

    Occasionally, a song's lyrics are so compelling that it is possible to get away with one chord sequence for the duration of the entire composition. 
    "It's no wonder the Pacific Ocean is blue."
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  • IMC1980IMC1980 Frets: 22
    I have to be able to play one of the guitar parts on an acoustic and sing the while song before I record it. I record riff ideas as they come and sometimes the two meet! 

    For riffs it is always one 57 on my amp and a basic beat after finding the tempo I want, I change that later after recording.

    With the songs, the last one I did,  I sat with an amp sim and used the part I had worked out on acoustic to get drum patterns with the right feel in BFD3. I worked section by section and once the drums are nailed, I started layering guitars. For this one as I was happy with the takes on guitar, I re-amped them and will use they as the final takes. Prior to that, once I had the song on acoustic and could sing it all, I would record all rhythm guitars through my amp and vocals in one day to a basic beat. Then edit the drums later and add in bass, overlays etc.

    It all takes fucking ages though!


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  • Flink_PoydFlink_Poyd Frets: 2355
    mixolyd said:
    Ok I’ve listened now and there’s definitely the start of a dramatic song in there.


    The drum intro breaks the rule by doing the same thing four times=BORING!

    But I did hear some small noise in there, by putting in noises along the way you can start to tell a story in that first 20 secs and justify the four bars of drums.

    Yeah bar two there’s a subtle noise of something being switched on, that’s great.  Bars 3 and 4 need noises in increasing number or volume to create drama and anticipation for the coming verse.

    Im not saying ut those in now, I’d just write down “add x here”, “crescendo y here” and move on at this stage which is planning.

    Im using midi drums so basically drag and drop blocks, this was literally something to just play over. The small noise you heard was errrm, the influence of bourbon and listening back i understand what you mean by by adding something else in.

    spark240 said:
    My process is varied..lots of good advice already .

    a lot of drum programs have a basic song pattern built in, I use those sometimes.

    otherwise, a few chords progressions, usually acoustic on repeat, then try some guitar hook lines.

    Main ideas lately have come from synth groove presets, they can often spark off a feel just with the rhythm and sound,
    Yes thats in the program Im using, EZ drummer 2 demo and Im just figuring stuff like this out. I used to have a midi keyboard, might be time to buy a new one. ;)

    think simple... then add the complex parts after... 

    for example, my entry for this month Rotm comp started as a simple 1-4 chord progression. Emaj to Amaj worked out a tempo by tapping an app on my phone, set the auto drummer going in logic, found a bass loop I liked and edited it to match the E and A... set the whole thing to loop... messed about with some guitar riffs until I had something that I thought was catchy... 

    now i have drums, bass, backing and a hook riff.

    then you go in and change it a bit... I played the Emaj in a different shape, inverted chord, tweaked the drum pattern to give me more of a groove and tarted up the riff... submitted to Rotm...

    sent the submission to bandmates to get their opinions on it and within 15mins had the mp3 sent back with the singer humming a melody over it... so now we have a chorus!... time to get a verse out of it... took a simple approach to this... went with 1-4-3 chord progression but changed it to the minor... so Emin, Amin & G...

    now we have a chorus, verse and intro (same as chorus) chopped the parts into 8 bar loops for ease.

    quickly laid down 8 bars of intro (riff heavy), 8 bars chorus, 8bars verse, 8 bars chorus, 8 bars verse, 24 bars chorus..

    take inspiration from wherever it comes from and work from that!
    This will probably be my approach, Im definitely going to give this a go. Thanks
    Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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  • Flink_PoydFlink_Poyd Frets: 2355
    spark240 said:
    Just listened to your ideas, thing is,,,,are you looking to compete a song.....or what people think is a good song?....it’s 2 different things completely !

    just take any existing. Song that you like, and build bars to the same structure, you can’t go far wrong initially.

    also, listen to all the ideas posted in ROTM etc , which ones do you think are good and why ?

    ive taken lots of ideas from those entries I can tell you .

    i notice the few you posted seem a little melancholy at the moment, that may Well Be the vibe you want, but these can be bought to life with some nice guitar Melodie riffs,
    Id like to complete a song, I know theyre never really finished but just to get something complete would be an achievement. I used to make electronic music every now and again, never completed one track!

     Melancholy. Im not one of those people bursting at the seams with positivity every single day so I tend to sway towards the dark side.....

    Where do you start? With a drumbeat then lay guitars over it? 
    Pretty much, yes.

    The drumbeat nails the tempo and basic *feel*. It also frees the guitar/bass/keyboard/horn from having to suggest the underlying tempo. 

    What determines the length of the verse/chorus etc?
    Short answer - the quantity of words that need singing. 

    Generally speaking, if you are creating repetitive chord sequences, you will reach a point when the moment feels right for a change of key or to move to a different chord sequence. 

    Occasionally, a song's lyrics are so compelling that it is possible to get away with one chord sequence for the duration of the entire composition. 
    At the minute lyrics arent on the radar but its something Id love to add at some point.


    Thanks all, theres been the usual mix of confusion and good advice that comes with posting on the internet but I think theres stuff I can definitely try and use to get me going.
    Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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  • RockerRocker Frets: 2837
    spark240 said:
    Just listened to your ideas, thing is,,,,are you looking to compete a song.....or what people think is a good song?....it’s 2 different things completely !

    just take any existing. Song that you like, and build bars to the same structure, you can’t go far wrong initially.

    also, listen to all the ideas posted in ROTM etc , which ones do you think are good and why ?

    ive taken lots of ideas from those entries I can tell you .

    i notice the few you posted seem a little melancholy at the moment, that may Well Be the vibe you want, but these can be bought to life with some nice guitar Melodie riffs,
    Id like to complete a song, I know theyre never really finished but just to get something complete would be an achievement. I used to make electronic music every now and again, never completed one track!

     Melancholy. Im not one of those people bursting at the seams with positivity every single day so I tend to sway towards the dark side.....

    Where do you start? With a drumbeat then lay guitars over it? 
    Pretty much, yes.

    The drumbeat nails the tempo and basic *feel*. It also frees the guitar/bass/keyboard/horn from having to suggest the underlying tempo. 

    What determines the length of the verse/chorus etc?
    Short answer - the quantity of words that need singing. 

    Generally speaking, if you are creating repetitive chord sequences, you will reach a point when the moment feels right for a change of key or to move to a different chord sequence. 

    Occasionally, a song's lyrics are so compelling that it is possible to get away with one chord sequence for the duration of the entire composition. 
    At the minute lyrics arent on the radar but its something Id love to add at some point.


    Thanks all, theres been the usual mix of confusion and good advice that comes with posting on the internet but I think theres stuff I can definitely try and use to get me going.
    Re: your last comment - copy and paste any useful looking hints or thoughts into a Word document. Edit to remove dupes and you end up with a template for song writing that might work for you. At least you will have condensed a lot of suggestions into a manageable document. One that you can add to later if someone says or writes something that can be utilised in that quest. As always, good luck with your projects in the future...
    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. [Albert Einstein]

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  • Flink_PoydFlink_Poyd Frets: 2355
    Can I just say

    AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

    thanks
    Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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  • Hick81Hick81 Frets: 70
    Check out the Song Exploder podcast— songwriters/producers breaking down how they construct and build a song from scratch. 
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  • pintspillerpintspiller Frets: 576
    I haven't written in ages. Sometimes words come first, sometimes music. I used to come up with two progressions and decide whether one is more chorussy than the other.
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  • flying_pieflying_pie Frets: 434
    Can I just say

    AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

    thanks

    Why not submit something for the current composition challenge?

    You mentioned that you never finish tracks. Perhaps a deadline might help. There's also a theme (albeit it's make your own theme, but still that could help you focus). You've got until the end of May.

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  • Flink_PoydFlink_Poyd Frets: 2355
    Hick81 said:
    Check out the Song Exploder podcast— songwriters/producers breaking down how they construct and build a song from scratch. 
    Thanks. Im just listening to the Weezer one and its a real comfort knowing that its not just me who gets a block.
    Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.....


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