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Old 03-11-2015, 01:02 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Making a rock instrumental.

Heya.

Music Experience/Background: I'm currently learning to play guitar, learning some music theory along the way. All is dandy in that department, and I feel I am progressing nicely. Also learning a bit about the piano, even though I don't have one to play at the moment.

So I'll try to explain my problem as clearly as possible. Essentially, I am having difficulty creating instrumentals that can be sung over. I can create basic beats that you could rap over, but that's about it. I need to understand the music theory behind creating an instrumental in which vocals can lay on top of. I understand this sounds like a weird problem, but I suppose I'm just not making my instrumentals melodic enough, or something. When I look up an instrumental by The Blanket Brigade(I think that's the name) on YouTube, I find it easy and fairly natural to sing over those instrumentals. So, if someone could explain the theory behind their instrumentals, or maybe point me towards a video that can explain it all to me, it'd be appreciated.

Also, a pretty big note, my resources are a bit limited. I am using LMMS, which is like FL Studios(or any software of that nature), but it's free and not as good. I don't have a good setup where I can physically play a keyboard/guitar/drums straight into the software. Rather, I have a collection of stock sounds where I can make decent piano melodies, and beats.

Sorry for the long post, just wanted to make it clear what I need. Thanks!
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Old 03-11-2015, 09:01 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Here's some basics to get you started:

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Old 03-11-2015, 10:18 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Plankton View Post
Here's some basics to get you started:

Hey, I appreciate the response.

However, this isn't exactly what I'm looking for. I need to know the specifics on what makes a good, melodic rock instrumental that can be sung over. I have no problems writing lyrics, or understanding the structure of a song.
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Old 03-11-2015, 10:39 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Well, that could be a bit subjective to what you think a "good melodic rock instrumental" is. Some people like Dying Fetus, some people like Barry Manilow. Basically, from what I'm understanding though, is that you're looking to create what is normally called a "backing track". Look into that for some tips.
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Old 03-13-2015, 03:32 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I'll point you toward this book for your theory needs, because it is cheap, practical, and relatively easy to understand: Hal Leonard Pocket Music Theory: A Comprehensive and Convenient Source for All Musicians: Carl Schroeder, Keith Wyatt: 0073999309683: Amazon.com: Books

Next, this is a guitar chart that I made for the benefit of this thread: ChordsInAKey

Without getting too deep into the theory stuff, a given major or minor key contains a number of chords of different qualities (major, minor, and diminished). If you play the correct chords in a sequence built on their corresponding note in the major or minor scale, you make a chord progression. This chart is a quick and dirty guide to knowing which chords are in the scale. I should begin by saying that the chart is meant to be freely transposable, meaning that you can move it up and down the fretboard and so long as the relative distance between the notes is consistent, everything will be just peachy.

There are two pieces of information here that you have to match: the diagram of the scales (the ones with the square fret markers) and the diagram of the chord shapes (the ones with the circle fret markers). There are some numbers inside of the fret markers, but it is not necessary that you understand what they mean if you are just getting started. What is important is that you match up the "1" on the chords to their respective place on the scale. So if I wanted to play the chord built on 2 in the major key, I would need to play the minor chord shape on the spot that corresponds to 2 on my fretboard.

Once you've got a handle on matching the correct chord shape to the scale, you can try out some common progressions. Play each line and then repeat it to your heart's content before moving on to the next:

Common major key progressions
1 4 5
1 5 4
1 6 4 5
1 5 6 4
1 4 2 5
3 6 2 5 1

Common minor key progressions
1 4 5
1 ♭6 4 5
1 5 ♭6 4
1 ♭3 ♭6 2 5
1 ♭7 ♭6 5
1 ♭7 4

Songs are organized into sections, which are organized into phrases, which are organized into measures. When you are counting "1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4..." you are counting the beats in a measure. "1" is the start of a new measure. Typically, a chord will last for the entirety of a measure. Here is an example of a chord progression that has one chord per measure:

1|4|5|1|

Each | marks the end of a measure. This means that you strum the 1 chord for four beats, then the 4 chord for four beats, then the 5 chord for four beats, and then the 1 chord again for four beats. Here is the same thing, but with the same chord over two measures:

1|1|4|4|5|5|1|1|

This time, each chord is getting eight beats. Referring to time in music by beats gets tedious after a while, so this is simply one chord every two measures.

This is an example of a common phrase structure called a twelve-bar blues. It consists of three phrases of four measures each:

1|4|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|4|1|1|

Phrases are most often eight, twelve, or sixteen measures in length. Here is an eight-measure phrase:

1|6|4|5|
6|4|5|1|

Here is a sixteen measure phrase:

1|6|4|5|
6|4|5|6|
1|6|4|5|
6|4|5|1|

Sixteen measure phrases can often be broken down into two eight measure phrases, hence the line I put between the first and second half of the phrase.

Once you have learned how phrases are structured, you can make them into sections. A section consists of at least one phrase, but you can repeat that phrase as many times as seems fit. You can then combine two or more sections in sequence to get something that feels a little more fleshed out. Sections are called by letter names, so we would say that the first section is the "A" section, the second section is the "B" section, the third section is the "C" section, and so on. Here is an example of a potential song:

A section:
1|4|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|4|1|5|
(repeat)
1|4|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|4|1|5|

B section:
1|1|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|5|4|4|
1|1|1|5|

A section:
1|4|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|4|1|5|
(repeat)
1|4|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|4|1|5|

B section:
1|1|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|5|4|4|
1|1|1|5|

C section:
6|6|6|6|
4|4|2|2|
5|4|1|5|
(repeat)
6|6|6|6|
4|4|2|2|
5|4|1|5|

B section:
1|1|1|1|
4|4|1|1|
5|5|4|4|
1|1|1|5|1| (Added on an extra chord to complete the song.)

Notice that when I bring back a section that I have previously played, it retains its letter name label. This allows us to analyze the music effectively. The overall form of this song is ABABCB, meaning that there is an A section, then a B section, then A again, B again, C, and finally B at the end. A very common form. Feel free to steal that; my potential song is a very generic model that you can imitate or modify at your own whim.

Anyway, I hope this helps you to write your first song. Let us know how it goes.
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Old 03-18-2015, 08:58 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Whoa, thanks for all the info, Quality Cucumber. Haven't read it all the way through yet, but I'll make sure to do so. For the most part, I seem to understand how to sing over a chord progression now, but I'll still give this post an honest read.

You seem to know your stuff, so I hope you don't mind helping me with this, if possible:

So, I'm in the process of writing a song.

I have vocals/lyrics set up how I want, and I understand how to find the right chords for the vocals, and how to make a chord progression for it(Although I feel a bit limited, like I have to adjust my vocals a bit to better suit a chord progression).

However, I simply can't get the song to flow like I do in my head (meaning I can't get the song to flow like it does when it's just the lyrics and no guitar).

Because of this, my songs often end up sounding redundant and bland.

So I'm simply wondering, how do I create a guitar melody that matches perfectly with the vocal / lyrical melody I have in my head? Is this even possible, or am I forced to work within the boundaries of a chord progression? If so, any tips?

Thanks
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Old 03-19-2015, 03:27 AM   #7 (permalink)
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That's the question, huh? Composition is not an easy thing to do, nor is there one single way to approach it. Some people do melody first and then write the harmony, some people write the harmony and then the melody, others start with a rhythm, some do the lyrics first, some do the music first. You really can start anywhere yet end up with the same (or similar) result. In any case, there is usually some tweaking involved to get all of the disparate elements to line up.

I strongly suggest building a rudimentary knowledge of music theory and music notation. While this will not help you to compose in a direct manner, it will make it easier for you to hear the structures in your music and the music of others. This in turn makes it easier to diagnose compositional problems and work out a solution. (For instance, trying to figure out whether it's the melody note that needs fixing or the chord underneath it.) Here are some resources that bear my recommendation:
  • musictheory.net - This website contains good lessons and exercises presented in a concise and orderly manner. If you can learn everything on the lessons page (and it isn't a whole lot), you will have built a solid foundation that will place you above most amateur musicians in terms of harmonic understanding. That is not enough to make you a great musician, or even a good one for that matter, but it makes you more critical and gives you enough vocabulary and understanding to articulate yourself verbally and musically.

  • http://academic.udayton.edu/tobyrush...f/complete.pdf - This is a free PDF book that covers a lot of Western Common Practice harmony in a surprisingly small number of pages. The tone is informal, which is a nice change of pace compared to every other music theory text written ever, but the author also spends a lot of time shooting himself (and his students) in the foot. As an example, here's a garbage quote from page 2: "Music notation is the art of recording music in written form. Modern music notation is a product of centuries of transformation... and it is neither efficient nor intuitive!"

    I could write an essay about why statements like this are not only harmful to the student but also complete BS (If Mr. Rush thinks Western music notation is so inefficient and non-intuitive, why does it permeate his entire book?), but I'll spare you for now. Just be careful. It's difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff, and music is a subject where educators are not very fastidious to begin with. Not me, though. I'm hella fastidious.

  • Hal Leonard's Pocket Music Theory - If you're willing to shell out a tiny bit of cash, this is an excellent little book. It's concise and provides [mostly] good information.

  • If you get serious about this stuff, I highly suggst grabing a book that details "voice leading," which is the art of building smooth melodies that go from chord to chord. If you can grasp the principles of voice leading, composing becomes about 1000x easier. My favorites are Walter Piston's Harmony (4th edition or earlier), Stephen Kostka & Dorothy Payne's Tonal Harmony (5th edition or later), and Miguel Roig-Francoli's Harmony In Context.

Quote:
However, I simply can't get the song to flow like I do in my head (meaning I can't get the song to flow like it does when it's just the lyrics and no guitar).
Is this a technical issue (meaning you have difficulty singing while playing), or a musical issue (meaning that the notes don't sound right together)?

Quote:
Because of this, my songs often end up sounding redundant and bland.
I'd need to hear you in order to make any sort of determination. Remember, as a composer, you have the unique perspective of witnessing music arise from literally nothing. Non-composers (AKA everybody else, including you before you were a composer) are accustomed to hearing music in its finished form. In its early stages, music is not at all impressive. It will be a while before it sounds like a finished product, and that's just how it is. Also keep in mind that you will have heard your sketches and noodlings countless times before the song is complete; it will sound redundant to you no matter what. Actual redundancy in the finished product can be an issue. Gaining a greater technical understanding can help you to recognize where the problems are and how to correct them.

Quote:
I have vocals/lyrics set up how I want, and I understand how to find the right chords for the vocals, and how to make a chord progression for it(Although I feel a bit limited, like I have to adjust my vocals a bit to better suit a chord progression).

...

So I'm simply wondering, how do I create a guitar melody that matches perfectly with the vocal / lyrical melody I have in my head? Is this even possible, or am I forced to work within the boundaries of a chord progression? If so, any tips?
The chord progression is king. If there is discord between your chord and your melody, then it is not going to be good. As a general rule, the main notes in the melody are also in the chord. For example, a Gm ("G minor") chord contains the notes G B♭ D. That means that the corresponding melody note should be either G, B♭, or D. There are certain exceptions which we call "nonharmonic tones," but even these facilitate movement to, from, and between chord tones. Here's an example, over the same Gm chord: G A B♭. A is not in the chord. It is functioning as a passing tone between G and B♭. Melodically, G and B♭ are the main notes of the melody and would thus be given more rhythmic priority (longer note duration, prominent placement in the measure, etc.).

You can also reverse engineer this process. If the main note of your melody is B♭, you can infer that the corresponding chord should contain a B♭. This could mean a great number of chords:

B♭ ("B flat major," B♭ D F)
B♭m (B♭ D♭ F)
B♭° ("B flat diminished," B♭ D♭ F♭)
G♭ (G♭ B♭ D♭)
Gm (G B♭ D)
G° (G B♭ D♭)
E♭ (E♭ G B♭)
E♭m (E♭ G♭ B♭)
E° (E G B♭)
C7 (C E G B♭)
Cm7 (C E♭ G B♭)
Cø7 ("C half-diminished seventh," C E♭ G♭ B♭)
C#°7 ("C sharp diminished seventh," C# E G B♭)
A7(♭9) ("A seven flat nine," A C# E G B♭)

And there are many many more. This means you have a lot of options in terms of harmonization. It is a lot of stuff to worry about, but this ultimately gives you more creative flexibility. Luckily, you can eliminate a lot of the candidates by considering which chords are in the key. That is a technical discussion which I will leave until later. I'm sure that this stuff is dense enough already.

Last edited by Quality Cucumber; 03-19-2015 at 10:07 AM.
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