How Good Do I Need to be at an Instrument to Write Music

To all of our dedicated readers (okay, the intonation of sarcasm is difficult to deliver online, but it’s there) we apologize for this hiatus – as you can see there hasn’t been a post since late March. Nevertheless, we’re back on track now. Time to jump into the actual topic of this post.

The answer to the question that the title of this post poses is: not very. In other words, you don’t have to be a virtuoso in any instrument. Let’s use the example of a guitar (after all, what band doesn’t use a guitar). If you have ever picked up a guitar or have taken a couple classes you know that the first thing you learn is open chords. Open chords are named as such because at least one or more string will be left untouched when playing the chord (hence open). The basic chords are A, Am, C, D, Dm, E, Em, F sharp, and G. Once you figure all of these out all you have left to do is practice enough so that you can easily switch from one to the other. Believe it or not that’s pretty much all you have to do to be able to compose music using a guitar.

What’s even easier than open chords is power chords. This is when you push down on only the top three strings (either from the E or the A – remember the six strings are EADGBE) – here’s a picture of what we mean.

A lot of rock songs use power chords because they actually sound pretty good with the Gain and Treble on the electric guitar. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was actually considered to be a relatively poor guitarist. So, as you may have guessed most of his songs were composed using power chords. Lyrically however the man was a genius.

Many songs ranging from modern to classical use similar (if not the same) chord progressions. Here is a link to a comedian that proves exactly this point Thus as the video shows just because two songs use the same chords doesn’t mean they have the same lyrical melody. Disc Jockeys that mix music have a keen ear for recognizing similar chord progressions and beats. If you want an example of this click here.

To drive the point home (as cliché as that sounds) you do not have to be a professional guitarist or pianist to compose music. Obviously if you get better at an instrument your music becomes more complex, but sometimes simplicity is bliss.

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Finding a Topic for Your Song

This question seems like it might have a relatively simple answer. Still, a lot of times even we find ourselves sitting there trying to figure out what to write about. Of course given the nature of the art, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. But there are some points that could lead you in the right direction.

In our opinion the theme or underlying message of your song will ultimately sprout from the melody and feel of the music itself. Needless to say, if the song is in minor it will have a slow, sad feel to it and if it’s written using major scales then it’ll be more upbeat and energetic. Sometimes if you play back the melody to yourself lyrics will just flow out. But, it doesn’t always happen like that.

For us the easiest way to do it is to simply start singing lines. At first they’re going to sound very simple and maybe even cheesy, but keep it going. A lot of times after you have written a stanza or two you have a good idea of what will and will not work for the song. Once you have something written pick out the lines that sound the best. If there’s nothing good there then just start the process over again. This is good practice because once you have at least a few good lines most likely the rest of the song will flow. Plus it will also help you figure out what you want to sing about.

There are many factors that can go into the story of your song. Perhaps it’s something that has happened in your life, or a specific message that you want to convey to your audience. The problem is unlike writing a poem, not only does your song have to follow a certain rhyme scheme but it has to fit the progression of the melody. This makes it hard to assign a specific topic to a song. But remember, the more you do it the better you will become at manipulating the lyrics to fit a specific message. Until then practice by writing down anything that comes to mind and building off of the most creative lines in your piece.

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Bands Reach Out To Online Fans

There are many bands out there using the internet to gain recognition or otherwise reach out to their fans. We are of course one of those bands, and we stumbled upon an article discussing another already well known band reaching out to its fans to sell its music without a record label. You have probably heard of Radiohead releasing its In Rainbows album online and offering its album for free and urging fans to pay whatever amount they thought was fair for a song. It is estimated that Radiohead already made $10million in initial sales of the album.

This article discusses the band’s new online venture in a contest for Radiohead fans to produce a music video for any of the songs on the 2007 album. There is of course a grand prize to the winner of $10,000.

It will be interesting to see if this trend picks up by other aspiring independent artists, or even already well known artists who are not currently signed to a record label.

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New Projects Underway

We wanted to take this time to let you guys know some things we’re working on right now. As we have mentioned earlier we have written a number of songs and at this point just need to take the time to record them. Along with that we’re doing some things to further promote our music.

A) Within this next week or two we will be recording our new song “Her Story.” We wrote the song about a month ago, but it has taken some time to put the finishing touches on it. The recording will be using the software we have at home. If you want to read more about how we do our recordings or just want some tips for yourself check out our post on “How To Record a Song at Home.”

B) For a while now we’ve been wanting to make a video of us playing our song “Losing You.” That should also be recorded within the next week or two and will be put up on YouTube for you guys to watch. Obviously YouTube is a great way of getting your music heard and a good way to get some feedback from the listeners. The video recording will be dubbed with the professionally recording we have of the song.

C) We have also been working on a new project with one of our friends who has been writing music for quite some time. He does a lot of work with recording software so it should be able to put an interesting spin to our usual genre of music. There’ll be a separate post on that within the next week.

Other than that, even when we’re not working on something specific we’re always trying to come up with new material. This way if we do get some support from a record label in the near future we’ll have enough songs for a full album. Short post for today, but make sure to check back for our new song(s) and new posts.

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How We Learned the Guitar

When we go to concerts, listen to CD’s or get interested in a band its always fun to look up their biographies. But the one thing you usually don’t find in a band’s bio is how they learned how to play the instruments that they play. In this post we’re going to tell you about how we first picked up the guitar and taught ourselves to play.

Like we mentioned in our about us, or first post, we bought our first guitar at the end of Sophomore year in high school. We promised our parents we would learn how to play, and although they were skeptical, we ended up learning pretty quickly. It was a black Fender Squire Stratocaster that came in a package with a small amplifier, guitar case, tuner, some picks, and a basics video all for only $200 at The Guitar Center. The package is $250 now. The good thing about this electric guitar is it has a relatively thin neck and the strings are not hard to press, so it’s ideal for learning. The video ended up being pretty useful and from it we quickly realized the first most important thing to learn are the basic open chords. The song that motivated us to learn was “Time of Your Life,” by Greenday. At first this song seemed impossible to learn, but after learning the open chords it turned out to be pretty easy since the same chords are repeated throughout, and only some picking is required.

The process of learning the open chords correctly took a while. The hardest thing to get used to when you first start playing guitar is how hard to press the strings. And well, basically, you have to push as hard as you can until none of the strings are muted and they sound clear when strummed (It will hurt a bit). After you learn the correct finger positioning and strumming techniques you have to learn how to switch from chord to chord as fast as possible. The best way to practice switching fast is to learn 3 chords at a time and switch from one to the other in every combination. The song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for example has only 3 chords, D G and A. You can literally learn how to play the entire song and many others just by knowing those 3 chords. Most songs really only use 3 to 4 chords, so you can see how important it is to learn these open chords.

The more songs we wanted to learn the more we realized that learning barre chords was crucial. Certain bands such as Jack Johnson use barre chords for basically all their songs. These chords are difficult because they involve barreing or placing your index finger across an entire fret and then using the other 3 fingers to make chords. This way you can play any chord up and down the neck. We didn’t start learning that until about 1 to 2 years into playing the guitar and by that time the calices on our fingers have long since developed. We are still working on perfecting our barre chords, and its probably going to take a while to get really good at them.

Other things we learned after about a year were scales, but we’ll go into more detail about Barre chords and scales later. The best tip we can give you about learning how to play the guitar is find a few songs that sound simple enough that you really want to learn. This will keep you motivated in learning the basics quickly so that you can play more and more. Also learn how to read tabs. It makes learning songs a lot easier.

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