If you’re a serious songwriter, you’re probably used to wrestling with the beasts of routine and boredom every so often. Even songwriters brimming with talent and promise have fruitless writing sessions sometimes. It’s all part of the process. But when a songwriter experiences weeks, months or even years of uninspired frustration with their work, it’s an entirely different story. If this sounds like you, I’ve got some practical guidance that can help break you out of your songwriting rut.
This is the second half of a special Reverb Nation Guide To Music Theory. In Part 1, I taught you how to build and understand intervals and basic chords. If you haven’t gone through Part 1 one of this guide, stop reading this and check that out first. To understand everything in this article, you’ll need to have a basic knowledge of everything I talked about in that first guide.
In this article, I’ll introduce you to scales, Roman numeral analysis, and the circle of 5ths. Having a solid grasp on music theory’s basic concepts can be a huge help to you no matter what your unique experience and background in music is, and by the end of this guide you should have more than enough information to be able to wrap your head around the ideas that govern music. Let’s jump back in.
Arguably the most prolific pop songwriting duo of the 20th century, John Lennon and Paul McCartney crafted some of the best known and most beloved tracks of all time as the major powerhouses behind the Beatles. Although each would go onto have successful solo careers — McCartney with Wings in the ‘70s and largely by himself thereafter and Lennon, along with wife Yoko Ono, helming politically charged outfits during his tragically short post-Beatles career — many insist they were never as good apart as they were together.
When boiled down to the basic status of “co-writers,” however, Lennon and McCartney aren’t so different from you and your writing partners. They dealt with many similar issues that, hopefully, won’t crop up too often in your own career, including copyright disputes, claims over who wrote what, and the public deifying one half over the other. It’s indisputable, however, that their combined power created a musical benchmark few other have risen to.
Although there are many, many lessons to learn from Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting partnership, here are three key takeaways that will get you and your present and future co-writers on the right track to crafting musical masterpieces.
When working with the endless options of vocal effects in today’s average digital audio workstation (DAW), it can be very tempting to go overboard. It’s like having a huge, free buffet in front of you — of course you’re going to want some of everything. But that doesn’t mean you need to put chocolate on pizza or eat four plates until you get sick. Several artists get away with large swaths of effects on their vocals. Look at Radiohead for example. Their seminal album Kid A opens with the song “Everything In Its Right Place,” in which singer Thom Yorke’s voice is reversed, looped, pitched up & down, and drenched in a variety of distorting effects. However, above all of those vocal FX lies Yorke’s clear human, emotive singing voice. So, when experimenting with effects like Radiohead, be on the lookout for these five signs that your vocals have too much processing.
Whether you’re making pop, hip-hop, or EDM, chances are your music is going to include sub-bass. For those who aren’t familiar, sub-bass are low-pitched notes below approximately 60 Hz, and often go below the lowest frequencies that humans can actually hear. In other words, you often can’t hear sub-bass; rather, you feel it. For example, if you’re seeing a concert and the DJ builds to a drop, then the whole room starts vibrating with low frequencies, that is sub-bass. As electronic drums and midi instruments continue to play a bigger and bigger role in popular music, the use of sub-bass is becoming standard. But since humans often can’t actually hear frequencies that low, producers have to come up with ways to bring out the pitch. So, we compiled five secrets to making your sub-bass audible.
Great lyrics have the power to mold a shapeless piece of music into a profound statement, but a few poorly-written lines could potentially ruin an otherwise great song. Well aware of this fact, many would-be songsmiths opt to sit out of the songwriting process altogether out of fear of writing bad lyrics or of not having anything meaningful to say at all. But like every other aspect of songwriting, lyric-writing is a skill that’s developed over time, trial and error and lots of difficult work. We’ve assembled five helpful tips to help strengthen your lyric-writing game.
As I write this, I’m currently facing my own version of burnout. It’s Friday afternoon and it’s been an especially long week of fielding emails, putting out fires, managing mini-crises, and trying to find time to actually build my business and look to the future. Did I mention also working in three miles of walking my dog each day, yoga, trying to eat right, and really, really, wanting to catch up on Bates Motel if I could just find the time to sit down, relax, and get my mind to stop racing?
We live in a society that is all about the now, while working in an industry that romanticizes long hours, sleepless nights, and a work schedule that never quits. We are constantly told that we need to be on call 24/7, and that there is always someone else ready to take our spot, so we’d better answer that email, take that gig, make that call, and play that show – and we’d better do it all right now. Because if we dare hesitate, there is someone right around the corner who will gladly snatch the opportunity from us.
What is it about music theory that has the power to inspire boredom, hatred or even fear in musicians? Humans usually don’t care for what they don’t understand, so it makes sense that even the most seasoned musicians sometimes yawn or shudder at the thought of music theory, a topic that’s benefits are frequently undersold and basic concepts poorly explained. But learning just a few music theory concepts is a powerful tool that every musician can use for writing, performing and understanding music. Rather than being a dusty set of rules that you’ll never apply to anything in your daily life, music theory is brimming with living ideas that can completely change the way you hear and create music.
This is part one of a special ReverbNation basic music theory guide. By the end of this guide, you’ll have everything you need to understand intervals, scales, chords, the circle of 5ths and other important music theory ideas. But before I walk you through the basic principles found in music theory, I need to tell you why it’s such an important thing for musicians to become familiar with.