View Poll Results: How do you get inspiration to compose / write

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76. You may not vote on this poll
  • During noodling session

    10 13.16%
  • Playing scales

    0 0%
  • Chord comping

    6 7.89%
  • Hearing another music snippet as inspiration

    4 5.26%
  • Just sit down to write

    11 14.47%
  • Wake with a few bars in the head

    7 9.21%
  • All most of the above

    38 50.00%
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  1. #1

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    I have a bunch of tunes in various stages of development and I wondered how other players get their Mojo
    Regards,

    Gary

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    I vote the last one, but I have to say my biggest inspiration was one woman's beautiful blue eyes.
    That wasn't on the list.

  4. #3

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    Songs evolve down all of those paths plus some others. May be a bit different if it's an instrumental composition versus something with lyrics. Seems instrumentals get worked on more sitting in front of a keyboard.

  5. #4

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    I had this discussion with Reg in a post. The method he discussed has become the most effective for me. I call it a top down approach where you start with the big picture and work down to the detail from there.

    For example: I'm going to do a funk tune in this structure - intro, A A B A with a tag. I'll do it in Fm, melody in the A sections will be funky 16th note lines, a key change and modulations in the B section with slower melody line which will let the tune breate. The tag will be a repeating simple melody and chord progression.

    That's the start. When I write this way I'm able to just about complete a tune in a couple of hours.

    My other trick is to write it down immediately as I go. That way I don't dwell on one part, once it's written down I move on.

    Also, whether I'm thinking of the big picture or the details of the tune I like to do it in my mind first, i.e. hear it in my mind, and then transcribe it and find it on my instrument. That's the first pass which often evolves as I play it on the instrument. I write while I'm walking the dogs.
    Last edited by fep; 10-21-2013 at 10:28 AM.
    B+
    Frank (aka fep)

  6. #5

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    I almost always start with a chord progression, then put a melody to it. I hate putting chords to a melody that's already "there". I've done it, and been pleased with the results, but it always seems like much more work.

  7. #6

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    i usually have some sort of idea or message i want to put out. i also tend to have some sort of tune stuck in my head. i grab one of my many instruments and experiment.

    If i like what i am doing i spend a month producing the track. i work at the cafe, in bed, in my studio, in front of my couch until i have something i am satisfied with.

  8. #7

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    Great subject!
    I usually start with what is here called noodling, which might be playing a blues, improvising a nice lick and thinking, 'whoa, that sounded good...Hhhmmm, might be on to something here'

    Other times---rare but more than once or twice--a title comes to mind and that's the impetus for a song.
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  9. #8

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    my most interesting tunes have always been "melody first."

    Music plays in my head all day pretty much...so there's plenty of material...obviously not all good! Tunes come in bunches for me...I'll write three in a week, then play around with them for months until they're "good enough." Then I might not write anything for months...I'm glad I don't depend on it!
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  10. #9

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    All of the above.

    What inspires me most is drums or any kind of rhythm. It sets up the space and relationships to notes that makes things much more interesting vs. a melodic instrument alone. Hearing a rhythm first dramatically changes the feel of things and how a line can be played. It's easier to "hear" notes inside of an existing structure ... then you can add, strip away, etc. like sculpture. I record as i write so that's much easier to see the results in real time.

    Sometimes i will set up an artificial limitation like "write a song in 10 minutes" or "only use these 2 instruments" or "use a bird chirp as rhythm". Any creative can tell you "do whatever you want" is the worst way to start anything.

    In some ways all of these things are similar to Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies and aren't limited to just music.

    I would actually love to hear anyone's music that has posted in this thread feel free to PM me or post in the thread if you are brave.

  11. #10

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    I have been writing songs for a really long time, in many styles: rock, jazz, country, funk, r&b, soundtracks, jingles, etc. Most of my writing is done with a specific project in mind: a solo CD, song for a band, etc. When I have a project, I go into my creative songwriting mode, which can be intense.

    The first and hardest thing is an idea. What do I want to say musically or lyrically? What is the song about? What feelings do I want to produce in the listener? These questions help me pick a general tempo and style.

    Whenever a musical idea pops into my head, I record it or write it down in it's raw form. Otherwise, it'll be gone. So I save these little moments of inspiration. Once I've figured out what kind of song I want to write, I'll refer to these "notes" to see if there's anything there to help me get started. It just takes one good idea to grow into a song, but it's gotta be a good one! The important thing is to get started.

    I never think about the final song structure until I'm well into the process. That's too constraining to creativity. Many times I find that the original idea that inspired the song is limiting me, so I throw it out! If I come up with a cool musical phrase or clever lyric, but have to force it to fit into the song, that's no good. I'll use it some other time.

    Rough draft, demo, critique, edit, another rough demo, repeat. We all have warm feelings for our precious creations, but you must be ruthlessly self-critical and get rid of all the clichés, derivative stuff, and lame shit that wants to creep in and ruin your song!

  12. #11

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    Almost none of the above beyond sitting down to write. Inspiration for me comes from life. Experiences or often seeing other firms or art, including other music of course! But sculpture, painting, stories in novels or short stories and poems.

    I consider myself self a composer. I almost never write from noodling or playing scales, practicing etc. I write music very often standing around doing something without a guitar in my hands. I hear it first.
    Last edited by henryrobinett; 10-26-2013 at 02:46 PM.

  13. #12

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    If I come across something I think is unique while noodling, I'll try to expand on it and play it over and over until memorized. Sometimes I'll have to quickly record it as well, especially if in a different tuning.

    If I'm inspired to write lyrics, then I'll try to get to pen and paper ASAP, because I'll forget things faster than I can write. My big writing block is that I can't write lyrics AND music that will match. That, for me, requires collaboration.

  14. #13

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    I still find the best way for me to write music is away from the guitar, at least initially. Just imagine some music. After I've got the vibe and the melody I pick up my guitar and find the notes: the bass line or chords to go along with the melody. The melody will probably have transformed itself by the time I get to the guitar, or try to learn it. Sometimes it's while playing the guitar I'll come up with a chord sequence.

  15. #14

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    I agree! Sitting with a guitar and trying to come up with an idea can really limit you. My best musical ideas always happen in my head first.

    It helps to be able to write musical notation, even at a rudimentary level, to jot down a melody if one occurs.

    I think a lot of what we call "creativity" is just being open to the world around us, noticing it , and re-arranging it from one's personal perspective, then having the self discipline to work at making something that communicates.

  16. #15

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    I wrote Tunes for my Band..and start mostly with the Bass/Chords. A trial and error thing . After it i made a Melody ..wich i humm..mostly..and than wrote it down. But its allways difference.

    http://www.manuelhobi.ch/sound.htm l if you wish to hear some tunes.
    Last edited by Leunam; 10-30-2013 at 02:44 PM.

  17. #16

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    Depends on the genre.

    I always start with a mood that's triggered by a potential title or other concept.

    For jazz/swing, I find a progression which speaks to the mood and then I write a melody to the progression. Sometimes I might start with a melodic fragment and then build the progression around the fragment, but usually the chords come first.

    If it's pop or avant-garde I'll start with a riff and then deconstruct it to find the changes.

    I hate writing lyrics and always try to pawn that part off onto someone else
    Last edited by D.G.; 10-30-2013 at 02:38 PM.

  18. #17

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    I start with chords I really like and add melody to them. Usually standard AABA or AB formats.

    wiz
    Howie

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep View Post
    I had this discussion with Reg in a post. The method he discussed has become the most effective for me. I call it a top down approach where you start with the big picture and work down to the detail from there.

    For example: I'm going to do a funk tune in this structure - intro, A A B A with a tag. I'll do it in Fm, melody in the A sections will be funky 16th note lines, a key change and modulations in the B section with slower melody line which will let the tune breate. The tag will be a repeating simple melody and chord progression.

    That's the start. When I write this way I'm able to just about complete a tune in a couple of hours.

    My other trick is to write it down immediately as I go. That way I don't dwell on one part, once it's written down I move on.

    Also, whether I'm thinking of the big picture or the details of the tune I like to do it in my mind first, i.e. hear it in my mind, and then transcribe it and find it on my instrument. That's the first pass which often evolves as I play it on the instrument. I write while I'm walking the dogs.
    I go pretty much in reverse order from this. I don't like defining what I want to do, because when I do I fall into a box of "well I can't use that because it's not funky" or "I need something that's more straight and this is swinging!". I like to improvise for a good 10-20 minutes, and I'll either stop as soon as I play something, or listen back to what I did if I'm recording it. I'll take a very small idea, a measure or something, and develop that, then try it in different time feels, elongate the melody (play it in triplets, double the rhythmic values), or shorten the melody (cut the rhythm values in half, etc), or maybe try it in different meters and adjust it to see how it sounds that way.

    Right now, I'm working on composing a suite for guitar quartet, which I was inspired to do I've been listening to Anthony Wilson's Seasons for such a long time. I'm writing it bar by bar, so I'll write a measure on one guitar, then arrange that measure, then I move on. I'm not a fan of doing one thing all the way down first, and then another thing (like melody first, or chords first). Not that I haven't done it, but I think music is more organic if it stems directly by what comes before it. I might be writing a melody line, and then I might try a chord that sounds nicer than how I hear it. If I don't have anything written after that, then the rest of what I write could be heavily affected by that change I made, but if I have something written out already, it will just sound like it doesn't belong.

  20. #19

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    Sometimes, it's nice to start composing with just a pencil and some manuscript paper.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    Sometimes, it's nice to start composing with just a pencil and some manuscript paper.
    How quaint...

  22. #21

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    Manuscript paper? Is that the stuff with the lines close together that old guys like Beethoven used to use? I thought went out when Sibelius was writing in the early 20th century.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    Sometimes, it's nice to start composing with just a pencil and some manuscript paper.
    Yes. I still prefer this, either with actual pencil and manuscript paper or virtual like Sibelius.

    I like the process and really dislike writing in a DAW like Digital Performer, Logic or Pro Tools. I have those tools but I use them for production, not for writing. Only after the tune is basically finished do I fire up the DAW.

    Quaint? What an silly thing to say.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
    Quaint? What an silly thing to say.
    It was a joke, Henry. Chill, dude...

  25. #24

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    Well, the poll doesn't apply to me because I am usually starting with lyrics. The first thing I do is get really into the words. I count the number of syllables and I count the number of phrases. And I pay a great deal of attention to the poetry of the words. I do scansion. And I look for structure and inner structure, symmetries, etc. Then I get some idea of the bare form.

    Then, I sit with the guitar and sing. I have tried some other methods, but that works best. I thought I might use Finale more, but it is just too slow. I have found that my best ideas come very quickly and often on top of each other. I don't think it is that hard to write a good phrase. I think that the hard part is having the next phrase fit with the first. And the even harder part is having the next section fit. So I even need to have the "tape" rolling most of the time. Also, I've stopped worrying about the harmonization. The heart for me and is really 70% melody, 20% rhythm/feel, 10% bassline. And really, if I have a killer melody and feel, I'll be able to fill in the rest.

    But it is really an iterative process. So I just did a song where I started with a lot of structure because the lyrics were very tricky. Then I got a chord progression. Then worked out a melody. Then massaged the melody repeatedly until it was catchy. Then I redid the whole chord progression. And I did that whole thing twice because the first version just wasn't cutting it. So there, a chord progression did come before the melody, but the chord progression that was actually used came last. Melody rules! Don't fight the melody. Let it go where it wants. Chord progesssions are a dime a dozen. Can't even copyright them! Melody rules! Jobim, Monk, Giant Steps, and Dolphin Dance are the exceptions that prove the rule IMHO. I've also found that the most interesting chord progressions I have come up with are when I've had to harmonize an interesting melody.

    I know the question is about how you start, but since we are looking for "unity" as they say, the start is really part of a whole process, at least for me.

    Lastly, what I want is to wake up the next day and not be able to get the whole melody out of my head. Not just a phrase, but something extended. It is actually really annoying. But that's how I know I'm doing it right.
    Last edited by jster; 12-02-2013 at 04:52 PM.
    Favorite Musician: Pythagoras

  26. #25

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    They say rhythm trumps everything in jazz, but the great melodies are the things that get trapped in our memory.

  27. #26

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    Usually, I start with a melody. But I get a lot of inspiration from random rhythmic sounds- the repetitive whir-whir-whir of the dishwasher, or the spokes on my bicycle or the sound of my footsteps on the sidewalk. I start snapping my fingers and next thing you know I'm humming a tune and have to find the voice recorder on my phone so I can work on it later.

  28. #27

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    Hello. Pencil, paper, eraser, guitar and noodle, something usually starts to grow.




    Music is the key that can open strange rooms in the house of memory.
    Llewelyn Wyn Griffith

  29. #28

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    I just wrote a song. Discussing methods of song writing is interesting. Tonight I was on this forum, and something just popped into my head. I fired up Sibelius, two staffs - melody and 'acoustic guitar' - and manually entered a rhythmic accompaniment. Then, I improvised in real time the melodic line I heard over my progression with my Yamaha synth keyboard. And the song just evolved right there in fifteen minutes or so. I even start to hear lyric lines in this setting.

    For me the best song ideas and melodies or chord progressions seem to sneak up on me. I get a certain expectant feeling, and when that happens, I almost automatically set up my Sibelius software quickly to capture the moment. I'm kind of watching the process unfold like a spectator, like a photographer trying to capture a beautiful sunset as it blooms and inexorably dies. I try to capture that image before the sun sets, because this musical moment then is made manifest and thanks to technology, captured like a digital photo. I can then go back and refine, create a bridge, modulations - but it's that initial creative magma that seems to just erupt out like a volcano that is the precious "materia prima".

    It's like meeting someone special one night and really clicking. It happens when you least expect it.

    Jay
    Last edited by targuit; 01-06-2014 at 06:48 AM.

  30. #29

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    I write songs with lyrics, and the lyrics always comes first. Usually I have some idea about a topic that I want to write about, then sit down for a while and try to brainstorm a good "unifying theme" that encapsulates it. My goal is to try to find those simple phrases that govern the GAS catalog and focus the tune. Usually that phrase ends up being the last line of the verse or a refrain.

    Then I do a big brainstorming writing session trying to gather images, ideas, emotions that are tied to it. After that I come up with a rough structural framework.

    Then the music comes in. I try to think about (1) some technique that I'm working on and want to incorporate and then (2) the elements that will make the mood fit the lyrics. Is it a ballad, uptempo, etc. How will the song structure fit the structure of the thoughts developed in the lyrics process (AABA, ABAC, etc.).

    Then I start playing with melodic phrases that work with my "unifying phrase". Then I kind of work back off of that and slowly put things together. I am not a natural songwriter at all. I almost never have things just pop out, and it's usually a bit of a slog getting through.

    Just what works for me.

  31. #30

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    Yes, that's interesting. The 'visit from the Muse' bolt of lightning thing is not the only way I compose, but for obvious reasons it is my preferred. Who doesn't like a gift now and then? But I can craft music as well, though I'm not nearly as meticulous as you. For lyrics, I like to free associate to a degree, then distill what comes through.

  32. #31

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    I compose from the bottom-up. Pick a root tone, then there are only six intervals in either direction that the next root could be. The interval combinations above the root can follow any number of approaches, but the vertical intervals should normally comply with the math suggested by the overtone series.
    Using Tapatalk

  33. #32

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    Reviving an older thread. My best compositions tend to come during my early morning (4-6AM) music sessions.

    Last night I wrote a tune I'm very happy with starting directly from scratch with no preconceived melody working from my Sibelius software. Notation software is such an asset for composition that I cannot think of going back. I was using an approach of sketching out a chord progression first, then improvising a melody over it. I use two staffs - melody (vocal and/or instrumental) and guitar accompaniment. As I sketch out the chord progression, I'm thinking about the style. Tonight was a bossa nova or salsa style feel in a minor key. I chose the key with vocal range in mind as well as the melodic flow.

    Once I established the structure and melody of the verses (AA) over the first 16 measures, I created a B section or chorus, and then a bridge after a repetition of the A section, and finally an outro. The lyrics then spring from the emotional context of the melody, which I refine with the lyrics. All this time I play over the tracks with my classical guitar working on fills and refining my sense of the melody and harmonic directions.

    Once you have refined the initial motifs, the evolution of the song takes on a kind of life of its own. And in the process you feel like the song is revealing itself to you. Weird thing.

    A hard part sometimes is finishing. Though I like to stop and take a break from the song, I don't like to leave it incomplete, though the lyrics need thought and reflection. The final step today will be to try and record at least a scratch arrangement with my Korg D1200 digital recorder. I do not have Sonar or Apple or other DAW, so my tracks and recordings are not comped or manipulated. I have to get the track pretty correct, or I just redo the take. Another decision point is whether to try to record (guitar or keyboard} synth tracks with bass, strings, and other instrumentation. The problem there is dealing with the latency of going through the guitar synth, which is more noticeable than my Yamaha keyboard synth, which unfortunate does not have stereo outputs. So I have to have very clear harmonic ideas. I'm always fighting a tendency to 'clutter up' the soundstage.

    But it is always a bit of a thrill to compose something that is original and hear it realized. One could always wish for more and better equipment, but in the end it is about the quality of the song and the performance.

  34. #33

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    Knowing what you want to achieve might be good a start
    I get inspiration from trying to apply traditional techniques of composition and trying to work towards something that works as a whole from the beginning
    Last edited by vhollund; 07-31-2014 at 09:38 AM.

  35. #34

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    This thread is likely dormant, but anyone ever try to write a song backwards? I am serious. Backwards. Very interesting approach. Last night I wrote three very interesting tunes taking that avenue.

    jay

  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by targuit View Post
    This thread is likely dormant, but anyone ever try to write a song backwards? I am serious. Backwards. Very interesting approach. Last night I wrote three very interesting tunes taking that avenue.

    jay
    I think this is a pretty standard way of learning to write in classical circles, right? You start with the ending cadence, and then kind of work backwards. Maybe not so much for the initial melody, but definitely for the SATB-style arranging.

  37. #36

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    Js Bach wrote a symmetrical piece i think

  38. #37

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    Yes, sometimes I write backwards. Not precisely backwards, but I sometimes write the climax first, then what leads up to it, then go to the beginning - A sections, then the bridge or sometimes multiple bridges or connecting sections, then intro and coda.

  39. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by ecj View Post
    I think this is a pretty standard way of learning to write in classical circles, right? You start with the ending cadence, and then kind of work backwards. Maybe not so much for the initial melody, but definitely for the SATB-style arranging.
    I don't think so
    Classical music is often based on développements from the initial themes
    There will be an initial decision on form and structure and sometimes complete vision of the final composition to begin with but
    There will often be a part of the form which is development which merges different parts of the initial themes into new material
    Not impossible though but...
    Last edited by vhollund; 09-07-2014 at 02:22 PM.

  40. #39

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    The ending to a composition i sketched down and finished yesterday
    Not necessarily in the order that they appear on the page, but… kinda fun little tresure map : ;-)
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/6arpaupd6e...2004.11.48.jpg

  41. #40

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    Vhollund, that chart made me smile....I do the same thing...arros everywhere

    I've tried writing in some different ways recently. Right now I'm working on a tune with a set melodic rhythm/idea that I'm going to change the harmony under (a la Nefertiti) and another tune where I sat down, picked three key centers, and I'm going to try to make them work together. Its fun to approach writing as a puzzle to be solved sometimes...and its still cooler than sudoku.
    Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/jeffreymatz

    "Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."

    --The Ghost of Duke Ellington

  42. #41

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    For sure ! I had the same thought but thought of it like a crossword puzzle :-)
    The page I posted is only the ending of a longer composition of 133 mesures though, where I expose a few themes and put them through variations and modulations
    Sometimes I get an idea of how to get from a to b , and sometimes I find the solution to another problem in the same time
    So in order not to have to delete, a could be regretted development on the original sheet, i sketch it on a sheet apart.

    What i find is the most difficult in composing is making a successful coda and making it all hang together so the time it takes feels proportionate
    A little mentoring would make things go better faster

    But it sure feels good trying
    I've never had as much fun as now with writing music
    I hope we can have more discussion about composition, and theme développement here and hopefully learn something
    From each other
    Last edited by vhollund; 03-01-2015 at 05:53 PM.

  43. #42

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    I think it was Bob Dylan (not exactly a jazz artist although I hear that he just did an album of standards) said that once you had one line of lyrics and a melody the rest was fairly easy.

  44. #43

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    I heard somewhere that some of the great classical composers would improvise for lengthy periods and write down phrases as they went that sounded good and work them up into full scale pieces at some point. Or have a supply of things they could use somewhere else. Although someone who knows more about classical music than I do, which isn't saying much, disagreed with this.

  45. #44

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    Quote Originally Posted by mrcee View Post
    I think it was Bob Dylan [...] said that once you had one line of lyrics and a melody the rest was fairly easy.
    later adding "...if you're me." and then cackling maniacally.

  46. #45

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    Miles Davis would just get stoned and call his band members at 3 in the morning to come over and jam, and he'd record everything. If he heard something he liked on tape he'd just say "I like that part, send it over to Gil (Evans) and tell him to transcribe me a chart.

  47. #46

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    Words and melodies first, then arrangements.

  48. #47

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    Miles Davis also wrote a heavy bunch of pretty everlasting standards before that

    Donna Lee
    Blue in Green
    Boblicity
    All Blues
    etc
    Last edited by vhollund; 03-01-2015 at 05:52 PM.

  49. #48

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    I'm not sure about those tunes. Many people believe Parker wrote Donna Lee. Gil Evans probably wrote Boplicity. Bill Evans wrote Blue in Green.
    Last edited by henryrobinett; 03-02-2015 at 12:46 PM.

  50. #49

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    Quote Originally Posted by EightString View Post
    Words and melodies first, then arrangements.
    Sammy Kahn (-great lyricist) was asked, 'What comes first, the words or the music?' His stock response: 'The contract comes first!'

    Sometimes words and music come together. That's when it seems like it is happening of itself. But most of my songs have started with me plunking around on guitar, stopping at some point to say, "hey, that sounded good" and then messing around with it some more.



    By the way, I think the reason so many writers of great songs have said of a particular one or two that it was written in five minutes do this because however long you may spend tinkering around like that, it seems like five minutes....

    Duke Ellington once said that he would come home after performing and while heading toward the bedroom run a hand randomly across the keys of his piano. Then stop, thinking that was an unexpected sound. Next thing he knew, the sun would be coming up...
    "Learn the repertoire. It’s all in the songs. If you learn 200 songs, you will have no problem improvising."
    Frank Vignola

  51. #50

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    Quote Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
    I'm not sure about those tunes. Many people believe Parker wrote Donna Lee. Gil Evans probably wrote Boplicity. Bill Evans wrote Blue in Green.
    Interesting
    Is it possible for you to find more concrete evidence/reference than "most people believe" and "probably" ?

    I haven't read all of the biographies yet myself
    so...
    Just Parker, Gillespie and Miles
    Last edited by vhollund; 03-03-2015 at 05:57 AM.