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Shred Academy - Free Guitar Lesson by Tim Douglas


 
 

 

Songwriting and Musicality

By Tim Douglas

Everybody can understand music of one sort or another. When you talk to someone, you’re talking in a certain pitch and in a certain rhythm that helps to get your message across just as much as the words that you are saying. If you see someone shouting ‘I like you very much!’ angrily at their friend, something doesn’t quite add up. It seems then that we have an inbuilt understanding for ‘sounds’ and what certain sounds convey.
Everyone then, can to some extent make and understand sounds – this is why music itself is such a respected form of communication, as it only demands an understanding that we seem to possess naturally as humans rather than having to understand the further meaning and linguistic rules of lyrics or even novels.

From this then – it can be said that everybody has the potential to make ‘music’ of one sort or another. A person who has never touched a musical instrument may be able to hum a made-up tune (whether it be beautiful or unlistenable!) and given further knowledge, that person could quite easily put chords to that tune and make a song that is entirely their own. So how does a person take that step from humming their own tune, to composing a concerto?!

Never underestimate the influence that the music you listen to has on your sense of musicality. Would you play neo-classical shred if you had never heard Malmsteen or Macalpine? Would you write 3 minute pop-punk songs if you had never heard Blink 182? Of course the artists I mention are just examples, but look at the music you make and it should be clear to see where your influences lie. Musical intake then, is a key factor in developing your musicality. If you want to write 3 minute punk songs, listen to Blink 182, if you want to write experimental or groundbreaking music, listen to Dream Theater or Frank Zappa. Then, really listen to what they are doing melodically, rhythmically, and structurally. Listen to the music for long enough and these ideas will soon become just how ‘a song’ goes. It will no longer be a source of confusion or aspiration – as you have assimilated their song writing ideas into your own musical sensibilities.

However, you now have more of a musical spectrum of influence to draw from bands than such as Dream Theater or Blink 182 ever did, especially with downloadable mp3’s. We all have unlimited access to all kinds of music from around the world – so once in a while, listen to music you don’t enjoy, purely for the purposes of expanding your own musicality. You may be surprised at how easy it is for a song you once found unbearable to sneak its way onto your iPod after just a few (perhaps painful!) listening sessions. The key is understanding that all real music sounds as it should. All music is nothing more than an artists (or in pop…a record company’s!) expression of what they think music should sound like. It could be devoid of melody, devoid of technique, and have no redeeming features – but it should be clear that this is how this music is SUPPOSED to sound. The music was written to make you go ‘eeuurrggh!’ (I’d like to mention certain Frank Zappa tunes around this point!) and so this music is functioning perfectly. Sometimes however, music can be poorly made and poorly written. Learn to recognise the difference between good/bad music, and bad/bad music – and you have taken a large step in achieving the freedom of mind that understanding music can bring.

Start denying your sense of awe, and instead develop admiration. Most musicians find what they do very easy because they have been playing/writing for years upon years. They may be light years ahead in terms of technique and songwriting ability, but do not become dumbstruck or demoralised by their talents. Develop an admiration for the dedication and musical ideas presented in the song, and you may remember that they are simply another human being, sitting in a room, humming a melody or just letting their fingers fly around their instrument seeing what tunes will come. Break their songwriting processes down rather than being dumbstruck at the end product, and you will understand their music that much better. (The end product however, is still there to be enjoyed!)

When you have been inspired by other musicians to write your own music, and perhaps try and make it in the music industry, the work has just begun. Music, essentially, is the sound that one person wants to hear. Yngwie Malmsteen has been criticised often in his career for showing little artistic development, however he claims that he has been making the music he loves for 20 years and has been very successful. He has been making the music that he wants to hear, and not doing what anyone else wants him to do. It just so happens, that many people enjoy his music.

The key to great music is a sense of influence but at the same time a strong sense of individuality. Why make music that anybody else can make? The true greats have obvious influences (Frank Zappa – doo wop and rock and roll along with jazz, Malmsteen – Paganini and to some extent Bach) and have learnt the rules – but they have also attempted to re-write the rulebook. The old adage ‘Learn the rules so you may break them’ is applicable here.

So, when playing an instrument in a style that demands technique, at what point do tune and technique come together? The tune should always be what is inside your head, and then transferred onto the instrument through your technique – as it is in the mind where true originality may be found, and musicality developed. It could be a template for a 45 minute long jazz improvisation that you heard in your ‘mind’s ear’, or it could be a concerto written down on a stave – whatever music you make, try writing music away from your instrument, and then developing it to be performed. While writing music on the instrument itself is a perfectly valid way of creating music (again re-iterating the freedom of music – nothing is incorrect to a human ear!) it can sometimes be a restrictive canvas. Away from the instrument you are not bound by the shapes you know or the licks that you can play – your music is coming completely from within yourself. This songwriting technique does demand dedication and true talent, but when patience is applied, the sense of achievement can be fantastic. Don’t forget that at one point you barely knew how to play your instrument – but you learnt it nonetheless. Now that you can play the instrument, do not become lazy in what you write and play.

Despite the idea that nothing is necessarily ‘wrong’ to the human ear, and that music is an expression of the self – it is still a means of communication. In this sense, people still need to understand and to some extent enjoy it. Just as with speaking, it is the highly articulate speakers who use the most colourful language that get their message across more clearly and retain people’s attention, as they are the speakers who people may find rewarding to listen to. One may find a message in the ramblings of an incoherent old man, however it soon becomes tiresome searching for that message when someone else may be able to put it into a few well placed words. In this sense then, your music does not have to be complex or simple, or even melodic, it does not HAVE to be anything – but if you want your message to be heard, the most entertaining and articulate man will win.

Find the point where individuality, influence, purpose, and entertainment collide – and make it yours!

 


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