Welcome to week two of the Song in September Challenge. Last week we focused on getting the basic idea of our song down, and I gave you some ideas on how to spark new song ideas. If you missed that post, you can check it out here.
This week we’re going to work on making sure our rhythm section is solid, and how to compose lead lines on top of our chord changes. I’ll show you some smart ways to get your song going quickly, and what pitfalls I ran into myself.
Getting the sections and rhythm down
If you’re writing an instrumental song, or even if you’re writing a song with vocals, it’s important to know how your song is going to be constructed. A typical rock or pop song might look like this: Intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro.
It’s good to know the structure of your song so when you’re composing lead lines or vocals, you know how long each part will last. This sounds simple, but so many musicians overlook this part and then have trouble when it comes to recording or getting parts to line up.
Here’s a really rough photo of my song structure. As I said last week, I was looking to write a song in G Major, and that totally changed after sitting down and really constructing what I thought were fun, more minor sounding chords.
After getting down the structure, then you have to figure out what your rhythmic patterns will be. One of best ways to make your song sound professional is to have tight double tracked guitars. If the first and second rhythm tracks don’t line up in terms of strumming and rhythm, it’ll sound like a mess....which leads into my next tip.
Record your rhythm section to a click track
If you don’t have a recording program on your computer or phone, recording to your phone’s voice memos will be good enough for this step, but if you really want your song to shine, it’d be great if you could record your rhythm part to a click track.
I personally messed around with tempos in Pro Tools, and ended up with one that felt comfortable, keeping in mind the speed of the lead lines I’d want to create down the road. Once I was happy with a tempo, I recorded a rough scratch track of my guitars (check out the embedded Instagram post for a sneak peek).
The great thing about recording to a click track is that if you choose to record your guitar into your DAW (digital audio workstation), your effects will sync up to the tempo of the song, and so will other virtual instruments. You can hear this in my demo clip, because I used EZ Drummer to lay down a simple drum beat with the song’s tempo.
It makes a difference when you can make your song sound more like a “real song” by putting other instruments in the mix. At this point you could also lay down a simple bass line.
At the end of this week you want to make sure you have your rhythm parts 100% finished and ready to record for next week.
Stay tuned at the end of this challenge where I’ll provide my full backing track for you to practice soloing over.
Playing over the changes
Once you’ve gotten your sections down, and recorded your rhythm parts, now it’s time to think about the theory behind your song. I learned SO much in these 2 weeks, because writing an instrumental is pushing me into newer territory in songwriting.
See what chords you chose, the key of your song, and the quality and then write down 2-3 scales you can use over each section. You might be able to use a couple of scale positions in your key throughout the entire song.
Check out Ben Eller’s video where he talks about the solo in his song Saturdays. He gives you great examples of “playing for the chord” while still being in key. This’ll help you break out of the box, and not sound scalar.
Ben’s one of my favorite online guitar folks, so after you’re done with this post, make sure to check out his videos. They’re super informative, funny, and really helpful.
If you want your riffs to sound more musical and less scalar, you should try these exercises in string skipping. Also, if you’d like to work more on developing lead lines, check out Wayne Krantz’s book Improviser’s OS, which I recommended in this post.
Use theory if you’re comfortable with it to start creating your lead lines, but also keep in mind to play what sounds good to your ear. Play for the song, try and play in a musical way, and don’t worry about speed. Personally, I’d much rather hear a few well constructed lines, rather than a million notes with no soul.
What I’ve learned with Week Two
I remember playing my favorite SNES game as a kid, The Legend of Zelda. The game still is one of my all time favorites. When I got to the end of the game, it wasn’t that great, but for some reason I wasn’t entirely upset.
I can directly relate that feeling to the Song in September challenge. The song you and I make might not be the ultimate #1 hit of the year, but it’s all about the journey to that song where the benefits lie. The journey is better than the destination!
I’ve learned so much in these two weeks, and I’ve been playing guitar for close to 20 years! Doing this challenge will expose holes in knowledge, and that is the most helpful thing of all. Plus when you’re done with song 1, then you’ll be inspired to write song 2, 3, and more.
The more you practice writing songs, the better you’ll get. Stay tuned to the site for week three, where I’ll show you how to record your song, all from the comforts of your home.