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What Makes a Song Good? Part 2

07/09/2011

I think we’ve already established that music theory isn’t necessary to make a good song.  Don’t get me wrong I’m not knocking it although I do have a lot of misplaced rage at music theory buffs.  Mostly comes from my journey to attend college for music and quickly discovering that I wanted to punch the instructor I would be under for the duration and therefore changing to engineering.  I may not have a college education on the subject but I have certainly read and worked through many books on the subject.  Music theory, likes most things in the world, does as much bad as it does good.  It just depends on the things that matter to you.

As a person who writes music, I enjoy pretty much all styles.  Do not take that for liking every artist in every style.  But do understand that once you realize all these different styles are the same notes and beats, the lines between styles tend to disappear.  Or in my case be defined entirely by whose singing.  Music genres aren’t the only art that suffers from this.  After all, there’s not a ton of different in dress style between a goth and a cow-person.  I can’t count how many leather clad women I thought were going to the goth night only to hang a right to the next honkey tonk bar.  Now granted there will be extremism that will make any of this untrue but that’s just how shit goes.

So the question I think most artists struggle is do y0u like your own music?  And if you do is it alright?  The first question should be answered “most of the time” and the second answer is “yes”.  If you’re going to write a bunch of music you think is crap why inflict it on us?  I’m willing to bet Creed doesn’t listen to their own music.  The moral answer to any of this is its alright to feel good about yourself as long as you’re not putting other people down.

Now with that said I am a self proclaimed good musician.  I would like other people to agree with that but its not going to stop me from making music if they don’t.  Sure it’ll make me sad.  As I mentioned above, “most of the time” equates to most musicians having a bipolar relationship with their music.  If they don’t have a bipolar relationship with their music then either they’re already suicidal or they simply think they’re so good they never listen to criticism.  Yes, we’re crazy folk.  Everyone has some emotion they’re not at peace with and writing your own music tends to bring that out.  And if it doesn’t then you’re doing it wrong.  Well according to my listening tastes you are anyway.

Anyway, if you’re wondering where I’m going with this don’t worry about it.  I’m a little lost musically, looking for what I should do and how I should evolve.  I feel lazy as a musician and I’m taking steps to correct that.  But expect more of these exploratory posts in the future.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 07/11/2011 21:56

    Very interesting article. I myself don’t think music theory is essential but I do think it helps. For me right now I am working on my Jazz guitar performance degree and I have been learning a lot of theory. Theory for me really helps when it comes to composing for solo guitar. I have not composed many multi part compositions. For you, Do you start with a melody then create the other parts? How do you start? Do you devise a plan?

    I enjoy your music. I was introduced from dynamic soundtrack and the tvgp forums. My forum name is Lambparade and If you ever want to collaborate on a song or anything hit me up. My guitar work is spot on and If you ever need a solo or anything I’m your man 

    What instruments do you play? how long have you been playing? Why video game music? Any bands?

  2. 07/11/2011 22:27

    Glad you enjoy my music! Dynamic Soundtrack is really a lot of fun to do.

    Man that’s a lot of questions. Hope you don’t mind a long reply!

    I definitely agree music theory can help. Jazz guitar is definitely the avenue to become an expert on the subject. And really people who only learn by ear are usually limited to only a couple keys. I just hate the people who take music theory too far. I knew a guy who decided to translate Stairway to Heaven to an open tone scale. I mean seriously why?

    As for how my creative process goes it always starts out with something I haven’t done before be it new software, a riff I can’t quite play yet, or maybe some type of drum experimentation. Sometimes I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to do and where I want to go and sometimes I just find something catchy I can riff off of. I keep meaning to pick some music theory hurdle to make myself jump through for a song but I just can’t quite make myself. If I program/compose too much I’ll make myself jam for a week or so to find my soul again.

    I’m primarily a guitarist. I’ve played for about 18 years. Most of my studies have been in classical or flamenco over the last few years. I was also in and loved jazz band in high school. I play a limited amount of piano and a little bass guitar. Other than that I try and make an effort to figure out how the other instruments typically function in a song to attempt to come up with more plausible riffs or straight up electronic replacements. I’ve become really lazy as a musician over the last few years so lately I’ve been trying to do more daily exercises on piano and guitar.

    My passion for video game music really comes from my passion for soundtracks in general, except a lot of the time video games are more experimental in their approach than a movie. Plus there’s always the chance I could get a decent paying job doing it.

    As for bands I’ve been in a ton of local bands (I’m in Oklahoma) but I don’t know that any of them ever made any sort of name for themselves while I was in them other than Axis. And really, we were only known in Tulsa. Bands are fun but hard to schedule. Also not easy to make a living off of.

    So what college do you go to?

  3. 07/12/2011 00:22

    I got to the University of Toledo in Toledo Ohio. I just started this summer so I am still new to the whole Music School thing. The guitar program is very small ( only 5 students ) but I am really enjoying it and I still have a lot to learn.

    I don’t know if your familiar with tremolo finger picking but I wondering if you had any advice on approaching it. I know Flamenco and Classical guitar both have a large array of finger techniques and was wondering if you had any tips on how to practice tremolo finger picking. The main style I have learned is Metal so my picking hand is quite good. Although I do play lots of percussive finger style music(such as Andy Mckee and Eric Mongrain) on my acoustic I have not learned any advance techniques that are distinct in the Flamenco and Classical style.

    I really enjoy Heavy Tracks in video games. The Black Mages are one my favorite bands because I love their sound and energy (and I love Rpgs). In my opinion you music is very good. Its not overly complicated and I don’t see you trying too hard to be artsy. I would recommend you keep doin what your doin you seem to have multiple layers of talent when it comes to composing and I’m excited to hear any new music on the horizon.

    • 07/12/2011 00:43

      There’s a book by the title of Pumping Nylon that has a TON of finger exercises in the back the book perfect to start learning tremolo picking. The trick is not to try too much at once. Get used to using the index, thumb, and middle and then add the ring finger in later. A lot of learning finger picking is setting up a daily practice regimen and knowing that you aren’t going to meet your goal in a day or probably even a month. And as a metal player you probably already know the value of a metronome.

      I’ve never learned the Andy McKee thing. Listening to it now. I know a guy in town that plays like that. He calls it New Age guitar. Is it all alternate tunings? Seems like most of the hammer on chords he’s doing are all barred. Its a neat technique I’ve always meant to explore but just never got around to it.

      Erik Mongrain plays like a jazz guitar player I’m a fan of:Stanely Jordan. Stanely Jordan is an absolutely amazing guitar player.

  4. 07/12/2011 01:57

    most of the andy mckee style stuff is in alternate tunings he has a few songs in standard but not many. Erik Mongrain has a lot of Lap guitar slapping stuff too like this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUQzXQhAgvw).

    Thanks for the advice Im looking forward to reading more of you blog entrys and listening to more music.

    Do you have any favorite players or composers?

    • 07/12/2011 22:45

      Still digesting the McKee style. It seems like alternate tuning would take a lot of difficulty out of the play style. I may seek out some sheet music and see how it goes next paycheck.

      I have too many favorite composers/players to mention but I’ll list off a few. I’ve always been a fan of John Petrucci, Paco De Lucia, John McLaughlin, Reese Gabriel, Rodrigo and Gabriela. There’s just some off the top of my head.

      Composers depends on your definition of composer. Dead dudes includes most of the classics: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Debussy. Live soundtrack types include Akira Yamaoka, Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Clint Mansell, and Tyler Bates. I also consider bands composers but many there’s too many to mention. Some fav’s include Deftones, Haujobb, Trash 80, Converter, Rotersand, God Speed You Black Emperor, Radiohead, and many, many more.

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