Develop a series of skills and techniques that focus on helping any guitar player compose better. Learn how to incorporate dynamics, counter point, syncopation, chord substitutes, inversions and contrasting rhythm.
Q: I find my composing is one area that I’ve always struggled with. So, I’ve been impressed with how you can compose and perform a new song every week on your YouTube channel. I know you’ve been teaching for over 20 years. And so I was curious, could you share some of the common weak areas you’ve noticed happening, (with your own music students), while teaching song-writing at Creative Guitar Studio?
Troy – Scranton, Pennsylvania [PA], USA
A: Teaching composition to students can be at the best of times difficult and at the worst of times next to impossible. There are so many options and directions that a musician can take. We can compose in so many different ways that it can make the creation of any sort of universal set of guidelines extremely difficult. What I’ve done in this video is create a set of helpful tips in areas where over the years I’ve noticed many of my own students have problems. These areas include; Dynamics, Counter-point, Syncopation, Chord substitutes & Inversions, and the use of Contrasting Rhythms. I’ve prepared a brief discussion covering each topic with an explanation and some examples as well.
This lesson will divide these areas of composition development into five critical areas. The first of these will be “Dynamics.”
How loud or how soft that you perform a section of a piece can make a noticeable difference to your listener. The way that your music comes across live or in the studio with respect to its impact of the sound is referred to as “Dynamics.”
Generally speaking “Dynamics” refers to how loud or how soft a part is being performed. When we explore the dynamics of any performance, the dynamic effect can be added across either a group of notes or upon single tones through a melodic line or within a progression of chord changes.
In example one, see the video at [04:42] for a softer /more quiet (pianissimo) play through of example one. Then, at [05:02] another play through has the line performed louder (forte).
Differences in picking technique, pluck approach and strength of attack all play a role with the end results that can happen when making changes to the dynamics of a play-through.
The creation of additional bass lines, mid-range parts, or upper-range statements that get performed on the same instrument, (or performed on perhaps another instrument), will have a serious impact on the way that a primary part of a piece will come across to the listener.
In the lesson’s video, I perform two background counterpoint ideas that function well over the example one melody line.
At [06:30] a simple low register idea is performed using a short bass-line. And, then the line is modified to have it come across as slightly busier over the original example one statement. You can hear the busier secondary idea in the video at [07:32]
There can be plenty of options when it comes to how you decide to perform each counter-point idea. Alterations to the intervals, to the rhythm, the range of your line and to the dynamics will all play a role in what comes across to your listener in the end.
Altering the way that a rhythm is applied to a melodic line, or how the rhythm guitar part will perform a groove can make a serious impact upon your listener.
The example for this “syncopation” part of the lesson occurs at [08:44] and it demonstrates how the melodic direction of a musical line can sound broken (or what some might call “disjointed”), through the application of only slight syncopation.
The choppy feel of this syncopated effect can work quite well to help break up melodic ideas so that they move away from the norm of “straight-time” feel and start offering the listener a different angle.
Musicians will often apply syncopation as a tool that can operate to shift the listener’s attention toward new musical ideas. These can include style changes or just simply a change to the flow of the piece.
CHORD SUBSTITUTES and INVERSIONS:
Finding the best chord changes to a song’s harmony, (including chord qualities and chord substitutes), along with selecting the best changes that can made to chord voices can be a frustrating part of being a songwriter.
Composing a piece of music that perfectly matches the sound that a songwriter hears in their mind is not an easy task. But, having the flexibility in order to make the best (closest) choices is at the top of the goals list for every composer. Getting there will however require some very selective forms of practice.
At [10:55] in the video, the presentation demonstrates a melodic phrase that is then tested with different chord options for selecting the best application across the line.
The approach used in the lesson will offer viewers an opportunity to try different options for backing chord discovery. The end-goal is to use the chord option approach to form a “system,” (involving substitutes and inversions) that can then be applied toward all of your future songwriting applications.
(Active and Passive Performance)
When chord changes and melodic lines are performed in opposing ways rhythmically, the effect upon the listener can be very powerful.
At [16:43] in the video, a melodic idea is performed that has slower moving set of chord changes in the back-ground with a busier melody performed up front. After that, at [20:17] the concept is reversed with the rhythm guitar part performing a busier idea and the lead (melody) part is played at a slower pace.
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