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    • #1985

      26th September:

      – Create as many as you can, but at least 4-6 chord progressions that make use of retrogression. It can be in part of the chord progression or in all or it.
      Bonus points for using the triad inversions that also allow you to create descending baselines.

      – Matt and Liou especially – also continue to experiment with the All The Chords hand out and the activities associated with it to create and compare diatonic and non diatonic progressions.

      In your journals, post up the chord progressions and/or any audios of you playing them.

      In any compositional activity there is the pure creative act of choosing or experimenting with different combinations of elements, and this process will become more precise the more you do it and the more you are able to predict what certain combinations are likely to sound like; and the technical side of playing what you are writing.
      Don’t worry if you create some progressions or ideas that you can’t play fluently – don’t limit your creativity by what you can currently manage. Your dexterity and technical proficiency will increase, and you may end up composing for other instruments or using sequencers like GarageBand that allow you to develop your ideas further beyond the guitar.

    • #2075

      6th October:

      Matt, Alan – Changing keys smoothly

      – Review the topic.
      Try out at least three more navigations from one key to a new key using each of the methods supplied (common chords, using the V chord). Even if you don’t like the result of the first one you try, you’ll find that different contexts create different results.

      Take a F C F G progression and a C Am Dm F as another progression from which to start.

      – Experiment with creating Dorian lines using different methods – target the natural 6 in a regular scale pattern; and then try playing notes from Bm pentatonic but starting on an A note. This will foreground the 6 and 2 which give us a strong dorian flavour. You can also experiment with Em pentatonic which foregrounds the 2 and b7. Try creating a line that initially features the ‘6’ in an important position in the phrase – like at the end – and then repeat that phrase but replace the 6 with b7. Then return to emphasising the 6. You can do this with any other note.

    • #2161

      Tuesday 10th October

      Beginning to explore rhythm!

      The 5/4 track is here

      and the 7/8 track is here

      Ring of fire – mixed 4/4 3/4. Many Johnny Cash songs use very simple chord progressions, but when you count them out, they drop or add beats in weird places and that is part of what stops them feeling too simple.

      Try listening through and counting along. It won’t take you long but it’ll start to dial in that new time signature and feel. See if you can notice how the pieces overall feel – and consider how the rhythm affects that.

      Rhythm is a very good subtle way to work with tension and release. Moving from 7/8 to 4/4, as on the track of mine I played and as happens at the end of the first link above, tends to create a feeling of releasing tension.

      It will feel odd to start with and you may struggle to sing over the top. Slow it right down until you can comfortably count the rhythm you have chosen to experiment with.

      The other angle you can explore is remaining in 4/4 but accenting 8th or 16th notes in groups of three or five. You will need to work this out on paper – and using basic sequencers (you can get free drum sequencer apps for smartphone) is a way to hear the effect of this without needing to be able to play it.

      Challenging yourselves to come up with a melody or riff in 7/8 or 15/16 is a very good way to become more creative. The track of mine I played began as an assignment at music college and ended up being a song that was played on BBC 6 music when it came out – so it’s worth persisting.

      With these topics, don’t expect to have mastered them in one week. We could spend weeks getting right into depth with all kinds of rhythmic development – but even starting to broaden your thinking so that you have more awareness of it will raise the quality of your creative decision making.

    • #2167

      Tuesday 17th October

      Melody – understanding note function (i.e. that every note has a different flavour relative to the chord that is being played. Some are consonant, some a little dissonant, some very dissonant. Playing with consonance and dissonance is one of the major ways we are able to create and release tension.

      Play a root note, power chord or octave chord and hum/sing each scale degree from 1 up-do it so you can really experience how that note sounds against the chord.

      Compose as many as possible but at least three short motifs where you are featuring different notes in the scale against a chord. You can start this against one chord first and then move to a chord pair of your choosing.

      Remember that when the chord changes, the note function changes too – which is to say, if I play a G chord and sing the G note, that note is functioning as note 1. If I stay on the G but change to a C chord, now the note is functioning as note 5

    • #2168

      Tuesday 17th October

      Melody – understanding note function (i.e. that every note has a different flavour relative to the chord that is being played. Some are consonant, some a little dissonant, some very dissonant. Playing with consonance and dissonance is one of the major ways we are able to create and release tension.

      Play a root note, power chord or octave chord and hum/sing each scale degree from 1 up-do it so you can really experience how that note sounds against the chord.

      Compose as many as possible but at least three short motifs where you are featuring different notes in the scale against a chord. You can start this against one chord first and then move to a chord pair of your choosing.

      Remember that when the chord changes, the note function changes too – which is to say, if I play a G chord and sing the G note, that note is functioning as note 1. If I stay on the G but change to a C chord, now the note is functioning as note 5

    • #2174

      Today’s material is copied below, but bear in mind that unless you have two or three days to exclusively devote to this you won’t manage it all. The priority is to get into working with the rhythm ideas if you are short on time. Even creating two further motifs and posting them in your journals using the rhythm material will be good.

      Melodic Motif Ultimate Training

      No-one is too experienced to get into some motif training-the more you know, the more options you have to play with and the more elements you can bring into training activities.
      I once wrote a four bar loop as part of an exercise at college that I would never have written otherwise-it became something I recorded and had radio play with. You never know what you’ll come up when you start! The reason this is worth your time even if you throw away everything you do is that it creates new habits of thinking about multiple different variables when you’re looking for ideas. You need never be bereft of inspiration again if you remember even a quarter of the approaches here.

      Here’s what you’re going to do:

      1. Write out two bars of rhythm. Ideally you’re going to use standard notation, but if you aren’t sure how to write that way, you can simply write 1 + 2 + etc and underline where you plan to have notes. Try the following variations (each one is a separate version, not all in one).
      – including a syncopation (e.g. eighth note quarter note eighth note)
      – not starting on beat 1
      – leaving a rest at the start of beat 2
      – having one note that lasts for three beats, and at least four eighth notes

      To really get the effect of this, use quite similar notes across your variations, and play them over a single chord.

      2. Now try some variations in notes:
      – rising notes, starting with steps and having a jump in the middle.
      – rising notes, starting with a jump and having steps or a sequence in the middle
      – rising with a jump and then falling notes. The falling notes can move stepped, with a sequence, or with a jump.
      – falling notes stepped then jump.
      – falling notes jump then stepped.
      Combine with:
      3. – not starting on a chord tone
      – finishing on a 2nd
      -finishing on a 6
      -starting on a 6
      -finishing on a 5
      -starting on a 2
      If you know scales and arpeggios, you can try these ideas with those, but they will work just as well with pentatonics.

      Now put the above two ideas together, use them over the same chord first, then over the following progressions:
      I – V
      I – Vm
      Vim – V
      I – bIII
      If you need a hand working out what those chords would be, or what notes to use over the top of them, ask.

    • #2246

      Tuesday 9th November – adding chords to a melody – otherwise known as Reharmonizing a melody

      Reharmonizing a melody
      So, you have a killer riff in your head, but you don’t know how to add chords to it.
      What to do?
      You can just randomly experiment, especially if you know what scale or key the melody is in. But – trial and error can take a while to work.
      A slightly more guided approach is to write down what the notes are in the melody.
      Let’s say I have a melody that goes C, G, C, F, C, E, C, D Bold notes are where the beat falls.
      Each of those notes could be the root, third, fifth of a chord. So the C at the beginning could be the root if I play a C chord. It could be the minor third of an Am chord, or the fifth of an F chord. Each of those chord choices will alter the feel of the note.
      Chords with three notes, 1,3,5 are known as triads. BUT! You can add another note, the seventh. Then we get 1,3,5,7 chords. The third as you know can be minor/flat or major, and the seventh can also be flat or major. So that means we can have major triad with natural seventh on top, (a major seventh chord) major triad with flat seven on top (dominant 7 chord) and minor triads with major seventh on top (not so common in pop, a minor/major7) and minor triads with flat seven on top, a minor seventh chord.
      So if we use these chords, our melody note could be the root, third, or seventh in the chord – and it could be a different note entirely that’s not in the chord.
      In the example melody above, if I start with a C chord, the G is the fifth in that chord. If start with a G chord, the G note is now the root of the chord.
      If I play C, F, C, G, (try it, two beats each) I’ll get a C major, quite upbeat feel. The bolded notes will be the fifth, root, third, and fifth of the chords respectively.
      If I play G, Dm, Fmaj7, Dm, the bolded notes are now the root, minor third, major 7, and root notes of the chord
      If I play Em, G7, Am and D the bolded notes are now the minor third, flat 7, fifth and root notes of the chord.

      I can add tension by play a chord under the note that is altered. If I play a G6 under the note E, it sounds a little bit tense/dissonant, but if I resolve on the next chord that can sound really great.
      I appreciate it may seem laborious to start with thinking about working out the intervals for everything. But there are only 12 notes in the western music system, and there are a finite number of possible intervals. Of the possibilities, there are some that are very rarely used in contemporary song. The ones you’re most likely to encounter are roots, thirds, fifths, sevenths – and then sixths, ninths, and passing tones from the scale.
      You will get used to how these intervals sound fast when you start putting this into practice. You can also start with bass notes instead of chords.

      NB – an interval is rarely the same distance in frets as it is scale degrees.
      Here is a list of how intervals are spaced on the guitar:
      How many frets away from start note on same string
      Sounds like first two notes of:
      2 frets
      Happy birthday
      3 frets
      4 frets
      O when the saints
      5 frets
      Here comes the bride
      7 frets
      Twinkle Twinkle little star
      9 frets
      My bonnie lies over the ocean
      10 frets
      Star wars theme
      Maj 7
      11 frets
      Somewhere Over the rainbow
      12 frets
      Some-where Over the rainbow

      Tuesday 14th November: Object writing challenge!

      We have talked about this a bit already, but here is a bit more context for you: download and read this document which I have also copied below:
      Massively improve your lyric writing

      When you have read it, your first Object writing target is Airport.

      Set a timer for 10 minutes and write for no more than this, even if you’ve got on a roll. The point of the activity is not that you are going to write material that you can turn into a song (although this might happen), it’s to get you into the habit of writing with the senses described at the forefront. As you do this regularly, your ability to quickly go into a mode of expression that is richer and more detailed will increase.

      For now, don’t worry if you start on one topic and free associate into other recollections and topics. You can be fluid with this part of the process.

      Developing Your Textual Awareness: 14 Day Challenge:
      Any text that you read or hear can be analysed through a number of lenses. We are going to focus on two: plot, or information; and response, or emotion. In any story, the plot or information can be relayed in ways which makes us invested in finding out what happens next, or which make us care, or in ways which leave us more or less indifferent. A very dramatic plot can fall flat, and a very mundane plot can be captivating, depending on whether it is told in a way that connects emotionally.

      When it comes to writing song lyrics, we swiftly come up against some problems that can be inhibiting to getting started:

      1. How to treat a subject that has been treated a gazillion times before – which is to say, how to take a narrative or story or plot that is fundamentally unoriginal – and make it worth retelling, or fresh.

      2. Connected to that, how to say something about ourselves or an experience that we had that in such a way that it is interesting to others. Why should anyone be interested in a thing that happens to me, like going through a break up, or facing some kind of struggle, that has also happened to almost everyone on the planet at some point? Why should my experience of it be relevant to them? It can feel cringe-inducing to start describing things that might make us feel simultaneously somewhat exposed but also at risk of being a sounding like a walking cliché.

      Both of these can provide jumping off points for lengthy discussions, but for now it suffices to say that even if there are a potentially limited or finite number of emotional and plot arcs available to us, we have an infinite capacity to be told similar stories and enjoy them, and there are also an enormous number of variations in the ways those arcs can play out and how they can be embedded into stories and told.
      ​For point 2, people love to hear things described or told in a way we can relate to that rings true. It can be deeply cathartic to the point of activating and liberating someone of emotional pain to have something described in a way that accurately articulates and expresses their own experience of an emotion or experience. Hence the popularity of ’25 things you’ll only understand if you went to uni in the 90s’ or ’15 things all British people mean when they say something else’ or ’17 things all cat-owners will relate to’ and other similar things. We always become interested when someone tells us a story ostensibly about them, if it also says something to us about ourselves.

      You can think of plots and text existing along a spectrum from very general, like ‘I made a mistake and the consequence was that I was lonely’ to very specific, where we learn exactly what the mistake was, how it arose, how it felt to make the mistake, who else was there, and exactly how the loneliness that arose afterwards felt. If something is too general, the result is that we lose the attention of the listener. Most people are not at risk of being too specific and don’t need to worry about that when they are learning to use the tools we will explore.

      There are a lot of language tools that you can use to increase the intensity of the listener’s experience. Whilst there are plenty of mega-selling songs that have very average lyrics, it’s not hard to learn how to make more deliberate choices with language and create a more engaging piece of work as a result.

      If there is a disconnect between the words you sing, or if you write for someone else to sing, the words they sing, and the emotion you mean to convey, however sincere and soul-baring your lyrics are, the audience won’t really buy into them. When the listener’s experience matches the intensity of the event, you’ll have their full attention.

      Not all music and song has to be super attention-grabbing to work, but if you’re performing material live or creating a recording, there will be some point at which you want to create a certain kind of experience in your listener, (unless you have a specific intention to create background music).

      ‘In order to care, your audience has got to feel something. They’ve got to feel what it’s like to be you in that moment. Telling them to care won’t make them care. You’ve got to allow them to feel what you feel, to see what you see, to come to believe what you’ve come to believe.’ Another writer whose work on lyrics is legendary sums it up as ‘Show, don’t tell.’ So once you have your intention and your plot and the material you want to convey, learning more about HOW you do that transforms the impact your songs can have.

      Developing your capacity to tap into your own unique perspective will allow you to write about anything in a way that captures your listener’s attention. There are a number of tools you can use to increase this capacity.

      1. Tool 1 – Object writing.
      ‘Object writing is writing from your senses. Its whole purpose is to connect our writing to what you see, touch, taste, smell and hear; to the way your body responds – increased breathing, heart-rate, pulse, muscle-tension; and finally, to your sense of movement. It provides your songs with their pictures and experiences’

      Writing that derives from and connects to your senses is a foundational part of creating text that is vividly expressive and conveys a lot of meaning in a small amount of time. The process by which you develop a richer seam of writing that accomplishes this is simple and anyone can do it. It’s just habit – it’s object writing.

      Your object writing experiments will sometimes concern objects and sometimes be directed at places, people or time instead. The most important part of this is to involve the sense of touch, taste, small, sight, sound and movement. If you struggle with this when you sit down at the time you have set aside to do this, imagine you are a camera lens zooming in to the pattern of the rubber on the car tyre, and then out to model and colour of the car, and then out further to where the car is travelling to and from, and what the road is like, and how many other cars there are. You’ll find that even if something seems uninspiring at first, it’s easy to find a lot of ways to describe it.

    • #2251

      Word 2 – Architect

    • #2253

      Word 3 Winecellar

    • #2258

      Topic 4 – alley in New York City

    • #2259

      Topic 5: ruined house that was clearly beautiful once

    • #2260

      Your topic today is rain-drenched street at night.

    • #2265

      You topic number 7 is ‘boarded up church’

    • #2267

      Topic 8 is ‘Diplomat’

    • #2268

      Topic 9 is ‘puddle’

    • #2272

      Tuesday 28th November: Strong and fragile chord pairs/progressions.

      Assignment: Go back through any chord progressions you have written that you like, or songs you particularly love, and analyse the chord movements in terms of strong/fragile chord pairs. Strong progressions are those in which the key is quite clear. Fragile progressions are more ambiguous. Sometimes we want clarity, other times we might want ambiguity.

      Write some chord progressions from the perspective of seeking balance between strong and fragile movement. Experiment with some longer sequences that incorporate roots moving in fifths and fourths. You can either stay in key or travel out of a key a bit to do this.

      Explanation below

      The Cycle of fifths: Strong and Fragile Chord Progressions
      So. As there are 12 notes in the Western system, there are 12 places you could start major scale from, and 12 places you could start a series of chords from. 12 keys, in fact. Some, like C# major and Cb, are rarely used.
      Some of these keys are quite closely related to one another. The keys of G and C, for example, share four chords. So do the keys of F and C, and the keys of G and D.
      G is the adjacent key to C on the cycle of fifths diagram, and D is adjacent to G.
      The cycle of fifths works like this: if you go up a fifth ( five notes) from C, the note you get to is G. G has one sharp in its major scale. If you go up a fifth from G, you get D. D has two sharps in its major scale. If you go up a fifth from D, you get A. A has three sharps in its major scale.
      The major scale (and therefore the key) that is closest to C isn’t D – it’s the scale that starts a fifth up. So the point of the cycle of fifths is to tell us how close or distant keys are from one another. To identify the closest key from the one you’re in, you need to go up a fifth.
      You’ll have noticed the keys which are adjacent on the cycle of fifths share four out of six chords. Keys that are one key apart (eg C and D, which are separated by G) have two chords in common. You can use this knowledge and these common chords to great effect if you want to suggest a move, or actually make a move, into a new key. Doing so can provide a nice lift or dynamic in the chord progression in a song. If you randomly change to a faraway key, it can interrupt the ow-there’s a ne line between maintaining or creating interest, and disrupting the ow of a piece of music.
      If you go anti-clockwise, you add a flat in each time. The key of F is as closely related to C as the key of G and also contains four common chords – F, C, Am and Dm.

      Where this gets even more interesting is that when you think in fifths or fourths, you can increase the strength or the fragility of your chord progressions. When we use the term strong or fragile in this context, it’s in reference to the effect of certain chord movements. Strong movements tend to sound very clear and to set up or to meet an expectation. Fragile movements are more ambiguous. The downside of strong movements is that they can be predictable, and this might not be what you want. On the other hand, they are satisfying because of the way they set you up to expect something and then meet that expectation. They tend to make it clear what key you’re in, ie what the tonic or I chord is. It sets up expectation.

      Fragile chord progressions can meander and lose their way if they continue for too long-but they can be atmospheric and suggestive. Neither is good or poor as a rule, they just have different properties, which you can use to create the momentum or the space you want in your harmonic movements. You may want a balance of both.

      The strongest chord movements are those in which the root notes of the chord are a fourth or a fifth away from one another. This is where the cycle of fifths/fourths can come in very useful. Even if you’re choosing chords from one key, having root notes that are a forth or fifth apart will create strong movement.

      Try this progression: C Em Am Dm G C
      Compare it with this one:

      C Bdim Em Dm F Bdim G Em Dm Am

      What do you notice? The second one may sound a bit confused in comparison.

      List of strong and fragile chord pairs.

    • #2303

      The mission this week is to come back with some composed material for review next Tuesday

    • #2305

      So – this week, you’re going to come up with something new to bring for review next week.

    • #2316

      The assignment for week following 9 Jan was to post further iterations of your individual tasks – Liou – motifs progressing through the order of brightness – Zoe, rhythms, Gowyn, synth loops using order of brightness?

    • #2377

      The assignment for week following 16 Jan was:

      Liou – create a number of different possible transitions for existing composition
      Gowyn – start some new ideas
      Zoe – Review other chords progressions that have changed key

      Everyone – bring in a suggestion of navigating from Am F Am Dm to

      Ebm Bbm Db Ab Gb. (i.e. key of Db).

    • #2378

      23 Jan Zoe – note down chord structure for variations on common chords-based song, try out some alternative sections.

      Gowyn – New song based on the characteristics of Kong

      Liou – Decide on end section for composition, consider how to reinforce or bring out rhythmic qualities of composition.

    • #2398

      Feb 6-13 – Get back into 6 mins writing.

      Considering the idea of connection in lyric writing – via powerhouse verbs, via detail about your situation, via inhabiting the voice of someone else.

      Considering the speed of the narrative. More detail = slower plot action.
      Less detail = faster plot action.
      No detail = we don’t care about the plot action…

      PEOPLE, PLACES, AND TIMES “Who” barmaid
      middle-aged woman
      construction worker
      BMW driver on his
      cell phone
      hang glider
      Olympic swimmer
      chain smoker
      drug addict
      family business
      husband and father
      of four “When” just after midnight
      while brushing your
      pulling into your
      just before falling
      just waking up
      driving to work in the
      while waiting for test
      just after a kiss
      while putting on
      while running the
      garbage disposal
      running through the
      just before a car crash “Where” coffee shop
      police station
      inside a stolen car
      a hotel room
      unemployment line
      a library
      alley in NYC
      on the interstate
      a wine cellar
      a school gym
      an office cubicle
      on top of Mt. Everest
      standing in front of
      the open
      your bedroom
      the last pew of a
      the bottom of the
      Grand Canyon
      your living room with
      the lights out
      a fine art gallery
      gazing through a
      bakery window in
      the rain

      Stolpe, Andrea. Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling (Kindle Locations 2526-2532). Berklee Press. Kindle Edition.

    • #2405

      Feb 20 – Individual assignments

    • #2413

      13 March,
      Melodies – Ways of writing hooks and motifs

      1. On one single power chord, write at least two melodic motifs. You are allowed to use notes 1, 2, 4, 5, b7. You are not allowed to use 3 or 6 unless those are the very last notes of the second motif. Do you notice anything about how this sounds? What do you notice about the character? What do you notice about the mood of the first motif that has no 3? Make sure your motif has a combination of notes in series and notes not right next to each other ie bigger steps apart. Don’t start the first motif on beat 1.

      2. Exotic notes. Now, on a power chord, you can use 1, 2, 3, 5, b6, b7. The b6 suggests minor, the major third is major, and the effect can be dramatic and pleasing. You’re still working over one chord, and you’re still creating two motifs. From your root note, work out where the respective intervals you’re going to be using are. You can either visualise from a scale perspective or a

      3. Now, you are going to have two chords for two or four bars each depending how fast the tempo of your song is. Still working with power chords, over the first chord work with the 1 2 4 5 b7 set of notes. Over the second chord, use these notes plus 3 and 6. See it how it sounds to end on the six. The chords for this are going to be a I chord and a IV chord. As the function of the notes will change when you go to the IV chord, you’ll need to figure out where those notes are for each chord.

      4. Now, you are are going to make a change of your choosing to the series of notes. Maybe you are going to go for another exotic sound with a b2, 3, 5, b6, b7.
      Maybe you’re going to go harmonic minor – 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7. Whatever alteration you make, you’re going to start from an arpeggio this time and add the extra notes in around the framework of the arpeggio. Still work with power chords as this will give you flexibility as to major or minor directions. When you change the notes, see how it sounds to keep a similar motif as you had before, but now with these added notes in. Otherwise the change may seem too abrupt.

    • #2463

      1 May

      Hopefully by now you have checked out the Davis personality scale and got your Myers Briggs letters.

      Now use them to work out your cognitive style as outlined here

      And see whether how it is described aligns with your own perception.

    • #2545

      Writing to established song forms

    • #2546

      3 July MELODIES!
      Compositional chops - melodic variation

      Melodic variations

      A photo of them is linked above.

      Also! Check out the Rachmaninov/Rachmaninoff variations on a theme by Paganini.

      There are quite a few, but start with variation 18. This sounds NOTHING like the original – but is very effective.
      variation 18

      If you listen to others, consider what you think the variation technique he used might have been.

    • #2582

      Writing melodies:

      – Don’t discard ideas that you think are average or a bit unexciting. Try them with different bass notes and chords progressions, imagine how they might sound on different instruments. Vary them more along the lines already discussed in previous post.

      – Create at least two more variations based on the same melody. You can either further develop your first variation and make something new out of that, or you can return to the original melody and create a different variation using a different approach.

      – Start a list of awesome melodies that you love. They can be from film, pop/rock, classical music. Ideally they will not be very long.

    • #2583

      24 July

      Melody: take the variation you like best and use that for a new starting point for another melody.
      The more often you do this and the more melodies you do it with, the more you understand about the typical characteristics good melodies possess.

      Once you have two melodies you like, and these are hopefully not the very first two that you came up with, it’s time to start harmonising them. Use the handout to start trying different harmonies. Harmonise and reharmonise.

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