Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Jazz Writing


Jazz can be fairly difficult to write for, especially if you want to go into experimental jazz which I’m not because in there lies madness. Jazz is usually built on instruments playing a simple phrase and then having another instrument. However it is recommended you not play the same idea more than once, depending on the type of Jazz you are aiming to play

For Jazz I would recommend using woodwind instruments and instead of a bass guitar have a double bass because tone is just so much nicer than a bass guitar.
Your best bet with writing a jazz piece is to have accompaniment playing something in the background (be it funky or a depressing parts) and have everyone play that idea, once you have played it then have solo instruments on top. The solo instruments usually are trombone, guitar, saxophone or drums

For chord ideas you can used diminished chords on a regular basis, 7th’s, 9th’s, 6th’s, 6 & 9th’s, 11th’s, 7th’s with flatten 5th’s and finally 9th’s with flattened 5ths. However with Jazz guitar chords there is so much flexibility that the choices are endless

For jazz drumming is a bit more difficult as it depends on the mood you are trying to set. For a funkier piece consider reading up on this but I warn you Jazz drumming is probably the hardest drumming type and I would not recommend a beginner starting there. However if you are going for something maybe moodier or classier then learn to love the high hat pedal and double tapping the high hat and playing quietly. These are very common features of basic jazz drumming but I strongly advise new writers to not write for jazz drumming at all as it’s the hardest type as most Jazz drumming is not written out

Advance features worth reading up about are modes which are very useful for improvising which is a heavy impact on most Jazz especially for advance levels of playing where the drummer becomes the leading instrument

Artists include; Turnabout Jazz Soul, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and John Coltrane.

Jazz has a very wide range of topics and singers however you should take note of skat soloing where the singer usually sings off beat just skating is very common with Jazz singers. It’s very hard to explain without seeing it but just look up skat solo on youtube and you’ll see

Jazz bass is hard to write for usually because it is all improvised but arpeggios and scales are usually the key to a good bass line. Bassist usually get a solo in jazz songs so I suggest using the jazz pentatonic minor scale for this but go with the flow is the main point of jazz and improvising so try looking at other artists for this such as Scott LaFaro

Writing Classical Music

12.0.Writing in different styles

90% of all music can be summed up into a genre of some sort. I will go through the basics of each gene describing types of rhythm, harmony you should use, playing methods maybe particular chords.
However I am not an expert on any of these genres and can only give you an introduction to it and I encourage you to extend your knowledge by listening to genre artists, reading on their styles and expanding your knowledge

Classical music is usually based off of a certain type of instrumentation. These are commonly an opera, a symphony, a string quartet, piano concerto and there are a lot of other types. However I am going to assume you are not writing for a classical piece as most people don’t have a ready available orchestra

String Quartet- Usually consists of 2 Violins, a Viola and a Cello
Piano Concerto- Is written for piano (or harpsichord) and Orchestra
Opera- Usually a singer with dramatic lyrics, usually with orchestral accompaniment

Symphony – A symphony orchestra is divided up into 4 parts of; strings, woodwind, brass and percussion. The strings usually consist of; violin, viola, cello, and bass. The woodwind usually consists of flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon with 2-4 of each depending on orchestra size. The brass consists of; trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba with 2-4 of each depending on orchestra size. Please note with the brass they usually use silvery alloy instead of actually brass. Finally the percussion usually consists of timpani, cymbals, xylophone and a gong. However there are usually extra instruments that add extra colour such as tambourine, triangle, maracas and other shakers, castanets, claves and various wood blocks, and various bells and scrapers.

Orchestra – an orchestra usually smaller than symphony’s and can have as little as six players and can have the same instruments as a symphony, the difference being an orchestra doesn’t have to include them and can be quite smaller in player count

If you are truly writing for a classical piece though, consider reading up on my harmony section. Try and change the piece throughout and use 5-1 cadences when changing keys. Rhythms is not such an important factor but for a beginner writing classical music, have an idea and then maybe change the key of that idea in different sections

Try and get some inspiration from other classical musicians such as Haydn, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Handel and Puccini. While we also have more modern musicians such as Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Ives, Glass and Reich

I would not recommend you write a classical piece until you have some experience though and you know how to write pieces to a basic standard. However if you want chord choices then just go for major and minor chords, nothing too fancy, maybe throw in a suspended chord or 7th but most classical music has mostly functional chords.

Artists include; Haydn, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Handel, Puccini, Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Ives, Glass and Reich
Most classical artists don’t have singers in but if you’re writing for opera then it’s usually about a story, certain parts or the story and there is a lot of word painting with words such as “death” playing a diminished chord

For classical Bass playing I would suggest purchasing a double bass or a tuba instead of a bass guitar because it will sound more authentic to the classical tone. A lot of bass just play chords notes and then play 4-1 chords in notes of a chord however if you want to give the bass player something more interesting, it’s not unheard of for the bass line to be the melody (see toccata in D minor). If you do go with the 4-1 notes at the third play through play 4-1-2-3 as quavers. This is so common in classical bass I would recommend greatly especially first time writers 

Usually the bass parts usually play the chords notes but occasionally they can play the 3rd of the 5th of the chord which is known as an inverted chord

Tuesday, 21 September 2010



Now we move onto texture. Texture is the way the chords, melody, rhythm and instruments come together and overall affects the quality of the piece.
Most types of textures can be summed up into a few different types. These are:


Monophonic is literally having just one instrument playing and is usually done for introductions unless you have a solo throughout.

Homophonic is when there are chords and notes played regardless of rhythm. Most genres will end up landing in the homophonic section as they all the instruments will play a chord with a melody over this most of the time

Contrapuntal/Polyphonic texture is when all the instruments are playing different notes and these notes are interweaving. This is a more common feature in classical music and is very rare in most of the genres I will discuss. The key feature in this is that no one part shines from the other parts and usually everyone is playing at the same dynamic (loudness)

In octave is when all the instruments play the same note but some will play the note higher or lower, this is usually because some instruments won’t go as high as others

Unison is when everyone plays exactly the same notes, not in different octaves just exactly the same. Unison is very similar to monophonic as you cannot tell the parts apart very easily



Now for my own convenience I am going to say you are writing for a rock band. This means writing for guitar, drums, bass and maybe rhythm guitar too. Now rhythm guitar and solo guitar should be playing the same strumming patterns as each other, it doesn’t matter if the strumming pattern changes but make sure the guitarist realise they are changing it

For a strum pattern pick a time signature. A time signature shows how many beats in each bar and which note value constitutes one beat. All western music is made entirely out of bars and depending on the top number is how many beats in a bar and the bottom number determines how many beats there are in the bar and these bars can be made of either

          A whole tone/Semi breeve- 4 beats
          Half Note/Minim- 2 beats
          Quarter Note/Crotchet- 1 beat
          Eighth Note/Quaver- ½ beat
          Sixteenth Note/Semi Quaver- ¼ beat
          Thirty Second Note/DemiSemi Quaver- 1/8 beat

This looks like this in sheet music

10.1.Rhythm Diagram

Time signature and when commonly used

1- Used very rarely

2- used in music that is either really slow or really fast

2, 1- cut time or alla breve used usually for marches

2, 2- Used in marches and fast orchestral music

3- An alternative to 3, 4 usually shows that the piece is getting faster or it’s going very slow

3, 2- known as double triple or major triple, because its pulse should be twice as slow as that of ordinary triple time (i.e. 3/4)

4, 2- alla breve, rare in music since 1600, usually used in counterpoints and recitatives

2, 4- used for polkas or marches, generally used in moderate speeds

3, 4- used for ballads, waltz’s,

4, 4- probably the most common time signature, used in many rock, pop, classical pieces, jazz and dance music.

5, 4- usually grouped in 3+2 or 2+3. I have heard this in some metal pieces and famously has the mission impossible theme tune is in 5, 4

6, 4- Used in very slow pieces and was very common in the baroque period of music

7, 4- used by pink Floyd and is very common in experimental music

9, 4- another moderate speed, generally used in baroque music

12, 4- is used in many romantic songs and has been described as the “tender, affectionate kinds of expression, and sometimes for lively and animated kinds”

2, 8- Usually used for tambourines and is quite a rapid beat

3, 8- twice as fast as music in 3, 4 and is quite a rapid tempo

4, 8- sometimes used in place of 2/4, the marking 4/8 is usually to be thought of as a metre of two rapid beats

6, 8- usually used in jigs, fast waltzes and marches

7, 8- is usually mistaken between 7, 4 and is also used in a lot of experimental music

9, 8-  Used very rarely and is to be taken half as fast again as its parallel 9/4

12, 8- Commonly used in blues music, slides and jigs. Used usual as well in tender pieces

3, 16- A rare compound time and used for extremely rapid pieces

6, 16- another extremely rare and fast rapid timing signature. The Italians describe it is as prestissimo

9, 16- a third rare compound time used also for fast music

12, 16- the fourth rare compound time that is used for rapid music

14, 16- cool time signature used in Jazz. Gives a 1, 1 2, 1 2 3 feel

However these are most general and to get all the rare and obscure time signatures I would suggest listening to pieces with the time signature. Here is a good place to start with obscure time signatures

For most rock, pop and mainstream pieces you want a 4,4 time signature however 6,8 and 3,4 is sometimes used too. There are a lot of different time signatures but for these are usually quite advance and will require a bit of experience writing in that time signature

To measure a time signature take the top number and make a pulse with you foot. For a 4,4 time signature you want to beat your foot 4 times and that creates a bar.
In rhythm there is also the matter of notation. If we have a 4,4 bar

For strumming patterns or picking patterns the best thing to do is to research some songs you like and use similar methods. You can also have a list of different strumming patterns and switch between them for different parts of the form

Monday, 20 September 2010

Writing lyrics

9.0.Writing Lyrics

Take lyrics from poems and other songs
Also take lyrics from other song this is the best way to write lyrics
This can be considered unpopular because people might just copy and paste songs so, if you want to write something truly original, think of something desperately sad or something extremely emotional to you as a person. For example has someone close to you died? Does someone inspire you? 

Those are the kind ways to write lyrics

Finally remember to keep a structure, to write a pop song try an A B A C A structure which is very common but it does a good job. So this could translate to a verse, chorus, second verse, second chorus, 3 verse then final chorus and is also known as a rondo form. You should consider writing in this method for first time writers

There are also many other methods such as:

A B C B C- This is known as an Arch form which is a development on the Rondo form
A B A C A B A- Symmetrical Rondo form
A B A- Binary form

There are many other forms but these are the most basic and your own personal research should be made if you want advanced forms