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I realize there will be many answers to this question. That's part of what I am curious about. I have never composed a tune and I am interested in the various approaches, skill sets, concepts other musicians engage. Thanks!
 

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I compose tunes for a living and have done for many years. I can tell you what I do. Sometimes I will think of a melody usually in my head and then put chords around it. More often I work with other writers. This week I went to a studio where I was presented with a recorded groove just with a bass line. I was given a title and a brief. I then improvised by singing various melodies and lyrical ideas over the music. Experience and a lot of listening help in composing chorus ideas and verse ideas and sometimes bridge and middle 8 ideas. After the producer was happy with what I had done I left them to arrange the track and add more music. I will go back when the singer who will perform on the track comes to the studio and I will help with the production of the vocal.
I think it's very important to be able to " hear" a melodic line through the chords or bass line. This ability and lyric writing is what I have specialised in for a long time..I'm a " top line" writer...other people I work with may specialise in creating tracks or music production.
I've done a little teaching but my working life is mostly in studios writing usually for singers signed to recording contracts . I'll be happy to try and answer any questions. I hope this helps a little.
 

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I write quite a bit these days. There's always a "hook" that grabs me -- a clever lyric idea, a riff, a bass line, a line of a melody, etc. Sometimes it starts with a "theme"/concept for the whole song, but often not. I always carry a dictaphone with me (now its an iphone app, very helpful) and will sing a little riff or whistle or whatever, save it for later, revisit those when I'm feeling inspired, etc.

At some point, a few lines or a complete melody idea form around those initial little "moments." Then I sit down at the piano, where I'm most comfortable working through underlying chords and structure. I record a lot of this work so that I can save it, listen back, and remember where I was going. I've got tons of recordings on my computer of these partial structure/harmony sessions.

Then, usually, there's a moment of epiphany on a song, where everything seems to fall into play. Initial lyrics or full melody, with chords, structure, riffs, etc, finally flow in an afternoon of fun times. Record it all. Then, start chopping again. Write out the lyrics, highlight weak phrases. Re-write, re-harmonize, revise, until I'm really happy.

Most recently, I've been involving others in these later phase re-writes to help tear apart and improve ideas. That's made it even more fun...

If you can't tell by now, I usually write SLOWLY. Often this process plays out for a particular song over the course of weeks or more. If I'm using a very simple structure (a 12 bar, I-IV-V blues, for example) sometimes I'll do it much faster because I can hear everything in my head without "noodling" over it for a while. But, unlike Michael above, I'm not paid to do this fast, so I don't. I've usually got 4-5 songs actively working, and another 3-4 saved in very partial forms (and sometimes a few more that I've forgotten about altogether).
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thats like asking what you need to make love to a beuatiful woman.
It is first necessary to know the word beautiful... After that, you're on you own.
 

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Thats like asking what you need to make love to a beuatiful woman.
So, Flaneur pops a mouthful of Cialis and a good tune rises forth?
 

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So, Flaneur pops a mouthful of Cialis and a good tune rises forth?
I thought he meant usually slowly, in multiple sessions, with a clever idea or two, until satisfied. Wait, isn't that what I said before?
 

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You can do this on your own with a Yamaha Tyros 4 a pen and some staff paper. That keyboard is amazing for putting changes down with any style and writing melody around changes. Check that board out. Plus you can record on the keyboard with its on board studio. Great tool!
 

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My process is all over the map. I'll start with anything from a beat to a melody or even a musical or lyrical " hook". I guess what you really need to write a tune is an idea and the perseverance to see it through to a form that can be communicated to others. That could be anything from a score to an audio recording or performance.

Most often I use a guitar or piano and voice to initially map out my ideas but in thinking about it, I frequently skip that step in favor of starting with a "beat" and building layers on top of that. There are just too many ways to go about it with each producing different results. Sometimes I'll even write in a non- linear fashion on a sequencer, creating an 8-16 bar segment I'll consider the "verse" or body of the tune and the a separate 8 bar segment I call the "chorus", and finally a 4 bar "bridge". Once that's done, I arrange those building blocks across time, add on an intro and perhaps and ending and it's a song. I learn songs that others have written in the same segmented way. That makes it easier than having to learn the whole song - I just learn the arrangement of the bars and it's done.
 

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It helps to critically listen to examples of what you consider a beautiful, catchy (or whatever you like) tune. Get a copy or transcribe it so you can see it on the page. This helps seeing and hearing patterns and motifs. When I went to Dick Grove's school he said " melody is king" since you can't copyright a chord progression but you can a melody. I find that the most elegant
melodies look elegant on the page. The actual shape of the note going up, down and jumping look cool.
 

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I'm also just starting out with writing; a couple of books I've found useful are:

Melody In Songwriting (Jack Perricone/Berklee). While it's predominantly about writing melodic lines, it's also packed with useful bits of theory that I hadn't picked up elsewhere.
Composing Music (William Russo/Prentice Hall). Lots of information about structure, generating ideas and manipulating ideas that you've generated.

I'm also reading as much about harmony and arranging as possible. As a horn player, I've found that both my hearing and understanding of vertical harmony is much weaker than it should be.

Coming from a slightly different angle, I've learnt all kinds of interesting things from:

http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/DATABASES/AWP/awp-notes_on.shtml

Of course, all of this is just about loading up with as much knowledge and facility as possible so that I'm not handicapped by my weaknesses in those areas. None of that is information about how to write, but maybe about how to understand and capture ideas that you might have.

Finally, I feel that a big part of writing is really just collecting - finding fragments of ideas about melody, harmony, rhythm and so on and hoarding them for use some time in the future. That is, I think a bit part of it is not "creating from scratch", but more like having a concept for what you want to create and then scavenging for the bits and pieces you need to assemble that concept.
 

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So in my amazingly ameuter opinion (feel from to regard this as crap from a middle schooler) it all just comes down to your soul. Chords, music theory, and all that stuff make it a million times easier, but if you don't have anything coming from your soul, well.... you're pretty much hopeless for song writing. I just play what I feel, and a lot of times I'll here about a chord and be like wow, I played off that chord without relizing it. I've never really learned about chords or music theory. Now I'm sure I'd play a thousand times better if I knew that stuff, but soul is all that matters to me. Once again you can just disregard this as an ameuture's opinion and ignore it. Hope it helps! Good luck with your song.
 

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Do you ever just walk down the street humming or scatting to yourself and find yourself thinking "Now that's a good tune"? If so, train yourself to capture that melody and feeling and remember it, go to the piano or your horn and realize it, and write it down. You have to be prepared for the moment that inspiration strikes, prepared enough to remember something well enough to transcribe it later.

This is different than what Michael Ward does, where he has a deadline. That's a whole different animal, but it requires the same skills.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Wow! I really appreciate all the different approaches. I know I have to jump in at some point. Time to get busy...


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

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I start composing by hearing a melody in my head. When that happens, I instantly sing or whistle it to my cellular phone.
When I get to piano, I start playing around with the melody and start thinking the chords. After that, I decide what instruments I will use and start the arranging process.
When Im happy with the arrangement, I bring the material to the band and they will bring their own flavor to the song.

I've been working like this for over 10 years and for me making up melodies comes automatically, but the arranging process is the part when I start to think about the possibilities.
 

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When I went to the Dick Grove School, Dick said that melody is eveything. A set of chord changes can't be copywritten only a melody can.
 
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