How I Write Tunes

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How I Write Tunes

Postby keener » Tue Sep 27, 2011 3:44 pm

My original tunes generally start with one or two original licks, which I generally develop from specialized finger exercises I give myself. My newest tune, called Tricky, demonstrates this pretty well:

This tune began forming in my mind when (1) I heard Class Neeb do Satan's Doll on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, and (2) I decided that I wanted to work more natural harmonics in with some thumb style picking. A couple of days ago, while I was setting around tinkering, with the guitar still tuned in DADF#BE, Satan's Doll came to mind and I developed the little front-end lick to the tune. That was a fingering exercise for me, and one that worked on my goal of getting better at integrated natural harmonics with thumb style playing.

Yes, I know it's weird to play in A minor with a D tuning, but I've found it helpful over the years to do stuff like that every once in a while. Working with that little lick for a day or two helped helped keep me fluid, as doing it right requires fluidity (pretty quick action moving from the 12th fret back to the third, while working at not choking out the harmonic). [Also, when I go back to standard tuning, I'll still have some of the sounds of the D tuning in my head, and I can find equivalents (or near equivalents) in standard tuning, adding a bit to what I knew.]

Once I had that one lick, then doing an F and E close out of it seemed natural. Since one lick did not make a tune, I came up with a few more, all pretty straightforward ones (my tunes typically have at least two or three original licks in them, or at least that's what I strive for).

So, in a nutshell: (1) steal some notes shamelessly from a tune you like (Satan's Doll), (2) make licks for yourself to give your fingers the kind of workout you know they need, (3) don't be afraid of alternate tuning -- even if you don't wind up using it for your tune, you can often learn something that will help you create another lick. You don't have to do step (1), and I don't always do it, but I often do get inspired by another tune.

I guess that's it ... I thought it would be a longer post, but turns out being pretty straightforward. I'll update this if I think of anything else worth noting.

I do hope you like my new tune, Tricky, regardless of whether my tips are helpful to you:

What about you? Your thoughts on writing tunes?

Update: A couple of other things that have helped me in writing tunes:

Use a different guitar than normal ... if you are like me and have a favorite, every once in a while, set it aside and grab another one and just start exploring the neck on it, or do something different than you have been doing (for example, play an old song you haven't played in a long time). This will help in coming up with licks.

Another thing is to take a couple of days off from the guitar. Ideally, do a mini-vacation in which you just clear your head. Then, when you pick up the guitar again, don't pick up where you left off, just start picking something different.
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