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Posts Tagged ‘chord progression’

Caution Yellow: Out of lemons, rock

August 22, 2010 2 comments

Got stood up for a date recently. It’s ok though; got a nice little rocker of a song out of it. Caution Yellow is below.

Loving my new toy.

In other news I am LOVING my new guitar interface. So much easier to play clean and monitor what I’m playing – now the only sound I hear is post-effects. Before, I was just micing a crappy practice amplifier. Lots of speaker hiss, ambient noise (the dishwasher, air conditioner, etc.), and I could always hear the raw sound sound from the speaker beneath the monitor sound in the headphones. Annoying … but no longer. Now, my only excuse for the guitar not sounding great is that I am not a great guitar player. Working on it.

This is the first song w/ the new setup: interface and Garageband 9 – got a new computer, too. I am discovering a few cool new things in the new version of Garageband. Thank you, Apple, for totally kicking ass!

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Caution Yellow

here I am again, waiting on a girl

and she’s late

Maybe she’s not coming at all

call it flaky, call it fate

but i’d really like …

like the chance …

the chance to read the tattoo that she hides

so i’ll go for broke, hell i’m broken anyway

it’s caution yellow as i accelerate through the light

driving home again

all alone again

she never showed up

any fool could see

anyone but me would give up

but i’d really like …

like the chance …

the chance to read the tattoo that she hides

so i’ll go for broke, hell i’m broken anyway

it’s caution yellow as i accelerate through the light

accelerate through the light

is it green?

is it red?

if it’s yellow, stop ahead …

here i am again waiting on some girl to show up

it don’t look like she’s coming at all

and that’s just pretty fucked up

but i’d really like …

like the chance …

the chance to read the tattoo that she hides

so i’ll go for broke

hell i’m broken anyway

it’s caution yellow as i accelerate through the light

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Letters: Simplify, Simply, Simplify

June 21, 2010 5 comments

 

After a few rather complicated (for me) tunes, I decided to do one that I didn’t have to think about and didn’t require a lot of tricky math (going from full speed to 3/4 requires a bit of thinking to program drums, especially if you’re changing time signature as well).

Peace. Bring 'em home.

 

This song’s simple and steady from beginning to end. It’s steady, but I think it has a nice build throughout. It’s a slow burner – I always like those. I dashed the main structure and lyrics off in a few hours yesterday, and went back today for the finishing touches – drum fills, synths, etc. The solo, too – I wish it were better. If anyone out there wants to guest solo, lemme know! We’ll figure out a way to do it.

One further note, this is the second song of this most recent batch that deals with the war(s) and the hardships caused at home. I don’t want to get political here. Suffice to say, I hope the sacrifices we’re making in Iraq and Afghanistan will in the end be worth it. I have my doubts. Meantime, may everyone over there get home safe and soon.

Here is Letters:

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Playing with time signature: Rainbows

June 13, 2010 2 comments

Finished another one. I wanted to write something in a non-4/4 (or 3/4) signature. So here is Rainbows. It switches back and forth between 10/4 in the verses and 4/4 in the chorus.

The bridge is … different. I can’t decide if I like it. Here it is. Enjoy!

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Rainbows

The beach is empty. Come on down – you’ll love it.

We can’t swim baby, but we can make the most of it.

We’ll watch them cleanup from the hotel window

There’s no reason to call on ahead …

And I hope you like your summers hot

‘cause down here, love, it’s all we got

I hope you like it humid, too

‘cause it rains every afternoon

The rainbows float and ripple on the surface

Did you think none of us would ever notice?

The wind will tell you who to write checks to

Go ahead and cancel your plans

I hope you like your summers hot

‘cause down here, love, that’s all we got

I hope you like it humid, too

‘cause it rains every afternoon

Out of sight and out of mind … that’s how you said it would be

Until it washes up with the tide

And ends up there on the beach

Will you clean this up or go back to making profit?

Put on a show now before you walk away from it

Dig someplace else – I’m sure we’re gonna let you

After all, we gotta fill up

I hope you like your summers hot

‘cause round here, babe, it’s all we got

I hope you like it humid, too

‘cause it rains every afternoon

I hope you like your summers hot

‘cause right now, doll, here, it’s all we got

I hope you like it humid, too

‘cause it rains every afternoon

Small Cuts: Stacking up layers

 

This guy is amazing. I am not amazing, but it doesn't stop me from trying!

… 

Man, this tune was a struggle from the get-go. Sometimes it’s the seemingly simple ones that are the hardest. That was certainly the case here.

The inspiration for this one was actually a couple of different U2 songs. I’d just watched It Might Get Loud, the guitar documentary that features Jimmy Paige, Jack White and The Edge. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out; it’s not to be missed.

I find The Edge’s guitar playing really inspiring. His playing is extremely efficient. He uses effects to great (cough) effect. Simple ideas, polished to perfection. He makes look and sound really, really easy. It isn’t.

The two U2 songs I was thinking of were So Cruel, from the Achtung Baby record, and All I Want Is You, from Rattle and Hum. Both are simple progressions, primarily built on two chords, with extremely in-depth layers and arrangements.

As a songwriter, it’s tough to hang in there for more than a few bars with only two chords – soon it starts to sound repetitive. The trick keeping it interesting is two-fold. One, your melody over the foundational chord changes has to be catchy and varied. That’s true in every tune, but it’s especially true over extremely simple changes. Second, you’ve got to dress your simple progression in some snazzy, complimentary layers. Edge makes that seem easy. If only it were so …

I have no idea how many tracks were used to record All I Want Is You. Probably a lot more 28, which is how many total tracks my song has. Not all of those tracks are on at once of course, but in some places there are as many as 15 or 16 tracks going simultaneously, include 7 or 8 guitar parts.

Keeping track of all of those tracks is a logistical challenge. It’s tough on the processor, too. The computer kept bogging down when I was trying to record the vocal (generally the last thing), which has never happened before.

Those difficulties aside, the hardest part about having that many guitars is just … well … having that many guitars. There’s a reason most bands don’t have more than two or three guitars on stage at once; things get muddy really quickly. When you start stacking stuff on a simple riff, parts that sound great on their own sound terrible together. It’s easy to get swamped in the sound, or to wander so far into the sonic landscape you’re building that you lose sight of the way out …

I nearly didn’t get out of this tune – at least not out of the finished side. I was ready to throw in the towel after spending several fruitless hours only to come back the next day and realize some of what I had was okay. Pretty good, in fact. Like any journey, once I was past the mid-point and saw the way out, it got easier.

It’s called Small Cuts. I’m happy with it, which is good considering the amount of time involved. Here it is:

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You can also watch a video of me singing an early demo of the vocal on my FB page. It’s five minutes of your life you won’t get back. : )

Small Cuts demo vid

One last word about the bridge – I really like it. I wanted it to have a spontaneous, unexpected feel. Because the rest of the song is so simple (read “predictable”), I thought it was important to break the middle up, lest a listener become complacent. In addition to changing up the chord progression rather suddenly, I did a solo which I only loosely mapped out, in terms of the notes. Then, I didn’t practice it at all. I just hit record and played. The take in the song is take number two – the fasted solo I’ve ever done. I think it sounds pretty good (keep in mind that I can’t really play guitar that well!)

Lyrics below:

Small Cuts

You’re too far gone

You gave up too many chances, to the point of fault

All that’s left is to blame – Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

We circle endlessly

We make small cuts

We find bitter pleasure in our lack of trust

But sooner or later there’s one of us

That’s gonna go too far and cut too deep

chorus: You know when you’re gone

I’ll be here holdin’ on

Through the night

At the dawn

To watch you stray

You kneel on the floor

You make the sign of the cross before going to war

But the only thing of which I’m really sure of

Is that He ain’t gonna take your side

There’ll be no surrender

No white flag to raise, just stupid pride to defend

We fill in the trenches just to dig ‘em up again

We’re running out of places to hide

(chorus)

I may miss you now

But I got the common sense it takes to keep my head down

Maybe climb in a foxhole deep underground

And wait ‘til the coast is clear

And I might get lost

But this time I won’t follow you girl, whatever the cost

Who was it called it over? – Yeah, you always were the boss

So go find yourself a new volunteer

(chorus x2)

A new peppy project

April 10, 2010 2 comments

This morning I got a new little project started. I’ve been a little obsessed with the double-time country beat lately. Everything sounds so peppy! Check it out:

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It’s just a simple, two-chord progression that I think sounds pretty cool. There are a few layers of guitars, plus a little rockabilly-style call-and-response track (which needs to be redone, obviously, but you get the idea). It’s not included here, but I have an idea how the song will open up from this progression to the other parts.

What is this tune ultimately going to be about? I have no idea. Something peppy, though!

In other music news, I am going to Mandalay Bay tonight to see Muse and the Silversun Pickups. Pretty exciting, as I haven’t seen either band before. I’m looking forward to the show and am hoping to come back with at least one or two new musical ideas.

Rock on!

C

A Few Ideas, Pt. 4: Scrap it, start over

March 28, 2010 1 comment

Sometimes you've got throw something away and start a new draft.

 

Sometimes, you just have to scrap it and start over.

That’s what I did this morning. I fiddled with the new song in its former version on-and-off all week long and most of Saturday. But it wasn’t going anywhere. In the meantime, I got the idea to rearrange the verse chord progression to make it less monotonous. If you’re going to go that far, you might as well start from scratch.

The demo below isn’t done, but I already like it much it better than any of the previous iterations. I sped it up noticeably and did some drastic rearranging. The old bridge section is gone, replaced with a solo over an extra verse section. The chorus is the same progression as before, but I play each chord for twice as many counts, so it’s stretched out. I like it. It gives it a real power ballad feel!

I came up with a subject matter, too. Finally. The song is definitely going to be about the stupefying of society-at-large by mindless popular culture. I’m not done with words, especially in the chorus. But one line that’s sure to stay (mature language warning!):

Turn on TV and there’s nothing to see but fake tits and ass

Put ‘em on prime time and give ‘em some wine

Watch ‘em fight for cash.

Here it is:

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This took me from 10 a.m. until about 5:30 p.m. today. In addition to finishing the words and vocals, the drums need some work. Some of the guitars will be re-recorded (or maybe just additional guitars added) for a fuller sound, too, I think. And of course there’s more mixing to do. The next upload should be the finished version.

Rock on!

C

Where Ideas Come From, Pt. 3: All hail the bad poets

March 6, 2010 1 comment

 Good artists borrow. Great artists steal

Good artists borrow. Great artists steal. I've stolen a few ideas from Pearl Jam!

 

Pablo Picasso supposedly said that. T.S. Elliot said it for sure: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different,” was what he said.

We’re now on Part Three of my series about where song ideas come from and how those ideas develop into full-fledged tunes. Part One traced the evolution of a song from its humble beginnings as a little riff through the songwriting process. In Part Two, I discussed lyrics and why maybe someone should give Lenny Kravitz a dictionary – that, or take his rhyming dictionary away.

Thus we arrive at Part Three, wherein I let you in one of music’s little secrets. Whatever song you’re listening to, part of it was inspired by or outright stolen from someone else’s song. There is no such thing as a purely original idea. No exceptions.

It’s inevitable that the music you like will seep into the music you make. Usually, it’s an unconscious influence. Other times, a conscious one. Some of the riffs I stumble on and subsequently develop catch my ear in the first place because they are similar to progressions from songs I recognize. It happens quite a lot – I’ll be playing and something suddenly something will sound familiar. Huh! So that’s how they play that!

Sometimes, I’ll take the progression – did you know that you can’t copyright a chord progression? It’s true! – and combine it with other things to make something totally different. Other times, I steal outright. My song It’s What You Do is pretty much a simplified, dumbed-down rearrangement of Pearl Jam’s Hail, Hail. I didn’t dumb it down on purpose! It’s just that Stone Gossard & Co. are better at their instruments than I am.

Here’s an edited version of Hail, Hail that includes only the first verse and the bridge section:

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My apologies to Pearl Jam for publishing part of their work. But if they’re mad about that, they’re probably going to be even more displeased about my version of their song below. The main progression the same exactly … but it’s pretty close. And the transition in and out of the bridge portion of the song is nearly identical. I couldn’t resist; I love the bridge of Hail, Hail! Here’s It’s What You Do:

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So I stole the idea from Pearl Jam. I admit it! Did I imitate, as TS Elliot’s poor poets do? Or did I steal like a mature poet and “make it into something better, or at least something different?”

Pretty tough to argue that my song is better – or anywhere nearly as good – as Hail, Hail. But it is different.

Except for the bridge section. That, I just imitated outright. Bad poet! But good song, I think.

Rock on!

C