Songwriter - Guitarist

Songwriting, and the Benefits of Writing With Minimal Help From a Computer

Most of my writing these days is for vocal/choral groups. Sometimes that means writing for piano as an accompanying instrument, and sometimes I’m writing for full orchestra. Some of them are original compositions, and some are arrangements of already-existing songs (public domain folk songs, for example). But in any case, I practically always start by getting the song working in the most simplified way I can.

For me, because I’m not a guitarist (not a good one, anyway), I’m usually creating a very simple piano accompaniment and putting a simple melody line on top, no matter what the final product is planned to be. And I stress the word simple.

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The main reasons for working this way are:

  1. It allows me to hear (and in the case of musical notation, see) the melody as clearly as possible, uncluttered by production or anything else that might influence my opinion of it.
  2. It allows me to create the basic rhythmic feel for the piece. And that’s important whether the song is a youth choir song in the pop/folk genre or something that’s more of a classical feel.
  3. It allows me to create supporting chords and harmonies that are easy to imagine and manipulate.

In short, I use the computer at first purely as a tool for getting the notes down, using a score notation program (Finale, in my case). But the entire songwriting/compositional process is me working at a keyboard, sometimes strumming things (badly) on a guitar, getting the melody to work the way I want it.

The simple reason for working this way is: If I can get a song to work in a very clean version with minimal accompaniment, then I’ve got a good shot at getting it to work as I get it closer to the final stage, with backing instruments, orchestra, or whatever else I might be using.

And I would encourage you to try the same thing. No matter what genre you work in, even EDM and other electronic genres, try to get your song working as a solo song with minimal or no accompaniment as a first step. It can sound strange in this format, but it allows you to focus in on the structure of your music before you start dressing it up.

I think you’ll find that it allows you to hear melodic shapes more clearly. Involving computers early on in the songwriting stage has a way of making weak moments in the structure of your music sound unimportant, and that can prevent you from having that song sparkle in the way you hope.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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