Category Archives: Music

Time To Heal, New Acoustic EP

This past weekend (on October 3, to be specific) I debuted my sophomore release Time To Heal. This time around, I released an EP that was quite different from my debut album, so I thought I’d explain myself a bit.

A little less than a year ago, I released my debut solo album Reclaiming Humanity, a progressive thrash metal album. Looking back on it, I am quite proud of that effort. I still think that the guitar work, lyrics, and songwriting are great, but there a few things with Reclaiming Humanity that in hindsight are not exactly ideal. The drums are pretty lackluster, mainly due to the fact that I had given up the drums three years before, only relearning how to play a month before recording because I couldn’t find a drummer. The production was also pretty terrible because I had no idea what I was doing and had no recording equipment other than a Blue Snowball podcasting microphone. Worst of all though, were the vocals, although considering I learned how to sing a month before laying down the tracks and had no idea how to compose vocal melodies is understandable.

I wanted to put out another release that amended these grievances. So, I improved my vocals via practice and lessons, upgraded my equipment, learned what it meant to actually be producer, and decided to completely forgo drums by making the release an unplugged EP. This last idea was also important because it lined up with where I was artistically at the time. I had been playing with the idea of an acoustic EP for some time. Over the years I had accumulated a collection of acoustic songs that I never had any chance to utilize. So, I finalized the arrangements, wrote another song, and was ready to go.

I am most proud of this collection of music because I made something unlike anything I ever done before. My goal with this EP release was to create something that was the exact opposite of Reclaiming Humanity, not because I was unhappy with it, but just to challenge myself in a way I never had done before.

Reclaiming Humanity was heavy, progressive, and long. Time To Heal is soft, simple, and short. Reclaiming Humanity contained outward focused lyrics concerning the future of humanity. Time To Heal takes a more introspective approach, focusing on personal emotions and experiences.

Time To Heal also provided me with an opportunity to finally incorporate the influences I draw from Eastern music and culture. I had hinted at these influences before, but I had never quite incorporated it as fully as I would have liked. Putting these inspirations on full display, the music incorporates Eastern and African instrumentation while drawing lyrical ideas from Eastern philosophies of yin and yang and life and death.

Time To Heal is also a pseudo-concept album. Not in the strict sense of the term, which is commonly associated with stories of a hero or heroine journeying through space on intergalactic adventure. It’s a journey, not a story. The album aims to take the listener on a journey through life, a journey if healing. This life is hard and at some point, if we live long enough, things eventually hurt us. We all must experience pain. Time To Heal is about embarking on a journey to overcome this pain and hopefully one-day turn it into strength and wisdom. It starts off in a place of pain and isolation and brings the listener to a destination beyond these sufferings, a place some might call enlightenment. In reality, however, few people actually reach enlightenment, so we never can actually quite make it to the end of this journey. But that’s okay, for all that matters is becoming stronger each day and striving to overcome all that which hopes to tie us down.

People have been asking me to describe the music, wondering what genres I am delving into now. Honestly, I am not quite sure. I am tempted to label it as something along the lines of World Music or Folk Rock, but that doesn’t seem quite right. I have been calling it acoustic rock for lack of a better term, although that doesn’t seem to suffice either. If I had to compare it to other artists, I’d say it’s a mix of John Butler, Damnation era Opeth, some singer-songwriter style acoustic rock, and Asian and Middle Eastern World/Folk music. If that sounds a little confusing, I apologize. Maybe you can come up with a better genre label for me. I would be most appreciative. Regardless, I hope you enjoy my newest release.

And, as always, please remember to

Sacrifice, Endure, and Go The Distance,

Ryan Loftus

PS: check out the album at these sites:

iTunes, Spotify

CD Baby- http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ryanloftus

Soundcloud- https://soundcloud.com/ryanloftusmusic

YouTube- https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpoTgWtJrq57R6HkPZFBLmA/feed

My pages:

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/ryanloftusmusic

Twitter- @RyanLoftusMusic https://twitter.com/RyanLoftusMusic

Instagram- @RyanLoftusMusic

My Band’s Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/pages/April-Uprising/845794345455844

Contact me at ryanloftusmusic@gmail.com

 

Reclaiming Humanity Lyrics

Here are the lyrics to my first solo album, Reclaiming Humanity:

Mortality:

Why would you pass on for my life? I’m worthless you are not.

I have no reason to live on. I should take your place.

I can’t believe your ignorance: leaving life behind.

I took a father from his sons; living with guilt.

What have you done? Now I must live.

Fate wanted me to die.

You thought you’d show favor saving me, but you did it

For yourself, you sacrificed. Choice of ignorance.

But you died out of selfishness; interests of your mind.

I blame you for this pain I fell; living with guilt.

What have you done? Now I must live.

Fate wanted me to die.

Saving me was a mistake, altering the plan of the divine.

My journey was fated to end, leaving behind.

Revoking the laws of nature and the divine, betraying your kind.

A purposeless life, I had nothing for me to leave behind, my absence a gift.

I was doing the world a favor. I had determined my fate,

but instead you gave me the guilt of being alive.

What have you done? Now I must live.

Fate wanted me to die.

Open Your Eyes:

I can see in front of me:  a thing every man has inside of him.

Are you blind? Vision nigh? Injustice in front of your eyes.

Or is it me? What can it be? Deep inside of me, I want to shelter thee,

From the lies that we lead. How can it be, nothing to keep?

It’s time that we open our eyes!

What is this? I can’t believe. What is this in front of me?

How can it be we are deceived? It’s time that we open our eyes.

Perpetuate indecency; their life of poverty for your life of luxury.

No rights for thee, how can it be? He is a man just as much as I

We can’t conserve the hate that burns. Our vision blurred, we can’t discern.

We must equate, assimilate, every race of mankind.

It’s time that we open our eyes!

What is this? I can’t believe. What is this in front of me?

How can it be we are deceived? It’s time that we open our eyes.

I love my fellow man. Each time you speak I can’t breathe.

Born in sin, trapped within; perpetuate supremacy.

When i see how far we’ve come, passion burns inside of me.

Yet we are so far; so much left to go.

I foresee a world where love is not a crime.

One day we’ll wake and see all that we can be.

We can’t conserve the hate that burns. Our vision blurred, we can’t discern.

We must equate, assimilate, every race of mankind.

What is this? I can’t believe. What is this in front of me?

How can it be we are deceived? It’s time that we open our eyes.

I love my fellow man. Each time you speak I can’t breathe.

Born in sin, trapped within; perpetuate supremacy.

Open Your Eyes

To Breathe:

Assistance is plight, no trying to aid.

All shall fall to life’s brigade.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?x

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

Castrated mind, guilty inside.

Living a lie, denied.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

So long ago I was all alone.

I can’t believe where I was.

Simply I have found a home.

I can’t believe how far it is away.

Simply I was alone; a truth to be found.

All I want is to breathe; to be.

All you feel and see through me.

All you believe to be; deceived.

All this air you breath is me.

So, as I wait, wait for you, you leave me here

To suffer by, by myself, you leave me to

Become the broken one, bring future to the past.

You don’t know what I have suffered through.

You think you’ve helped but you can’t understand.

You want me to return to the place where I was.

Isolation; to frustration.

Torn apart, shredded by expectations wronged.

Forced to sustain pain for numbers on the page.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

A prolonging mind, secrets to hid.

“Please stay in line,” defied.

D’you realize, inside, the struggle within?

I can’t believe. What can’t you see? Deceived.

So long ago I was all alone.

I can’t believe where I was.

Simply I have found a home.

I can’t believe how far it is away.

Simply I was alone; a truth to be found.

All I want is to breathe; to be.

All you feel and see through me.

All you believe to be; deceived.

All this air you breath is me.

So, as I wait, wait for you, you leave me here

To suffer by, by myself, you leave me to

Become the broken one, bring future to the past.

To The Souls:

Living life not for yourself; alone in this world, no one to love.

Sacrifice all you have. Innocence among the defiled.

Life has gone on as you’re wronged.

Giving yourself up to the Skye.

Example of a Desire to Give, All in Return, ’til no passion burns.

Living is plight. Existence is numb. In disbelief I live; never return.

Sacrifice all you have. Innocence among the defiled.

In another world, you’re alone. Standing behind I watch in vain.

Slowly collapse, brain splits in half, vision is blurred, slicing the nerve.

Agony ensues, nothing I can do as you fall in suffocation.

Example of a Desire to Give, All in Return, ’til no passion burns.

Living is plight. Existence is numb. In disbelief I live; never return.

So pure, innocent at heart. His life was ended too soon.

This life and death more precious than anything.

I remember a time when life had a sacred value.

Protected by the code of human decency.

Aren’t we all one and the same, divided by shades of gray?

We’re all part of the race of humanity.

For the cause you have passed on, the death to end all deaths.

A gift only to repay through human decency.

So pure, innocent at heart. His life was ended too soon.

This life and death more precious than anything.

I remember a time when life had a sacred value.

Protected by the code of human decency.

Of No Grace:

All those lies, darted eyes, shoulders turned, gaze avert.

All I said doesn’t compare to the lies you have led.

Thought I heard it all before, but now I know

The things you did. Never avert, I returned only to

Be shamed and turned.

So do all those years mean nothing to you?

How can’t you see all I do?

I lived a lie where you had integrity.

Can’t you see you were meant for me?

So long ago you had a heart of gold.

Now from lack of use it’s shriveled, black, and cold.

In your eyes I see a gray, empty void.

I see a friend who lacks a soul.

You live in a shroud only without me.

You see me as bleak to misery.

You suck the life from my friend’s sheath.

I guess I’d known you’d kill all those close to me.

So do all those years mean nothing to you?

How can’t you see all I do?

I lived a lie where you had integrity.

Can’t you see you were meant for me?

Forgive; forget.

The stories I tell do nothing to please,

and the words you speak mean nothing to me.

Destiny calls, and it beckons my name,

as you wallow in grief and I never feel the same.

So do all those years mean nothing to you?

How can’t you see all I do?

I lived a lie where you had integrity.

Can’t you see you were meant for me?

I will forgive, but I will not forget.

Hearts Of Steel:

Life alone, guilt untold. Born to give eyes and limbs.

Castrate me. Make me bleed. Give to thee eyes to see.

I exist to give my lungs to live. Surgically feast.

Tear out my heart. Slurp in my blood.

Transplant my eyes. Leave in my mind.

I run from you, as you tear my heart out and feed it to your gods.

My body’s for you, a single purpose. Only my soul is mine.

Strife. Feast. Dissect me.

Organs for you, no rights for me. Take what’s mine can’t deny.

I am a shell of human deeds. Nothing to see; only my soul shall leave.

I exist to give my lungs to live. Surgically feast.

Tear out my heart. Slurp in my blood.

Transplant my eyes. Leave in my mind.

I run from you, as you tear my heart out and feed it to your gods.

My body’s for you, a single purpose. Only my soul is mine.

I can’t believe what this world has come to.

This is disgraceful. It’s fucking baneful.

Is this a life where it’s worth leading?

Humans replaced with person-like steel forms.

Sacrifice love for a heart made of steel.

Give up your hold for a fist made of gold.

Trade in your sight for an all seeing.

Turn in your souls for a robotic mind.

What is the cost that we will repay?

Is it worth it never to be slayed?

I can’t believe that we have devolved.

Is it worth it never to be slayed?

Divinity:

Selflessness is a thing I’ve always known, never living for myself.

I wanted this time to be the last.

Now I look and see what it’s worth: a loveless man in a loveless world.

For a fiery place you yearn, but in hell you would have burned.

I saved you from a fire down, but you wish things were reversed.

Inside you know you cannot hide. You refuse my selfless sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the greatest gift you can give in this world.

Refusing love, denying your savior you’re alone with nobody.

If you knew what I left behind, you would see the value of my gift

it was intrinsically, was selflessness.

How could it be any less? How could you even doubt?

For this you will suffer in hopelessness.

I should’ve let you die.

I saved you from a fire down, but you wish things were reversed.

Inside you know you cannot hide. You refuse my selfless sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the greatest gift you can give in this world.

Refusing love, denying your savior you’re alone with nobody.

Here with you, suffer alone dying on the inside, you want to trade

For my place. Wishing you were in my… grave.

Where I am allows me to see that I’m right.

I am not what you think of me to be.

I am half of what you are and half of what made you.

Something Unquestionably Sacred.

History Repeats Itself.

You are all of humanity; you shall feel my wrath;

All is bigger than yourself.

History Repeats Itself.

Your salvation is shared by all. Alone you shall live.

United you cannot die. All you must do is accept.

Dissatisfaction, denying the fate you live; thankful for nothing.

Gratefulness is a debt you cannot pay.

Living alone cast out from the Promised Land, I beg you to revert.

A giver of life and grief I am, rejection always burns.

So you cast yourself out from, from, from the life I gave.

Silence living alone. Plight, existence is numb.

Salvation, denial; all you must do is accept.

Creedant, Righteous, Unsatisfied. Chastising Ignorance,

self-righteous, Foolish You should die.

I saved you from a fire down, but you wish things were reversed.

Inside you know you cannot hide. You refuse my selfless sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the greatest gift you can give in this world.

Refusing love, denying your savior you’re alone with nobody.

Here with you, suffer alone dying on the inside, you want to trade

For my place. Wishing you were in my grave.

Damageplan – New Found Power Album Review

1. Sound 9/10

When they were first promoting this album, the Abbott brothers Vinnie Paul and Dimebag Darrell frequently described this album as diverse. After listening to this record, I’d say that description could not be more accurate. With their album New Found Power, Damageplan did an excellent job of finding their own sound in the midst of Pantera’s enormous shadow. The band experimented in many ways, from new effects and arrangements to Dime utilizing new tunings to go lower than he ever had before. The guitar tones are also nothing like the ones Dime used earlier in his career. During his time in Pantera, Dime was known for using heavily distorted, mid-scooped, and trebly tones. This album saw him moving in the opposite direction through his use of a bassy, minimalistic tone to compliment the detuned songs. The songs feature tight arrangements, solid musicianship, and a truly unique sound.

  1. Wake Up– This song serves as the perfect intro to the album. Great riffs, incredible tribal-esque drumming, and powerful lyrics make this one of the best songs on the album. The only disappointment is the solo. It fits the song well, but is a let down considering that we know Dime was capable of so much more. 9/10
  2. Breathing New Life– This song is pretty straightforward, but features a solid performance from drummer Vinnie Paul and excellent dynamics to keep the song interesting. 8/10
  3. New Found Power– Simple, short, and heavy, the title track serves as an exciting listen. The highlights of the song are the bridge and main riff. 9/10
  4. Pride– With its eccentric use of effects, this song steps into Tom Morrello territory. This flashiness is backed up by solid riffs and one of the best solos on the album. Singer Pat Lachman also demonstrates great versatility and range during this performance. 10/10
  5. F**k You– Perhaps the heaviest track on the album, the title makes this song pretty self-explanatory: fast, brutal, and heavy, but simplistic and containing disappointingly childish lyrics. A guest starring by vocalist Corey Taylor adds some dimension to the vocal arrangement, but isn’t enough to save the song. 5/10
  6. Reborn– A strong vocal performance, heavy riffing, and great leads by Dime and guest musician Zakk Wylde make this track a solid addition to album, but lacks the magic to keep up with the more diverse and memorable songs on the album. 7.5/10
  7. Explode– Same as above, but more repetitive and predictable. 6/10
  8. Save Me– Heavy, melodic, and single worthy, this song is perhaps the catchiest on the album. This track sees Damageplan combining the very best of their melodic and heavy roots to deliver something worth remembering. 10/10
  9. Cold Blooded– This continues the album’s trend of diversity and combines it with an infectious groove. The song flows well and is able to make the most out of the main riff without feeling too repetitive. 9/10
  10. Crawl– With this song, Damageplan has truly outdone themselves. The verses are dynamic and energetic, the choruses are unique and melodic, and the bridge brings the song to a climax that serves as one of the best of the album. This song holds up with every listen. 10/10
  11. Blink of an Eye-This song is probably the most bizarre metal song I have ever heard. Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes the chorus sounds like pop, and sometimes it brings in a refreshing dose of disco. Unique, unpredictable, and incredible. This song is unlike any other. 10/10
  12. Blunt Force Trauma– As to be expected, listening to this song is like getting hit by a 2×4. This track serves as the embodiment of the Abbott brothers’ trademark Power Groove. This song does not disappoint, nor do its incredible vocals and solo. 8.5/10
  13. Moment of Truth– Slow and brooding, this song takes a while to get its point across. But, when it finally does reach its “Moment of Truth,” the climax is incredible. The solo of this song is one of the greatest of Dime’s career, right up there with “Cemetery Gates” and “The Sleep.” 9/10
  14. Soul Bleed– This song serves as an opportunity for the band to demonstrate their range and experiment with an unplugged approach. Its peacefulness, combined with a nice solo and a memorable vocal performance augmented by guest vocalist Zakk Wylde make this song the perfect album finisher. 10/10
  1. Lyrics– The lyrics on this album leave a lot more to desire. There’s really nothing about them that has not been done before. Songs like “F**k You” read like they were written by an angsty twelve year in his bedroom. To an extent, this is balanced out by more mature lyrical content, such as “Soul Bleed.” The lyrics during the first verse demonstrate this quite well: “Now that I’m all alone// Painfully aware// I’m starting to fell the cold// Knowing you’re not there.” While some songs such as “Pride,” “Crawl,” and “Blink of an Eye” are exceptions, the lyrical content of the album doesn’t live up to its fullest potential. 7/10
  1. Overall Impression– Overall, this album is a solid listen. Although there were some weak moments and unnecessary filler, many of the songs are truly memorable. This record is required listening for any Pantera fan so that he or she can understand where the Abbott brothers were at musically before Dimebag Darrell’s death. I would also recommend this album to any metal fan so that they can understand the entire catalog of one of the Abbott brothers, one of the most influential duos in metal. While it is not necessarily they’re best material, it was nice to see the brothers forge their own identity with such a unique and diverse album. 8.5/10

 

 

Overall Rating- 8.5

The Key Change: Useless Cliché or Lost Art?

Key changes are almost a taboo subject in the music community. Some songwriters shun the use of them, while others like them so much they employ them constantly. So who’s right? The way I see it, there are two schools of thought when it comes to a key change.

The first mentality is that of the pop songwriter: maintain the same key the entire song and then right when the listener starts to realize the song sucks hit them with a key change (often one step up) to get them through the song. This cliché is why key changes have such a bad reputation. They can be incredibly cheesy. On the other hand, however, they can occasionally work.

When using this technique, you walk a fine line between exciting and predicable. It is possible to use it outside of pop music, as many metal bands have proved. Megadeth, one of the most musically and harmonically unorthodox bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s, utilized this cliché with great success in the final chorus of Foreclosure Of A Dream off of Countdown to Extinction. While sometimes a key change is nice for a “big bang effect,” they can sometimes be the highlight of the song. In Arch Enemy’s Nemesis, the one and a half step key change during the final chorus sounds incredible and completes the song.

It is also possible to achieve the feeling of raising the key of the section while maintaining the original piece. Arch Enemy also uses this maneuver, which I like to call a False Key Change, on the song No Gods, No Master: The main part of the song is in C minor, briefly changes to Bb minor during the bridge, and returns back to C minor, the original key, during the final chorus. All of the choruses are exactly the same, but the third one feels higher and more exciting because of the energy generated from lowering and raising the key during the bridge.

In my opinion, this style of key change is very dangerous. Sure, sometimes it sounds incredible, but a majority of the time is sounds like garbage. Use With Caution.

The second school of thought concerning the key change is to use them freely and often. This type very often defies the cliché outlined above. The change could be by any number of tones, at any point in the song, and may happen between each section. This mentality is essentially the product of years of corrosion of the classical western system of music. All rules go out the window.

This mentality is very freeing, as it pretty much lets you do whatever you want. Death metal legend Chuck Schuldiner of Death fame was notorious for changing the key with every single riff. In his song Bite The Pain, the keys of the riffs are as follows: C minor, D minor, D# minor, no key, F# harmonic minor, D# Phrygian (covers from intro to end of bridge).

Changing to random and unpredictable keys sounds mysterious and often unorthodox, but is often jarring. A great way to work around this is to easy the transition by connecting sections through the use of pivot chords. This gambit is done by linking two unrelated musical ideas through the use of chords and notes they have in common.

To see what I mean, take a look at the analysis to the bridge of one of my songs:

Chord Progression #1 (play 2x)(125 bpm)(F minor):

Fm Absus2 Dbsus2 Ebsus2

Chord Progression #2 (180 bpm)(F harmonic minor):

Abmaj Bbm Cm Cmaj

Riff #1 (180 bpm)(A minor)

When I was writing this song I had two completely unrelated pieces of music: one was in F minor and was slow and depressing while the other was in A minor and was fast and uplifting. On paper they should have been kept in completely separate songs, but for some reason I got a gut feeling that they had to be connected, so I forced them together using the interlude detailed above.

In this example, the song is broken into three sections: chord progression #1, chord progression #2, and riff #1. Finding a pivot for the first two was easy, since the keys are almost exactly the same, save for the seventh degree. The second transition was more difficult, since there was only one chord to link them: Cmaj. Normally in a minor key, the chord associated with the fifth degree is minor. In harmonic minor, however, the fifth is major. (An explanation for this would take a whole other article. Just take my word for it for now). By playing a Cm and then a Cmaj, the key is changed from F minor to F harmonic minor. Now that we pivoted to Cmaj, the key can be changed to A minor, since Cmaj is one of the tonic chords of the key, leaving us at our final objective.

While this was a rather complex example, it shows that pivots can be particularly useful for transitioning into a new and unexpected part of a song.

So what’s the verdict? Is a key change a useful songwriting technique or a bad maneuver? Which type of key change is better?

Personally, I take a no rules approach to songwriting. To me, all theory is a suggestion that can be followed or ignored, depending on context. I believe that key changes follow a trend of diminishing returns. Each time one is used, the smaller the benefit gained next time it comes around. Use them whenever they sound good, but be cautious of overuse.

What are your thoughts on changing key? Do you have any originals or favorite songs that are a good example? Be sure to share your opinion below.

How I Breathed Life Into My Playing

I would like to discuss a topic that I personally feel has not been talked about enough in the online music community: taking your playing to the next level.

This is something that I have been personally struggling with for the past few months and, quite honestly, it still continues to challenge me. So, of course, I turned to the internet. After trying many different searches such as “taking your playing to the next level” and “new challenges”, I was left disappointed. All of the articles and videos I found were geared towards less experienced guitarists and intermediates. They contained typical advice such as “work on your bends” and “play to a metronome.” Sure this is great advice for the beginner and intermediate guitarists, but what about the more advanced axe wielders out there? Those that are looking to push themselves into unchartered territory.

I was looking for something more.

I have been playing guitar for just over five years now and although I went threw a brief period of lessons, I am predominantly self-taught. I followed all of the typical advice: I practiced my scales, worked with a metronome, studied my favorite songs, and it worked. I believe that I have become what most would categorize as an advanced guitarist. I even felt so confident as to release my own solo album a few months ago. That was great, but I was left unsure of what there was left to do. What could be next?

I became bored with the usual metronome grind that is involved in developing technique, primarily due to a lack of interest and a sudden skyrocketing of songwriting productivity that seemed to take up all my available time for music.

Around this same time I began to become heavily interested in mediation and the Indian art of chakra healing. My newly zened out approach combined with the chakra principle of third eye intuition led me to realize that I did not actually want what I was working towards. I never had any interest in being able to down pick or shred at warp speed; it was merely just an illusion. Revitalized, I am now looking for some new challenge: I want to struggle like I never have before.

Interestingly enough, my increasing fondness Eastern traditional music has provided this spark. It has refreshed the way I look at music and provided me with my next great challenge: scoring music. As of now, I am still learning to even read sheet music, being the guilty tab reader that I am. It has been a humbling experience. I am struggling, but I love every minute of it. This new stage of my journey has made me feel like I am thirteen again and just picking up guitar for the first time.

If you stuck with me through that wall of text, I’ll leave you with this to take away:

If you are ever in a rut, lacking motivation, or unsure of where to go, go back to the days of innocence when you were just picking up the guitar. Think about what it is you truly desire to get out of music and be aware of when life presents to you another path to choose while on your journey.

Songwriting 101: Part 1 Introduction

This article is an introduction to a series called Songwriting 101, a course that will be aimed at helping songwriters, of all skill and experience levels, improve their craft. The series will detail the major ways that the songwriting skill can be sharpened, before delving into some more unusual theories on how else this can be done. The four major ways to improve songwriting are developing technique, learning music theory, analyzing music, and practicing.

1. Technique

Discussing technique seems to almost be a taboo subject when discussing songwriting. The two are seen as opposites that are unrelated. However, improving your technique can unlock new possibilities that seemed unattainable before. The modern songwriter no longer relies on scoring to compose music. This effectively limits his options to what is within his technical limits.

Working on technique should be like adding tools to the tool belt and improving the usefulness of the ones already there. Sure you can build something with a hammer, but if you have a hammer and a wrench, now you’re going places. To bring it back to musical terms: if you are not capable of playing past 160 bpm, then there could be plenty of songs past that tempo that you could have written.

2. Theory

Okay, admit it. You saw this one coming. I know it’s pretty predicable, but it has to be included. Why? Because it helps. It is important to get a decent understanding of music theory. Nothing crazy, but if you have a solid understanding of chord progressions, melody, harmony and modes, you will have a lot more guidance in arranging your music. Think of it in the same way as technique: it gives you more tools, creating more options.

3. Analyzing Music

Again, predictable. But, true nonetheless. By analyzing your favorite artists, you will take note of what you like and do not like and then begin to incorporate them into your style. Think about the types of riffs being played. Why did your favorite guitarist choose that note?

One of the biggest tips I ever received was to pay attention to the way artists arranged their songs. Many musicians will tell you that you can learn from your idols, but what they often leave out is that you can “steal” their song structures. (No one has to know.) If you look at some my music, pretty much all of their structures are lifted from Trivium, Death, Amon Amarth, or the standard Verse-Chorus structure. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you don’t know where to put them, and looking to your idols for guidance will certainly help.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

The cliche holds true. The only way to become great at songwriting is to write as many songs as possible. If you are just starting out, your songs are probably going to sound horrible for awhile. Do not be discouraged, this is normal. Instead, keep pushing forward and know that each song you write will be better than the last. Songwriting is as much of a technique as sweep picking and should be practiced as such.

I know this is pretty general, but it was only meant to serve as a broad introduction to give an overview while also providing some information, kind of like a syllabus day in school. The upcoming installments of the series will be much more in depth and cover the areas discussed above, as well as any other aspects I can think of. If you have any suggestions for a lesson or questions you would like addressed, let me know in the comments.

The Locus Of Control: Why You Should Wait To Start Music Lessons

There appears to be two general methods of learning guitar: taking lessons or being self-taught. History has proven that both work very well, each with their own pros and cons. But, what if there was a way to combine the two methods?

A musician’s success is dictated by his drive to succeed and the responsibility he takes for his own progress. As musicians, it is essential for us to know that only we can decide our musical success. This is where learning through lessons fails. Learning through a teacher early on in learning an instrument creates what is known as an External Locus of Control.

According to MindTools.com, “Locus of control describes the degree to which individuals perceive that outcomes result from their own behaviors, or from forces that are external to themselves” (Link Below). A person with an external locus of control believes that the forces around him dictate his success and that action can do little to change it. This phenomena leads to the individual placing his responsibly for success on others, rather than himself. When learning an instrument exclusively through lessons, it is easy to develop an external locus of control, (in regards to music at least,) transferring the responsibility from the student to the teacher. This is problematic, as a teacher cannot practice the instrument for someone else; all they can do is offer guidance and monitor progress.

A person with an internal locus of control takes full responsibility for her life and believes that her actions control personal success. This mindset is optimal for achieving not only in music but in all other areas as well. A musician who is self-taught has to develop this mentality in order to succeed: there is no other way. There will not be anyone watching over your shoulder. No one cares if you succeed. No one but yourself. I believe that being self-taught during the early years is necessary in order to establish an internal locus of control. 

Only once the locus of control has been established should you start lessons in order to learn what you were unable to teach yourself. I believe that for a guitarist to be successful, he must be self-taught at heart. It is important to learn from others, but there is a certain beauty in learning yourself and creating your own style. You have more freedom to choose what you want to learn. This is, of course, a double-edged sword, as it is very easy to neglect the necessities and less exciting aspects of music. However, if you maintain the discipline to do these things, you will be unstoppable.

Source:

“Locus of Control: Are You in Charge of Your Destiny?”: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_90.htm