Monthly Archives: November 2013

SONGWRITING: D Standard Tuning (guitar)

With all the vocal problems I’ve experienced over the last two and a half years (almost three)… I’ve had such an issue singing the 3rd over a D chord (F#, which is the breaking point for most tenor singers– and the note where the passagio is… or the point where chest voice becomes head voice (as it has no choice, unless you like that strained, whiny sound)…

I play D a lot, on guitar (the chord). And singing an F# just feels so good (when I can even reach the damn thing). But what do you do when you have a lower or limited range, but you still use the D shape a lot in songs you write?

Well, you have two choices– 1. use a capo, and put it up higher on the neck (5th/6th fret) and sing in a lower range, so you’re still singing the 3rd of the chord, even though it’s not a D anymore)… or 2. de-tune your guitar one full step (which is commonly called D Standard tuning).

Elliott Smith used this in a LOT of his songs, including one of his most famous, “Between The Bars.”

Also, I just discovered that the lovely Madonna song “One More Chance” is tuned to D Standard (I love that whole guitar part… beautiful changes and an incredibly well-written song).

Finally, Matthew Caws of Nada Surf wrote “Blizzard of ’77” in that tuning (and it is also in that tuning on the “Let Go” record.)

Going back to the other two songs… Madonna has had a lower voice (especially since 1989 or so), and maybe that’s why “One More Chance” is tuned so low. And Elliott had an insanely high range, even though he always sung quietly and subdued most of the time (god, I miss that guy… thankfully he left us an incredible amount of perfect songs to enjoy and be inspired by)….. but anyway, there’s a lot to be said about this tuning. It really lends itself to sadder songs, usually. We are so accustomed to hearing the D shape in standard tuning (thus, that F# stands out so well in the chord)… but, in D standard tuning…. the D shape becomes a C major… and the highest note you hear is an E above middle C.

This is great for those of us with voice issues (or baritones), who can’t seem to hold that F# for a long while (or hit it at all), but yet, we can hold that E for a lot longer, and it feels just as good, as if it were a D major chord…. it’s a psyche-out sort of thing… but, it helps.

Maybe you wrote a song 7 years ago that you’re finally finishing. Initially it was in the key of D, and you sang that F# note a lot. Now your voice is lower or in worse shape, and you are dying to record the song and/or perform it live. Drop your tuning/change the key, but the song still feels very similar (and it doesn’t make you feel like crap if your voice cracks on that E/3rd).

Try this, if you’re running into a limited vocal range, or are just tired of the sound of standard tuning… you never know, you might even keep your guitar in this tuning for an entire album’s worth of songs. God knows, every time I learn a new Elliott Smith song that I love the sound of, I’m like “dammit, there he goes again with the D standard tuning”…. but, it’s so lovely, and it works. If you tried “Between The Bars” in standard, it sounds stupid (and MUCH too high to sing in the chorus), And  “One More Chance” doesn’t work at all in standard tuning, but both of those song are lovely in D Standard— listen.

 

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SONGWRITING/RECORDING: RapidComposer (huge update)

Hi guys, I wanted to talk about a program I’ve helped improve over the last six months– RapidComposer by http://www.MusicDevelopments.com (a Hungarian company).  I discovered it about a year and a half ago.

RCscreenshot

I work closely with the developer, in working out bugs, suggesting features and functionality improvements, and music theory consultation (the developer has no music experience, but wanted to create a program that helps users compose MIDI music insanely fast). I also re-wrote the 22-page manual from scratch (with new screenshots, etc). It’s now close to 70 pages.

We (and I use this term respectfully, as I feel like I’ve become a member of MusicDevelopments, because of how closely I’ve worked with the guy who conceived the program) are coming out with a major update to the program, on November 18th. 99% of the bugs/potential crashes have been worked out of the program, and many, many useful, fun features have been added.

I also do video tutorials for the program, and as of this writing (November 6th, 2013), I finished 11 videos. You can check them all out at my YouTube channel. Here’s a direct link to the Tutorial playlist:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt9aB3JimWsgmyBi8w_1ydxiMlp9P6Wu1

There are a few more tutorial videos coming out (more about the Idea Tool, Phrase/Track Variations, RC as a plugin inside your DAW, and Drag-N-Drop functionality).

The developer and I feel that this program is insanely powerful, innovative, groundbreaking, etc. No other program out there works with midi phrases/motifs that conform to chords and harmony, in such a fast way. One program works similarly: “Synfire Pro” by Cognitone (which many have said is incredibly overpriced for what it does). I was one of the first paying customers of Cognitone software (I bought Harmony Navigator 1.0 back in 2007), and I never really found that program as useful or as fun/fast to use as RapidComposer. (And on a personal note, Cognitone has never really been that friendly, regarding questions about or problems with the program.)

So I am proud to be a part of MusicDevelopments and help the tiny company get out there, more. This software deserves to be a a go-to tool for electronic music producers, songwriters, and studio nerds. Additionally, you could use RC without having any keyboard-playing experience at all… in fact, we feel that it can be easily utilized by people who may be physically-restricted due to hand/wrist injuries, aging, or partial paralysis, who may love the very essence of music, composing, MIDI, etc… but never were able to put anything together, until now. In my tutorial videos, I throw together cool music ideas with just one hand- using my mouse, and hitting keystrokes to insert Phrases, never touching a MIDI keyboard at all. So again, not only is this program extremely powerful, but it is unique and can be used by all types of people, regardless of musical experience.

So do me a favor, and check out the major update on November 18th… you can download the demo for free (though the demo does not include the Idea Tool, or the new, awesome Melody Generator).

Thanks for following my blog, and especially, thanks for checking out RapidComposer!

 

 

SONGWRITING: Working out melodies for songs (more tips)

Was talking to another friend about a week ago, helping her write something for a song she wrote. Sometimes, she would be working out melodies and lyrics and I’d hear her ramble on… the vocals just didn’t really have a chance to “breathe”.

 

Tips I gave her (and believe me, these work wonders, and on a personal note, we finished the song… and it turned out awesome):

 

1. Sing the lyrics in the same way you’d speak a sentence… don’t put too many words in there, or pause in an awkward way before singing another line.

2. Let the singer BREATHE between lines. Fans of the song who sing along with it will greatly appreciate the pause, so they can catch their breath.

3. Pausing after sung lines doesn’t just help you not lose your breath (as the performer or person singing along), it also does two things, and well:

A. It lets the listener reflect on what they just heard, and think about the meaning behind what you just sang.

B. It lets the listener anticipate what they’re going to hear next… it creates a tiny bit of anticipation, which can make the listener like the song even more.

 

These three simple tips work WONDERS, believe me. And I struggle with writing vocal melodies for my songs CONSTANTLY. When I think about these simple tips… I actually make some mad progress on songs. And you will, too.