Welcome back to Songwriting & You! I’m sure all of you are currently working on your next big hits right now! And I am absolutely excited to hear them.

Last week, we talked about stepping away from the always attractive and enticing stylings of metal and what we’re comfortable with in favor of looking at pop songs as a skeleton for songwriting.

Now, in the interest of more shockers (no, that isn’t how you access the brown note) here’s the focus of this week’s article!

Stop Thinking Like a Guitarist

… What?

“Nico, you scandalous rogue, you’re writing for Wired Guitarist! It has ‘Guitarist’ in the name!” I know, dear reader. Just follow me for a minute here.

Naturally, as guitarists, we are all inclined towards having a disposition of thinking like guitarists. That’s who we are, and it’s very difficult to step outside of that frame of mind. I get it, believe me: we write riffs, we talk about scale runs, and we get into arguments about how many strings is too many (the answer, by the way, is to not worry about it).

It’s because of this that we often have a blind spot in the context of creating music. When we sit down and get to work, we might get out a pencil and paper, or even some staff paper if you’re one of the more theoretically inclined folks. The issue here goes beyond that though: it’s one of scope.

We need to remember that we aren’t always the focus.

Cogs in a Machine

For the sake of this series, I’m going to be assuming that you are not Al DiMeola and that you aren’t writing actual solo guitar compositions… those are an entirely different subject. If you are, though, hey Al! Huge fan! Flattered to have your attention!

At any rate, being a rockstar is about having people who support you. It’s not about shredding your ears off all by yourself. That’s not very musical. I know many of you in the community who can run circles around most artists currently out there in terms of your lead work, and it’s really admirable. But when we’re writing songs, we really just need to keep in mind that we’re only one part of the equation.

Assuming you’re working with a regular rock/metal outfit, we’ve got at minimum 1) Vocals 2) Drums 3) Bass and more often than not 4) Another guitarist to think about. And that’s all before we can let our egos shine. We have all these parts to consider before the product is complete. If you’re doing something more complex or “atypical” though, then you can add even more factors.

All of this simplicity goes out the window if you’re writing something more progressive, avant-garde, or even country. The focus is, again, scope. We need to realize that they are all equally important in the songwriting process as we are… sometimes more so than we are.

Context Is Everything

Before you reach the finish line, you have to be able to say “I know the pieces fit” because you also have to be able to say “I watched them fall away.” Being able to understand how each part interacts is key: you have to understand the product for what it is, just as you have to be able to recognize what each element does when they fall into their individual sections.

Again, you’re working with other sound and other types of instrumentation. Put yourself in the mind of the other musicians there.

Let’s Start with Drums

If you’re really in a rut in the songwriting process, try asking yourself what the drummer is doing. What has the feel of the song been thus far? How can we change it up? Should they keep in the pocket, or are they giving the listener a really driving rhythm?

Maybe they’re *gasp* interacting with the other parts of the band and doing some kind of polyrhythm? The follow-up question to all of these questions, then, is “How can I make it better?”

Last week I referenced Taylor Swift, so here’s a dramatic tone shift. Take a listen here to “Demiurge” by Meshuggah, particularly when the main riff kicks in at 23 seconds in or so. This is one of the heaviest examples I can think of a drummer and a guitarist really locking in together.

Pay particular attention to the snare and the higher notes on the guitar. You’ll notice that the snare hits and the main notes of the riff’s melody happen at the same time to give a really cool sound to it: the guitar sounds almost wooden and snappy, and the drums sound immense and grinding.

It’s a beautiful moment when you go back and listen. You don’t think about “each part” of the song… you think about “Holy hell that verse just SLAMS.” Why is that?

Because each part connects.

Schlappa da Byeasss

Here’s a little band called Thank You Scientist with their song “Blood on the Radio.” If you take away nothing else from this article, please go listen to them. Now, it’s a longer song, so you don’t need to listen to the whole thing (unless you want to). But pay attention to how the bass is really the instrument that establishes the groove that continues on through each section of the song, particularly once the verse starts and the vocals kick in.

The guitars don’t really have a presence in the song until about a minute into the song, after a lot has happened. The intro has more flamenco-styled lines that establish the atmosphere, but the bass is ever-present and it is always holding down the rhythm. When the guitars come in, they complement the bass, they don’t take over.

Sing Me A Song

Finally, here’s the classiest song I know: “Cherry Pie” by Warrant.

… Alright I’m sorry that’s obviously a farce. At any rate, try thinking about what the guitar is really doing in terms of constructing the sound. This is a very vocally driven song, and that’s why it’s so fun, all enthusiasm for… food… aside. The entire band is just giving space to the vocalist, and here, the guitar is doing its part by adding to the construction of that “wall of sound” that supports the vocalist. This isn’t any virtuoso work by any means here, folks, but you really gotta admire how the song just comes together.

The most important thing to remember when you’re writing a song is that it’s all one big package. You’re part of that package, and you’re definitely a big deal. When you’re in a slump though, just try and think about what everyone else is doing and work with that instead of on your own!


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This article written by community content writer Nico Madden.

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