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Subtle Songwriting Tricks to Keep Simple Songs Interesting
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#31
25th February 2012
Old 25th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KenHR View Post
If you or the OP took the time to read the original post in this thread, it wasn't about how to write a "great song." It was about little things songwriters do to simple songs to make them interesting: making one verse a little shorter, repeating sections in different order, etc. The subject has drifted since then, but no one is trying to repeat the Stav thread here and figure out the secret to writing "great songs." It's a thread for analysis of...well, if you can't figure it out by the thread title alone, I guess I can't help either of you.
Yeah, it's frustrating that people who are afraid of craft even bother to post here. If you really believe in BS like "you either have it or you don't" I don't know why you would waste your time clicking on a songwriting forum.
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#32
25th February 2012
Old 25th February 2012
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Originally Posted by initialsBB View Post
Yeah, it's frustrating that people who are afraid of craft even bother to post here. If you really believe in BS like "you either have it or you don't" I don't know why you would waste your time clicking on a songwriting forum.
Afraid of craft? ROFL. Dude I've craft coming out my ears. Probably as much as anyone alive when it comes to songwriting. But it's just not the whole enchilada. I click on links here because I might (and do) learn something from other people. You never stop learning. If I was anti-craft I wouldn't do that now, would I?
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#33
25th February 2012
Old 25th February 2012
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Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Probably as much as anyone alive when it comes to songwriting.
Probably should refill that humility prescription round about now, bud.
#34
25th February 2012
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Originally Posted by pinkheadedbug View Post
Probably should refill that humility prescription round about now, bud.
I was only bluntly asserting a fact in the face of somebody saying I was afraid of craft. You think I should let it lie to appear humble?!!
#35
25th February 2012
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You can assert that you know your craft without trying to place yourself at the apex of human achievement.
#36
25th February 2012
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Originally Posted by pinkheadedbug View Post
You can assert that you know your craft without trying to place yourself at the apex of human achievement.
I'm not "trying" to place myself anywhere. I am what I am through my own hard work. I make no apologies for that or for stating it as such.

Which gets to the real crux. Why on earth should it bother you so much either way?
#37
25th February 2012
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It's better to let other people judge how accomplished you are. We all think our shit smells sweet. If you know your craft, demonstrate it. Telling us how smart you are achieves nothing. Lots of stupid people think they're smart. Lots of lousy songwriters think they're geniuses.
#38
25th February 2012
Old 25th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkheadedbug View Post
It's better to let other people judge how accomplished you are. We all think our shit smells sweet. If you know your craft, demonstrate it. Telling us how smart you are achieves nothing. Lots of stupid people think they're smart. Lots of lousy songwriters think they're geniuses.
Haha great post! You are absolutely right! To put your mind at rest: I do hear pretty frequently from people that I'm one of the greatest songwriters alive. I've even had people say THE but I think that may be a bridge too far. Anyway now this thread is hijacked and way OT which was not my intention.


So back on topic what my intention WAS (and what bb initials doesn't seem to get) was to try and frame a context for the OP's question. Tools are fine when you have an insight into what they're for. Some naturally intuitive (i.e: gifted) people will pick that up just from usage. But OTHER PEOPLE WILL NOT. It's dangerous territory and I think any conversation about those tools/devices has to be tempered with warnings and provisos.

It's like "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing"... being aware of techniques can be such a double-edged sword. It will help those who can absorb it. Other people it will hamper because they get caught up in it. It's a fine line. The first thing is you have to KNOW YOURSELF. That may sound like generic bs but it's not. The fact is "The Truth" in anything cannot be told. And that's a pain in the ass if you're on the wrong side of the equation. In fact it can be a pain in the ass even if you're on the other side of the equation because attempts at exposition then make you sound like a pontificating windbag. (see this post!)

I had a singing teacher who taught in a Zen fashion. (being a practical sort of fellow he wouldn't have called it that, but nevertheless.) Many of his students couldn't get their heads around it though. It was too simple. He didn't teach technique as a set of rules or breathing - "if you couldn't breathe you'd be dead". None of it. At least not in any overt fashion. Those who did "get it" made incredible progress as vocalists by NOT focusing on the details. That may sound counter-intuitive to a lot of people but it really is the secret to utilizing anything properly. Conscious scrutiny of tools and techniques can and does lead to a lot of dead ends for a lot of people a lot of the time. The tools/techniques become a formula (or process if you prefer) or even worse and end in themselves. This doesn't lead anywhere of value. This teacher didn't want to provide a checklist for results. He wanted them to fall back on their intuition and develop that FIRST. (He never overtly said that but that's what he was doing.) Because without developing your intuition, it's just a checklist. And that's worthless. And you can lose a lot of time chasing tools or developing "processes" when you need to be developing your own intuition about it first. But knowing yourself is really a key issue and the starting point.
#39
25th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Afraid of craft? ROFL. Dude I've craft coming out my ears. Probably as much as anyone alive when it comes to songwriting. But it's just not the whole enchilada. I click on links here because I might (and do) learn something from other people. You never stop learning. If I was anti-craft I wouldn't do that now, would I?
Uh, I'm not sure why you thought I was referring to you. You're not the one who said "doh, just write a great song hur hur" are you? But hey, if the shoe fits.
#40
25th February 2012
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Originally Posted by initialsBB View Post
Uh, I'm not sure why you thought I was referring to you. You're not the one who said "doh, just write a great song hur hur" are you? But hey, if the shoe fits.
I thought you were referring to me because
  • I was saying that that guy was kinda right no matter his intention.
  • You have leveled the anti-craft thing at me before.
  • You posted directly after me.

These three factors would make it understandable that I might think you were talking about me, no?
#41
26th February 2012
Old 26th February 2012
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What I personally crave in a song, is a middle section which is solely instrumental and simplified : imagine a quiet 8 bars of a quarter note kick drum pulse, with just 1 guitar providing a muted G5 powerchord in typical 8th note feel ..... and then ..... BAM ! ..... back into the final chorus, full out, expanded to loud / epic proportions.
#42
26th February 2012
Old 26th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Musicfan View Post
What I personally crave in a song, is a middle section which is solely instrumental and simplified : imagine a quiet 8 bars of a quarter note kick drum pulse, with just 1 guitar providing a muted G5 powerchord in typical 8th note feel ..... and then ..... BAM ! ..... back into the final chorus, full out, expanded to loud / epic proportions.
I like it when interludes get quiet too. Spacey is cool. The song that popped into my head was that Stone Temple Pilots one, "conversations kill" or something and I think it's the Alternate Routes, "time is a runaway"(?) cool stuff
#43
28th February 2012
Old 28th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ButchP View Post
Yesterday sounds straight ahead ....but the verses are only 7 bars long and don't sound "odd" at all.
Yesterday...I´ve been playing guitar for 20 years, and thinking I can play it for like 19 years... However, each time I have a listen and play along, I realise I miss this and that, both in the singing and the chords. Really tough to get right. Now I think I got it. Nothing like I played it years ago, of course, starting by the tuning of guitar.

It isn´t the most listened/covered song ever by chance.
#44
28th February 2012
Old 28th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
It ['Yesterday'] isn´t the most listened/covered song ever by chance.
It also has an interesting twist right off the bat, the swift movement towards the III7 chord (or V7 of vi).

Thinking in the key of F : the opening melody :g,f,f... is followed by an impied stepwise bass motion (F,G,A...) into the A7 chord, which quickly uplifts the melodic theme into a rather refreshing harmonic room before one's ears have had a chance to find a seat.
#45
28th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Musicfan View Post
It also has an interesting twist right off the bat, the swift movement towards the III7 chord (or V7 of vi).

Thinking in the key of F : the opening melody :g,f,f... is followed by an impied stepwise bass motion (F,G,A...) into the A7 chord, which quickly uplifts the melodic theme into a rather refreshing harmonic room before one's ears have had a chance to find a seat.
I know it's in F (Paul tuned a whole step down) and played in G

it goes

G
F#m B
Em Em/D
C D
G (D/F#)
Emi A
C G

It starts in G but the F#mi( I play F#mi11..open 1&2 strings) to B which is a ii-V in E minor.
The C-D-G pull t back to G major.The A major is what music calls a secondary dominant which just means making the II chord is major(very common in jazz ,blues,country etc) and then instead of a V-I cadence it does a IV-I with a "quick change". Nothing way out but not "normal" either.It's an earmark of Paul's,Johns, and Georges compositions.Most of it is normal then it has a quirk or two or 5!!(John..).As has been said it's Zenish.They just heard it without " dwelling on the theory ( probably not knowing it other than the songs they learned).

Craft is the the architects drawing .It's doubtful the house will stand for long without at least a semblance of the how to…however they are not the house.I agree with creegstor many are armed with a little (or a lot) of craftiness but can't see the house.It may look good after its done and pass code but it's missing something.Even when something is practically perfect in every way (like a Mozart or Bach composition) there is something about it.With them everything they wrote was perfect but most folks only know a few of their pieces( I was guilty of that and still am to a degree because their output is huge!).

They transcended the craft even though it is in every piece they wrote with impeccability.Someone may not"subjectively enjoy it but objectively for anyone that understands what they did there are no faults to be found.From all I've read Mozart composed like other great musicians jam.Spontaneously without "outward" restraints .The craft was the architectural draft was being drawn at the same time it was being built !!One point to be taken from that is it is humanly possible (and I'm sure Mozart and Bach and MANY others where only human).

Not being a great instrumental composer of their stature but "knowing" the craft of composition, songwriting in comparison is..not much.Learning the songwriting craft well..tain't rocket surgery!!.on that note many folks still don't "get" it.and I'm of the opinion as creegstor stated that you either have it or don't…in degrees.The craft can be learned the "mystery" can't(I used to call it art but the word art no longer has meaning).Many times the craft leads to exposing the mystery but most times craft is just craft.The airwaves is crammed with craftiness that folks soak up through those high def earbuds….

I believe most folks have to learn "craft" one way or the other to advance.The boys learned it from experience.When they were young (just like most of us) they listen .Those few years in Hamburg and touring GB most have taught them LOADS!!.I think John was the first to clue in that some of was a "load" but he also clued into to WHO he was.(No one I know is in my tree.You know it must be high or low).Everything "clicked for them.They were SONGWRITERS that were in a zone.They connected with millions (and still do 50 years later!! one of the chosen few).

Can the common man do that…yes…one of the chosen few.Most will not.regardless if they have multiple #1.It's mostly just a load of craftiness(names will not be named but many are in the charts).
How can the common man learn to be in the chosen few.They can't…in IMO only time will tell.The world is "not what it seems".There are more thing a change than just"Arab Springs" and "mass global economic collapse".The whole world will change and I have faith it will COMPLETELY change everything including muzak and it will have ZERO to do with the biz.

At the present time we are in the most media manipulation driven day and age in history(the last hundred years).Pavlov is clanging his bell and billions are salivating and they know not why or what.Most music is not just worthless because its craftiness …it is because serving it's master….the love of money is the root of ALL evil.No man can serve two masters.Can mankind be cured…Sure…and will be.Will it submit sensibly and reasonably…ehe no.Drags is more like it…however There will come a day..and it will be a GREAT day….and "the craft" will be a given (as it always has).Everything has a purpose and a place.Beauty cannot be known with out banality.The problem is not in the eye but the beholder and the "beauty" maker.Our eyes and ears were made to do their job perfectly.It is operator ear somewhere inside the old cabasa.Him that has ears (the chosen few) ….let them hear.

However I know most if not all of this will be dismissed as just talk talk it's only talk.Where is this new day of enlightenment.It's already blossoming.No I'm not talking about new age enlightenment or a harmonic convergence of 2012(though I also believe it isn't a coincidence) or some"artist" rights bill .Is the sign of it in the charts?…IMO it's a million miles from any of that.That is the man behind the curtain blowing smoke and clanging tin sheets of thunder.It will come without observation.The old will fade into obscurity (and derision while the cynics reamin).A mysterian (my "new"word for artist) will "hear" the sound.They will have trained for it but they will not strive to create it will be like falling out of bed.The wheat will be separated from the chaff.It's inevitable.The cycle is coming around ..and starting a whole new circle.

Learning craft is not a simple task even for something as simple as songwriting.It is mostly acute observation of the obvious.It is mostly filtering out what doesn't work…what isn't needed.That process of elimination that needs mass to start.If we can't identify the fluff from the substance the filterier will throw out or keep both arbitrarily according to subjectivity.Of course that means the needed needs to be present.That is part of the craft.Knowing what substance works and eliminating the dross.It is the "looks harder and simpler than it is" syndrome.of course the fact is what remains is seldom arrived at by simple (no work) effort.However what remains is simple in that it IS what it is(no I'm not being Zennish!).

Okay I apologize I've gone on longer than most will read.The bottom line is usually"put up or shut up".Just for background I've been playing music for 40 years.I have a good music education but not conservatory level.I've studied song composition for years however lyrics are more recent in the last ten years…my main observation.. I realized was no matter how complicated a composition or lyric it can be distilled down into a few solid craft structures.Mozarts melodic/rhythmic motifs have a very defined and simple pattern to them that are the structure of everything of his I've studied.I will assume it is true of all his work.The lyrics that "connected" with me were condensed to less equals more.The majority of lyrics are just note holders or clever stories that have no reason ,meaning or purpose.The few that connected with me are the latter (meaning and purpose).Amazing Grace being the quintessential song(not written by the same person..or even in the same room or time!!).

it has two note motifs.No "filler" modifiers or sweeping (corny) metaphors.No manipulation or string pulling or pandering to the emotions. Just The Truth nothing but The Truth.

This was the 1st song I wrote with no filters.I had multiple drafts with different concepts same title.and then one day (Dec 13, 2010) I just wrote it.No multiple throw away lines or words.No re- writes(I did drop a bridge).I didn't even know what it meant until I recorded it months later.I'm not a singer but I sang it.That's my song and I'm sticking to it.

Music page of BrandX - MP3 music page on SoundClick

THE RIVERS EDGE

Take my hand before I drown
Pull me out and lay me down
Don't leave me here for dead
Rescue me from the rivers edge

Hold me low in your stream
Make me whole wash me clean
Dry my tears anoint my head
Carry me to the rivers edge

When it's time to shed my skin
Walk with you without sin
Lift me up to my bed
I made my peace with the rivers edge
#46
28th February 2012
Old 28th February 2012
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Very thoughtful and uninhibited post, ButchP !

I think I've been gravitating towards a slight modification of Paul's original harmonic intent in that I always want to eliminate the F#m (or F#m11) and use a B7sus4 into B7 into Em. Yep, it's total blasphemy, I know.

What's neat here :

Yesterday, Paul Mccartney live - YouTube


...is that you can clearly see and hear him playing a B dominant 7 voicing repeatedly. I think it (tension & release wise) really facilitates the motion towards Em, but I still don't think it's a mortal sin to omit the 'A' note.

In summary, to keep in line with the OP's premise, I think it really can't be stated enough how much The Beatles (especially Paul & John) were intuitively crafty at providing delightful twists and turns in their chord patterns which carry the melodies along magically. I've always wondered, if at some time during the creative process, whether or not they would add in a chord (for extra harmonic motion) or take one out (because it was too busy). It would be quite impressive indeed if they never had to do any tweaking or refinement.
#47
28th February 2012
Old 28th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ButchP View Post
This was the 1st song I wrote with no filters.I had multiple drafts with different concepts same title.and then one day (Dec 13, 2010) I just wrote it.No multiple throw away lines or words.No re- writes(I did drop a bridge).
just sayin
#48
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Musicfan View Post
Very thoughtful and uninhibited post, ButchP !

I think I've been gravitating towards a slight modification of Paul's original harmonic intent in that I always want to eliminate the F#m (or F#m11) and use a B7sus4 into B7 into Em. Yep, it's total blasphemy, I know.

What's neat here :

..........

...is that you can clearly see and hear him playing a B dominant 7 voicing repeatedly. I think it (tension & release wise) really facilitates the motion towards Em, but I still don't think it's a mortal sin to omit the 'A' note.
I play the B7 also and the D is D7 and the A is A7!!! so yes a lot of dominant...btw the bridge on the bridge G the cool cello line has a 7th(dom 7th) which I believe GM threw in.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Musicfan View Post
In summary, to keep in line with the OP's premise, I think it really can't be stated enough how much The Beatles (especially Paul & John) were intuitively crafty at providing delightful twists and turns in their chord patterns which carry the melodies along magically. I've always wondered, if at some time during the creative process, whether or not they would add in a chord (for extra harmonic motion) or take one out (because it was too busy). It would be quite impressive indeed if they never had to do any tweaking or refinement.
I don't know how much "they knew" i suspect not that much..just what they gleaned and what "sounded good.
One of my fave is Johns intro on If I fell.

Ebmi-D-Db-Bbmi
Ebmi-D-Emi-A

I would bet he nicked that from a standard.The melody is brillant but those chords tie it together..and voila" it's never heard again!!!and THERE"S MORE... the verse
D-Em-(F#mi-Fdim)

AND THEN.!! on the second phrase harmony Paul is singing the 9 of the D7 chord(John sings the 7th)!!! its basically thirds but Johns "repeat"notes on the endingD- A7(A) while paul goes to the 7th(G) what GREAT note choices..oh yeh the contrary motion in the verse ain't shabby either..and that's JUST one song with more tidbits....

There is ALOT to learn from The Boys "simple" little pop songs...
#49
29th February 2012
Old 29th February 2012
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Originally Posted by ButchP View Post
ILearning craft is not a simple task even for something as simple as songwriting.It is mostly acute observation of the obvious.It is mostly filtering out what doesn't work…what isn't needed.That process of elimination that needs mass to start.If we can't identifier the fluff from the substance the filterier will throw out or keep both arbitrarily according to subjectivity.Of course that means the needed needs to be present.That is part of the craft.Knowing what substance works and eliminating the dross.It is the "looks harder and simpler than it is" syndrome.of course the fact is what remains is seldom arrived at by simple (no work) effort.However what remains is simple in that it IS what it is(no I'm not being Zennish!).
I totally agree with this. I used to write songs with this friend of mine who was into indie and britpop and stuff. He thought of himself as a great songwriter, because he came up with chord progressions, chord changes, and lyrics, that he called "simple", and he said "simplicity" was the key to songwriting. I called his stuff "obvious", and he got very upset everytime that he came up with yet another obvious line or chord, and I said "obvious", then came up with a musical twist.
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29th February 2012
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Here's a cool one that you can try once in a while - get a new part for your song with a slight modulation. Bunch of epic changes in this crazy Cardiacs song just by moving the key up and changing the rhythm for a few bars at a time, most of the parts are the same exact chord progression transposed a step or two (doesn't really start jumping around until about 1:40 in, then it's all over the place):

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29th February 2012
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Ha, the Cardiacs! What a terrific band! I used to make pilgrimages to London to see them. Brilliant songwriting, too -- classic example of using pop melody to tie together off-the-wall chord changes and broken rhythms.
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29th February 2012
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I checked out their wiki, and apparently, The Cardiacs were influenced by XTC. They sure have had lineup changes though !

But it's great for sleepingbag to bring up the lost art of key changes in pop music. It's now a very rare bird.

Keep in mind that many pedagogical theorists (from strict classical/orchestral circles) categorize something as a modulation only if it involves a *prepared* key change (launched by a 'pivot' chord), rather than an abrupt key change. However, in the area of 3 minute songs there usually isn't enough time to prepare, only to instantaneously leap !

In this song, 65% of the chords are non-diatonic and there are 4 key changes.

|I |II |bVII |I |
|A |A |A |A |B |G |A |A |

Adam Ant "Goody two shoes" - YouTube


1:54 (up a perfect 4th interval) / 2:15 (down a minor 3rd) / 2:25 (up a minor 2nd) / 2:35 (down a minor 3rd to A again)
#53
1st March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Happy Musicfan View Post
I checked out their wiki, and apparently, The Cardiacs were influenced by XTC. They sure have had lineup changes though !

But it's great for sleepingbag to bring up the lost art of key changes in pop music. It's now a very rare bird.

Keep in mind that many pedagogical theorists (from strict classical/orchestral circles) categorize something as a modulation only if it involves a *prepared* key change (launched by a 'pivot' chord), rather than an abrupt key change. However, in the area of 3 minute songs there usually isn't enough time to prepare, only to instantaneously leap !

In this song, 65% of the chords are non-diatonic and there are 4 key changes.

|I |II |bVII |I |
|A |A |A |A |B |G |A |A |

Adam Ant "Goody two shoes" - YouTube


1:54 (up a perfect 4th interval) / 2:15 (down a minor 3rd) / 2:25 (up a minor 2nd) / 2:35 (down a minor 3rd to A again)
Him and Marco were a great writing team. Seriously talented. Made it all sound so easy.
#54
2nd March 2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
Him and Marco were a great writing team. Seriously talented. Made it all sound so easy.
Yeah, Marco influenced Adam to be more thematically comprehensive & accessible, and more melodically & harmonically simple, restrained and grounded while Adam influenced Marco to *eventually* play some of his unbridled, frantic chord patterns (such as in the verse for 'Scorpios'), which I don't think Marco was too interested in revisiting once they parted ways.
#55
3rd March 2012
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