Jump to content

How on Earth ...?

Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Contributors to this blog

About this blog

Entries in this blog



Books? For listening? Right. haha

So yeah, music books... unless you have an incredible sight-"singing" inner ear, you'll have to either play examples in music books out or hope they come with a CD. 


That out of the way, I wanted to ask what books you guys may have gotten a lot out of over the years for music? We could make a thread for videos, too, or add it here maybe. I'm more of a book guy. Videos tend to go too slowly for me, but some are interesting. 


Here are my favorite music books on my shelves: 


Mel Bay's Complete Book of Harmony, Theory, and Voicing  <-- This book gets really deep. Over the years, I've barely scratched the surface.

Arranging Music for the Real World  <-- I LOVE this book. It teaches incredibly useful information, and it's easy to follow. 


Second places would go to: 

Polyrhythms: The Musician's Guide   <-- Still haven't used everything here, but cool to come back to time to time. 

Hearing and Writing Music   <--- I got a few very useful things from this one, but you have to wade through some fluff. 

The Art of Writing Music   <-- A old TV composer basically takes you through the process as he writes a piece. 


And also music scores. I have a small collection of music scores. Sometimes I follow them while listening to music. Sometime I open them up just to find out how a composer got a certain sound (lookin' at you, Stravinsky). There are four I have as actual bound books as opposed to PDFs: 


The Rite of Spring

Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 and 7

Nutcracker Suite

Mozart Requiem K626


EDIT: I want to put a little more emphasis on scores. You can find just about anything online. If you hear something you like, and you want to know how it was done, look it up. Scores can be a treasure trove, a mine of fantastic approaches and ideas that will help you grow in new directions you may not have before. From Little Shop of Horrors, to Daphnis & Chloé, it's out there. 


And then there are other books lying around which I think are good, but I don't have any particular love for them: 

The Drummer's Bible

The Mixing Engineer's Handbook

Sound Reinforcement Handbook

Treatise on Instrumentation

This Business of MUSIC   <-- yeah, okay, I never opened this one, hahahaha


Truth be told, I never finished a lot of these books, but even in those I didn't finish, I learned some great stuff. If I had really worked the books, and worked harder on writing better, heck, that could have been really interesting. Anyway, those are my books/recommendations. You? 



PS~ Oh, and MANUALS for your gear/software. That cannot be stressed enough. 





There’s been a flurry of activity on the March Lyrics Contest thread. With occasional digressions, the discussion centred on 

1) whether the types of lyrics that win contests are formulaic, and

2) to what extent poetic devices (e.g. metaphors, etc.) play a role (or not). (For example, whether mainly poetic lyrics win the monthly contests.) 


A couple of posts from Neal K made me curious about the notion of a ‘winning’ formula, and whether, and to what extent and in which type of context – a particular 'formula' might appear to work optimally - in any kind of songwriting situation. With Neal’s permission, I’ve included excerpts below. Food for thought and discussion. 


I hope Musers will share here their own diverse approaches to writing lyrics.  

Any tips, tricks, or other magic you’d like us to know about?


Or any experiences of writing something you thought was brilliant but others disagreed? Or that you thought was utterly bleh, but people loved it?

For either situation, what do you think was the reason?


Over to you guys. :)




Neal wrote:

Having run a few of these contests over the years, I started to wonder just how easy it would be to win. So … I decided to enter each monthly contest with a lyric I wrote specifically for the contest.  That meant, lyrics without writing music at the same time.   None of those lyrics ever became songs... except for the one that came in dead last.  


…The year was 2014 and I entered 11 of the 12 contests.  I came in first five times, second four times, fourth one time, and dead last one time.  I'm not saying this to boast.  Goodness knows I'm hardly a great lyric writer.  The point is, it's not that hard to win this contest if you 1) can identify the formula; and 2) can write to the formula without worrying if the words will ever be set to music.


… trust me, none of those lyrics were poetic or flowery.  I don't have that in me.  Here's the formula I followed in my 2014 experiment to win/place in the lyric contest: 1) Each lyric was story driven; 2) the story was easy to understand and to relate to; 3) they used imagery (show, don't tell); 4) there were no wasted words or forced rhymes; 5) they contained sympathetic characters that people could relate to and that I cared about; 6) each and every line had to work on its own; 6) each story had a resolution that was designed to elicit an emotion, be that happiness, sadness, joy, depression, etc.


That, my friend, is the formula.  I'm so confident that this works that I bet you I could coach you into placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in a future lyric contest.




This blog post is totally unprompted, but I thought I would help get things rolling. I think Donna & Neal have a great post about the lyric comps coming up, too. 



I’m certainly not the best at arranging, but I do believe that when an arrangement is made for slipping into other music, it should not only work with the music in question, but be able to stand on its own. Though this is not a hard and fast “rule” - for example, you might have strings doubling something else in piecemeal, only on a few notes (though not really an arrangement), or you might have lines in octave/unison that pretty much need the other instruments to be understood. 


In “Crocodilly Lilly”, after chorus one is a small string part. Isolated, this is it: 

Road Trips


Again, this is just me, but I think the string arrangement should be able to stand on its own, should be pleasant enough on its own. And going further, the individual instruments should be pleasant enough on their own. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule. You may have something acting as a pedal, for example. 


My first time to use this principle was in an old project called “Maya Had the Gun”. In the song “My September”, there is this string arrangement: 

MSept strings raw


The violin is lead for the first part, but all of the instruments have their own story going on. In the second part, the viola takes over on lead, while wind instruments double the violin and viola. 


Now the idea was to have this as something playing off of a record to serve as a backdrop to the memory of the story being told, as a catalyst for the woman telling the story. So I ran it through iZotope’s Vinyl (a free plugin), and got this: 

MSept strings vinyl


That was used in part at the very beginning of the song, and in full in a later verse. (1:12  < Demo posted below)


Also, I want to point out here that you can reuse this stuff for more material. I resampled the arrangement and “mangled” it a bit, getting an effect used at the very end of the song, heard at 3:14 and 4:28. 


Here’s the song. (The Maya project was never completed. It was done around the same time I did that “Old” song, and the demos sit on my hard drives and at the Library of Congress. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to it.)

My September (demo)


So anyway, that's my thought/approach/process on that matter. You? 

Alistair S

If you want to find some Sound Effects (a bird song, a baby crying, a police siren or whatever), you can always try https://freesound.org/browse/


These are free to use - Freesound is a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds. Browse, download and share sounds. You need to register to download.


Some are better than others, but you can audition them in your browser!


I am sure there are other free sound libraries people can recommend!

Alistair S

Please don’t add comments this entry (it’s locked! :) ) –  just create a new entry (click “Add Blog Entry” above) and give it a title like “How I create harmonies”.


Each entry then acts a bit like a thread and people can comment on it. 

The purpose of this public blog (public means any member can add entries) is to provide a space where we can explain how to achieve something in a song/track. 

We sometimes talk about WHAT gear we use but this blog more about HOW it was used.


You can simply share a technique or you may have been asked to post here by an admiring listener! Or you can just ask a question!  


It’s all about sharing, so its success or failure as blog will be entirely down to whether people participate!

Sign in to follow this