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Bangflaps
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Escaping the 4 bar loop

Wed Feb 27, 2013 9:12 am

Hello folks, since writing music I find that one of the biggest blocks (but also one of the easiest methods of writing material) is being stuck in a loop - i.e. I think of an idea which is 4 bars and then just keep stacking things on top of it.

I get to a point where I'm satisfied with the current loop but I often feel way too entrenched in the loop to take it anywhere particularly new. I've tried writing a couple more loops in the same key and attempting to fuse them but I run into a similar problem, I find it hard to form a bridge from one idea to the next. I'm stranded on an island made of loop. Anyone have a similar problem or even discovered a solution?

Cheers!
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David Nahmani
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Wed Feb 27, 2013 11:14 am

I had this problem a lot when I started writing. I find the key to get inspired is to listen to another artist writing in your genre, and see what is different from the first 4 bars to the following 4 bars to the following 4 bars etc.. in their arrangement. Did they add a new element? Did they change the sound of an existing instrument? Did the melody change? Are percussion elements adding to the groove? Etc...

Here's me trying to understand how various elements are layed out and how sections flow into each other in a song I like: Muse: Starlight - A songwriting arrangement analysis
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markwhite1980
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Thu Feb 28, 2013 7:58 am

I agree, listen, listen. listen. Copy tracks (for practice, not publicly) and you;ll pick up the techniques.

Sometimes simply turning off the click and quantize can help provide more freedom.
 
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skylark
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Thu Feb 28, 2013 10:19 am

My two cents?

Get away from the technology, the stuff. Conceive of the song first.

Otherwise, you will likely want to stay with a four bar motif if ---at the work's inception--- you limit yourself with a four bar loop. I actually believe that applies to any instrument (which is why I virtually always write free of any musical instrument, except my mind). Doesn't matter what you play or how good you are, it seems the vast majority of music makers stay within the parameters or their knowledge of their instrument. People who know three chords on a guitar will likely employ those three chords in the songs they write and, conversely, will not employ the many chords with which they are unfamiliar.

Try it! Try to imagine a new song that you wish to hear and/or sing. See where your mind and your heart lead you. Sing it into a voice recorder ---I love using my iPhone for this--- and then figure out how to make the computer bend to your whim, do what you want it to do.

Another idea? Do the opposite of what you always do! Seriously... If you feel yourself going somewhere familiar and comfortable, go somewhere else! My experience tells me that there always are a couple of melodic pathways ---other than the obvious ones--- that can serve to steer the song in a pleasing direction.

:D
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Bangflaps
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Mar 02, 2013 1:37 pm

Ah thanks for the replies guys! I've been trying these out over the last couple of days and found that it's helped quite a lot. I followed David's advice and studied the structure of other songs and it's given me a good framework to go by. I realised that quite often there's one part of the song which stays almost the same throughout and the rest of the song moves around it - it's definitely helped to establish common ground between two separate parts and make it feel far more united.

Thanks for all the suggestions, it got me out of a rut indeed!
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Bangflaps
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Mar 02, 2013 1:39 pm

Also skylark your method sounds interesting, do you have any of your music online? I'd love to hear what the outcome sounds like!
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skylark
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sun Mar 03, 2013 3:52 am

I'd be happy to share some of my works with you but... There's no "sound" to my philosophy. That's just it. You free yourself from writing "a guitar song" or "a piano song" or "a drum machine song" and just create from your mind.

I've always thought it was weird to hear my musician friends say some keys were "guitar keys," while others were "piano keys". I write where I hear/feel the song and then figure what I have to do to play it. If a song then needs to be transposed to suit a particular vocalist, I'll make the adjustments as needed. If the ideal key happens to be B or C#, so be it. If a phrase needs an extra bar? Cool. If it would be more interesting with two bars of 7 after the chorus? No problem. If I want a Moog bass on the chorus, but a Fender bass on the verses? Done. An drum machine on the first half, but a live kit for the second half? Voila! Oftentimes, I will be completely unaware what meter a piece I'm working on is in. Not until I record it will I have to figure it out, because perhaps I'll have to draft a lead sheet for another performer. (I like to say "Why count music when you can feel it?")

Melody is king. Serve the song. It's the song, the song, the song. :D
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Mon Mar 04, 2013 1:38 pm

I wonder if part of the issue may be what your loops are inspired by? For example, if the loops you have are beat-inspired but you're working in a genre more focused on melody or harmony, you're obviously coming at it from the wrong side. If you're struggling with the melody, the changes, or even the song's form, you may want to zero in on some more theory conventions to see if they'll serve you better (or even to find a convention you'd like to break). If you have the song written but are stuck on how to breathe more life into the arrangement, then David's idea is exactly what I'd do as well.

Examples aside, I'd add that if what you're doing is recording four bars and then trying to put a melody and/or lyrics to what you've got, and it's not working, stop doing that and do what skylark suggests. It's definitely possible to be inspired by an idea you stumble across, but even then, the times that that's happened for me, it was only the inspiration, and the real discovery of the tune still came from my head and fingers on the piano. (Not to say my head was on the piano, though it may have been if I lost the idea before fully realizing it…)
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:13 pm

You could start by getting a song from the same genre and tempo of which you like the arrangement and then chop it up into its parts on your arrange and then colour the sections. Then you realise how little there actually is in most songs and then start making separate loops for each section. You will have a track before you know it.

Depending on your mood you can write each section, for e.g. if you are feeling technical but not so musical you can create some clever transitions and throw them in where they are on the template you've now made for your arrangement. Maybe just some risers or atmospherics.

If your feeling rhythmical then write some drum patterns, think about where they go in the context of your arrangement rather than squashing them all into one loop. Spread them around in a musical fashion that works for the arrangement, hell just use the other track as a guide if your struggling.

Skip from section to section as you would normally from project to project, you now have multiple sections to play around with as opposed to multiple songs as you probably normally do.
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Mon Mar 18, 2013 2:32 pm

I tend to write chord sequences and then add melodies, so it's sometimes easy to get caught in the repetitive loop syndrome. I find that it sometimes helps to focus on melody first -- You can make a through melody work for more than 4 bars, and as long as it has a beginning middle and end you're good.

Also you can try to just add a couple of extra bars to every other repetition of the loop so you go 4, 6, 4, then maybe 8 with variations. Suddenly you're out of the pattern.
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Fri Mar 22, 2013 8:02 pm

Bangflaps wrote:
.... I find it hard to form a bridge from one idea to the next..... Anyone have a similar problem or even discovered a solution?
Cheers!


Me, I try not to view it as a problem. More of an opportunity to express something to someone. When you posted your initial query, using language, you simply let the ideas flow of themselves. Effortless effort. You already know "how to do it".

Bangflaps wrote:
I'm stranded on an island made of loop.

And whom might you be stranded on that island with.... and where might that island be.
I would let my imagination run wherever it wanted to go. :)

So what is the loop? Is it..
a reason for people to get on the dance floor
gentle waves washing a shoreline on a moonlit eve
a shark slowly circling a hapless victim in anticipation of a strike and a meal
a mantra in the mind of an enlightened Sage
a scene from a Buster Keaton movie
An algorithmic pattern, developed by improcessing
and on and on
Whatever the loop already is, it is probably already telling you what it wants to become.
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TED209
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Thu May 02, 2013 5:00 am

I have this problem often. Just learning how to escape the loop! I think the ideas put forward here are really useul. Great thread and thanks to all who posted! :mrgreen:
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Fri Oct 11, 2013 6:47 am

Lately I've been trying to craft ideas on the piano before opening Logic. I've been coming up with more interesting stuff that way! ;)

Don't fret too much about the 4-bar loop - listen to some hip-hop, dub, break, funk, you'll find that elements are changing and evolving but it's the same chord pattern the whole time (maybe 1 change). Guys like David Holmes and Mark Ronson are great at giving life to these loops so they don't sound too static!
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aleos
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Oct 19, 2013 3:09 am

Much in the way you have to listen to dissonance, and learn to appreciate it before you can start to use it, I think like David said, get used to hearing odd-bar sections. You are going against the grain of 300 years of musical tradition, so it's much like trying to hear "outside" tonalities. Also similar is becoming comfortable with odd time sigs. But that's another topic.
What I do sometimes is simply extend a 4-bar statement to 5 bars. This provides a mysterious feeling for the listener when done well. Our musical hear, because of historical conditioning, gravitates more comfortably to 4 and 6 bars, the 5 bar phrase is a bit in limbo. If you have a 4 bar melody, try to simply delay its resolution, possibly with a non-chord tone, like a suspension or something similar.

Of course, as in many of my previous posts, I will offer Radiohead as an example of wonderful compositional devices.
All these three songs use 5 bar phrases. In my tastes, thsi provides a beautiful floating quality.
"Stand up Sit down" and "Idioteque" I would guess are both based on writing an appealing chord progression that lasts 5 bars.
Where as Rekoner was written with the wonderful diad-based guitar figure which alternates between three different diads.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVf_HGoY-1E
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wCJPm19XYQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNqv3nHyteM
Last edited by aleos on Sat Oct 19, 2013 11:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Oct 19, 2013 9:24 am

To me it seems that to resolve completely your question, there is one more question to ask. What are you trying to accomplish with your music? If you are trying to cram yourself into the mould that is popular music, or do you wish to explore where creativity will take you?
Two very different scenarios. Two potentially different outcomes.
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:29 pm

I recently came across a band: Young Legionnaire.

Their first album Crisis Works features a lot of "broken" signatures but the music flows so well it took me some time to figure out that something is "odd". Very well done in my opinion, and it doesn't have that "progressive rock" stench.
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Dec 28, 2013 3:27 am

I find tutorials and technical exercises to be a great springboard to get creative juices flowing.
Once the basics of what i'm trying to digest has been absorbed I move what's been learned into variations on the theme. Simply creating a new sound in an instrument can keep me busy for ages.

Alternate time signatures and rhythms too can fascinate my thirst for knowledge. 5/4 time in particular is a favourite here. a spotlight search for 54 returns many many hits, probably 5/4 projects are one of the most common you'll find on my disks. When you return to a more basic time sig you have a fresh set of ears and new ideas that can completely reinvent older projects. Copy your 4 bars and reinvent them playing 5/4 over 4/4 or whatever the theme of the original 4 bars was.

My trusty guitar is still the most used notepad for fresh ideas and now i'm learning piano a whole new world has opened up. A good friend of mine always said that the best interface to communicate with your DAW is to play live on a keyboard. Trying to play live keys for more than 4 bars is my latest goal.
It's less a case of escaping, more a case of playing to the end of a 4 bar loop.. :lol:
Cheers!

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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Dec 28, 2013 3:39 am

Hehe, 7/4 or 7/8 would be the most prevalent in my projects.

As well as the 5 bar sequence, I also like just adding or subtracting a beat from the last bar - i.e. 3 bars of 4/4 and 1 of 5/4 or 3/4

I also love 15/16 with a 4/4 feel - gives a really pleasing (to me) jolt!

+1 for composing on guitar or piano, it stops you making up for rubbish melody/harmony with complex timbres.
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DaveRobinson
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Dec 28, 2013 5:19 am

Hi Rev, all the best for the New Year
OMG! look what you started now! ... I'll have to check all those out. :mrgreen:

It all started back in nineteen? when I found an article by Zappa on Hemiola and odd beats. Still working on it today.
Lost count of the number of times i've put the fifteen dots at the bottom of the article into software.
This might even be the original tutorial.

http://www.afka.net/articles/1983-04_Guitar_Player.htm
Cheers!

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Rev. Juda$ Sleaze
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Re: Escaping the 4 bar loop

Sat Dec 28, 2013 5:45 am

Thanks for the link Dave :D

Hope the new year brings you oodles of cool!

I'm off to try out lots of weird polyrhythms now...
Zappa is not dead, he just smells funny.

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