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Escaping the 4 bar loop


Bangflaps
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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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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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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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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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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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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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  • 2 weeks later...

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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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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.... 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".

 

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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  • 1 month later...
  • 5 months later...

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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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.

 

Edited by aleos
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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.

Cheers

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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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  • 2 months later...

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:

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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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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

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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..

 

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.

 

Got around to Checking out some of the time signatures you mentioned.

Started with Ultrabeat as it's one of my favourite synths.

 

Logic Ultrabeat 3/4 4/4 5/4 7/4 7/8 15/8 15/16

---------------

CCTMusic wrote:

 

The combination of Resolution and Length dictate the overall 'size' of the Pattern:

 

Resolution: the size of each step: can be 1/8, 1/12, 1/16, 1/24, or 1/32

 

The Length is the total number of these steps (can be adjusted from the menu at the bottom of UB or the small slider at the end of the Step grid.

 

For example, with a Resolution of 1/16 and a length of 32 Steps you have a total length of 2 bars of 4/4

Resolution 1/16, Length 16= 1 bar of 4/4

 

Resolution 32, length 32= 1 bar of 4/4

------------------------------

Dave Notes: Various:

 

Ultrabeat Step Length & Resolution:

When sequence length is set to 32 steps with a resolution of 1/16, we have a total of 32 1/16th notes, making a two-bar pattern. Changing the resolution to eighth notes gives a four-bar pattern. Changing the resolution to 1/12th notes produces an eighth-note triplet, and with a length of 24 steps a two-bar pattern would result.

The length and resolution parameters are set for each pattern within a preset,

so you can mix and match if you need to.

For those interested in polyrhythmic material, it is possible to get Ultrabeat to play a 15/8 pattern across a 4/4 time project (set the length to 30 steps, with a resolution of 1/16)!

-----

3/4 time. Length = 12. Resolution = 1/16.

6/4. time Length = 24. Resolution = 1/8.

4/4 time.

5/4 time. Length = 20. Resolution = 1/16.

7/4 time.

7/8 time. Length = 14. Resolution = 1/16.

15/8 time

15/16 time

-----

To escape the four bar loop, turn off Cycle mode ...

Using a 4/4 project set the project length to 130 bars. A default project in 4/4 will usually set this anyway...

(You have to look more into this when other time sigs are used).

UltraBeat is turned on so when you hit play, the project will play for 130 bars, then stop automatically.

Next, reset the Playhead to the beginning of the project.

Save your work...

 

I find this type of workflow really helps to break the cycle mode way of thinking.

Plus, creates the habit of regularly saving your work...

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I am a guitarist, but I write a lot of electronic stuff. When I get a good groove going I always play guitar over it and see what I can layer over it to turn it into something new. This could be chords or leads, doesn't matter. If I find something good I may leave it as guitar or I might transpose the notes to midi to mess with it even more.
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  • 1 year later...

Listen to lots of different music.. Yes we all get stuck in the repeating loop, and keep piling stuff on top of it.. Learn how to make a break, a dropout.. For instance Beatles songs start and stop a lot.. They stop, then go into a different section...

 

Also use variations of the chords,, starting adding additional measures.. Once I did a disco version of "Over the Rainbow' did quite well. When I got to a solo, I got kinda stuck.. what I did was double the time of each chord change.. so the progression was still the same just twice as long.. It worked perfectly, it totally fit in, yet was was different..

 

Chord substitutions, also modulations to a different key.. Once you get a bunch of tracks going, you get kinda stuck.. you can't stop, but t's starting to get too repeating.. This is where 'dropping out notes' really work.. I had this nice busy funky grove going.. at one point it was too busy,, I basically cut out half the bass notes.. and it worked so much better. the bass holes opened up the song. A lot of times I'll divide a track up evenly.. cut out every other measure, or only comes in on chorus etc.. Once you get past the fear of 'throwing away your precious idea's.. you find a freedom, which is so great..

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Another idea, is add the V, IV on beat 4 of the chord.. Or using a passing chord.. One one loop double the length of one of the chords or even all chords. I once did a disco version of "Over the Rainbow" which did pretty well.. I was stuck on the solo, not wanting to repeat the verse chords again. What I ended up doing was using the verse chords, but making each chord twice as long. It worked out great.. It still fit in perfectly in the song, yet was different enough to stand out..
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