by Carlos De la Guardia (@dela3499) / May 2018
Listen to Window Seat on Soundcloud.
With each song I make, I try something new. This time, I tried the following:
Use a common arrangement pattern: ABABCB. (A is the verse, B is the chorus, and C is the bridge.)
I ended up do a variant of this, ABABCA, since it made the outro easier to write. (C & A sections are in the same key, but B is not.)
In my previous songs, the changes between sections were a bit haphazard, and things were hard to follow. This time, I tried to make the flow of the song more natural.
Transition thoughtfully between sections.
Normally, my transitions are an afterthought, and they end up being abrupt and jarring. Here, all my transitions were dedicated 4-bar sections in themselves.
Write the chorus in the verse’s dominant key.
In this case, the verse and bridge are in E minor and the chorus is in B major. The transitional phrases that link the verse and chorus use the notes shared by both keys: E, F#, and B.
Make longer and more interesting chord progressions and phrases.
In previous songs, I tried to maintain interest by constantly adding or removing layers and effects, while the individual musical phrases were short. This time, I made the phrases longer, usually with an ABAC structure. (Note: this refers to phrases, not to song sections.)
Here are some other techniques I ended up using, though I didn’t necessarily plan on them ahead of time.
I often harmonize a part by raising or lowering the pitch of a recording by an octave or a fifth/fourth and playing it along with the original. Usually, I’ll repeat a phrase several times, and maintain interest in later repetitions by layering in the raised/lowered version to make it sound a bit louder and more harmonically complex.
Ableton Live has a feature called ‘slice to MIDI’, which makes it easy to take a recorded audio clip, split it into separate samples/chunks, and then trigger them individually with my piano keys. This is a fun and easy way to ‘remix’ something I’ve recorded, and often leads to interesting things I wouldn’t think to play in the first place (on my guitar or bass, say).
On this song, I recorded the guitar track for the bridge, sliced it into samples, and then played them on piano to create the transition from the chorus to the bridge.
The lead guitars for the verse sections of this song were recorded using a glass guitar slide (tube that fits over the finger and allows you to slide smoothly between notes). This is a common technique in country music, though I wasn’t aiming for a country sound. The slide let’s you play the guitar as if it was a fretless instrument like a violin or human voice.
In the end, it just gives the verse sections a slightly different feel from the other sections, which don’t use a slide.
On this song and previous ones, my bass lines make heavy use of major and minor 10th intervals (2-note chords containing a root and a 3rd, but with 3rd raised an octave).
These simple chords are easy to play on the bass guitar, since you play just the top and bottom strings, and the fret positions on each string are either the same, or one apart, depending on whether you’re playing a major or minor 10th.
While it’s equally easy to play these chords on my acoustic and electric guitars, they don’t sound nearly as good as on bass, where the timbre of the thick strings seems to improve things dramatically.
Capo on electric guitar
Guitar capos are commonly used to shift a song’s key to make it easier to sing along to. Electric guitarists rarely use them, but I thought I’d try on this song.
For example, a guitar’s standard tuning is EADGBE, so, without fretting any strings, the notes are all consistent with C major or its relative minor - A minor. Putting a capo on the first fret would shift all the notes up by a semitone, making the unfretted notes consistent with C# major and A# minor.
I used a capo in two different positions on this song. First, I used it on the 7th fret to transpose the key by a perfect 5th. That let me play things I was familiar with in A minor in E minor, which is the key of the verse in this song. Usually, a capo isn’t required to transpose a part on the guitar, but it was important here because the part I was playing relied on open strings (strings played without fretting).
Then, because the chorus section is in B major, I put a capo on the 11th fret, which made the open strings consistent with B major. Again, using a capo this way is unusual and not strictly necessary, but it allowed me to play the open strings in the course of doing hammer-ons and pull-offs. Putting a capo on the 11th fret does have the downside of removing access to half the guitar, but it didn’t matter here. If I was playing live, I might avoid using a capo, especially since it required me to retune all the strings.
For the transitions, I created a phrase using only the notes shared by the keys of the verse and chorus, so that it wouldn’t sound dissonant near either. I played this phrase loudly in the foreground of the transition section, but quietly in the background of the sections before and after the transition. This provided continuity throughout the transition, since there was never a point where everything changed at once.
On almost every track, I carefully apply EQ, delay, and reverb. They’re like the salt/pepper of audio, allowing you to finely control how an element sounds - near or far, muffled or clear.
Atmospheric neck tap
At the very start of the track, I play the guitar quietly, and in an unusual way. I play harmonics, but instead of strumming the strings, I tap the back of the guitar neck with my hard glass capo. All the strings vibrate, but the sound is quite soft and unlike the sound of a strum.
In the end, I like how the song turned out, and I especially like the bridge and outro. Also, the outro is special in that it brings together elements of the bridge, verse, and transition sections. It’s cool to hear everything come together in the end for a big finale!