Keeping it simple

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If you like me have played and written music for some years, I bet you can recognize this simple but universal rule – less is more. All the great ones knew how to say some great things in music, sometimes with nothing more but a few tones, and we, being musicians from all around the world can and should learn from this.

Jazz-guitar guru John Scofield attended the yearly jazz festival my hometown Copenhagen and during an interview with a local reporter he stated that whenever he ended up with just playing something simple yet meaningful he finds that he’s at his best. He mentioned other big names like Miles Davis saying that his music – in some cases – was kept really simple and those where the times were he would top.

Think about the next time you are writing a song, it can actually be really hard if you are feeling uninspired, but on the other hand very rewarding if you can express what you want with just a few notes. Ask yourself some of these useful questions. What style is this? What is this melody trying to say? What is the story here? Listen to what others have done and compare that to the song you’re writing – there’s always a lot o inspiration to find out there!

Not too many years back I went to a G3 concert, you know the thing with three of the greatest guitarist in the world – Steve Vai, Joe Satriani etc and one thing the occurred to me was – despite the fact that I’ve always been greatly impressed by these guys’ talent – that I got really bored after no more than half an hour. I simply ended up with this feeling that I had heard all that there was to hear. I actually see these three great guitarist as great musicians that all look for ‘the good melody’, however, and let’s be hones here, it’s often lost in the name of showing off. It’s a part of the whole guitar-hero style obviously, but what they are trying to tell us as listeners, would often come through clearer with four notes instead of a million.

One technique that has worked for me quite a few times when I try to sort of narrow down what to play in a guitar solo for example is, that I play whatever I’ve come up with, I record and listen to it a couple of times, jam a long give it some small twists and turns just playing around with whatever I’m working on and, how hard I may ever seem, erase it! Oh yearh, back to scratch, maybe even leave the song for a day or two, forget it and then come back and have another approach to my solo. I’d listen to the verses the courses, where can I find some juicy notes that to me tells the story of the song, can I narrow it down to just one or two simple themes…? I’ll then probably end up with just 4 bars of notes cut from the chorus maybe, and now try to play that where the solo should be, going back to some of the initial ideas I had for the guitar solo. Mixing up these to things I’ve often – to my taste – made some of my best solos! If I can make a melody, tell the story when mixing up my more freely grasped ideas with the themes and rhythms of the song I find that I can play my best.

Less is more, it’s just and a universal rule that we as musicians will keep forgetting and rediscovering. Hope you’ll fell inspired and happy song writing.

Stay tuned

About the Author

Anders Harvest is a Danish musician, translator and computer programming enthusiast. He has recently become webmaster for a new site that you can visit at the following adress Helping people in their search of a new guitar tuner. He has several years of experience writing for Danish newspapers.

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