One Trick To Make Music Like A Pro
Did you hear that new remix by Dua Lipa, Elton John, and PNAU?
Why does it sound the way it does? Who wrote that catchy bassline? What’s the chord progression? Is there harmony in the vocal line?
The best way to learn to make music is to answer your own questions. To simplify that, copy what they are doing and STEAL IT!
Okay, it’s not actually stealing, really borrowing. We are not trying to rip someone off, we are just trying to get in their heads to write like them.
Now, let’s take a step back and look at some early examples of what I am talking about. I think the best place to start is jazz music.
In jazz music, musicians do something called transcriptions. This is when they learn to play a solo by amazing artists like Miles Davis or John Coltrane exactly as they do. The purpose is to learn to build an understanding deeper than notes on a page.
Inevitably, those musicians transcribing are borrowing ideas that are not originally theirs. That’s okay however because the goal is to learn to speak.
Yes, more confusing words, let’s break that down. When you were young before you learned to talk, what dictionary or duo lingo course did you do to learn to say mommy?
Do you see where I am going with this? You learn to speak by copying your parents or whoever was in your life the most. Your entire concept of language, that you grew up speaking, is simply put together pieces that solidified into your brain when you were a baby.
Jazz musicians are the masters of learning to speak. They treat their improvisation and abilities on their instruments or voice the same way a baby learns to speak. It’s about being able to recall bits of information without needing to think about it. In a way, they speak jazz.
How Do You Learn To Speak?
How can you learn the language of the music you want to write? Just like jazz musicians, you can do transcriptions. For our purposes, we will call them takedowns as one of my mentors Jay Chattaway the composer for a couple of Star Trek series calls them.
A takedown is a bit different from a transcription for me as my goal is to understand the structure and elements of a song. A transcription targets a direct melodic or rhythmic part such as a trumpet solo, a vocal line, a guitar riff, and so on.
One could say a takedown is a combination of analysis and a bunch of transcriptions of the individual pieces.
Getting Started With Takedowns
The first most important part of a takedown is choosing what to analyze. This requires you to choose something that meets a tough requirement: you have to love it. You want to do a takedown of a track you love and an artist that inspires you to write.
Once you have your track selected, decide if you want to learn a specific part of it, or the whole thing. For example, in Dua Lipa and Elton John’s Cold Heart, I love the bass line. I went ahead and figured out what it is, so here is a clip below!
Now listen to this with the chord progression. I also included the notes and chord symbols.
To get to this point, sit down with the track in your daw with the file tempo set so you can loop specific sections or slow it down. I continued this takedown and transcribed the vocal melody in the chorus. Take a look and listen along.
Takedowns are by no means quick and easy, but they are the one method that will make you sound like and speak like a professional. Pick a song today and start picking it apart at your keyboard and record parts for your records.
The goal of having these pieces and truly learning every fine detail of a song is to internalize it so when you go to write, you don’t have to think, ideas will come out as natural as conversation.
If you have further questions or want private lessons in all things writing, arranging, and composing, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi, I’m Cj Rhen, and I am a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. You can find some of my work at cjrhenmusic.com or on sounds.com, where I write and record high-end sax and horn loops for your music. Also, you can check out my live streams at twitch.tv/cjrhenmusic to see me writing music like this post live and ask questions and chat.