Songwriting and Serendipity

Why start a composition with a blank slate? Jam on a cover tune then take it in a different direction.

Sometimes, the less experience you have figuring out songs, the better. When I was first learning guitar and had much less skill, I tried to figure out songs that I heard. I was usually unsuccessful at transcribing them accurately, but there were many occasions that I enjoyed what I was playing (despite it being wrong) and wrote a song based on it. I call that Serendipity.

What is “serendipity?”

This is where a composer stumbles on a cool sounding idea without even intending to do so. I believe that the act of “trying” often defeats the purpose, especially for a songwriter. So, in this video lesson, I’m going to play some well-known riffs wrong - intentionally. Then I’m going to mess with them - repeat just one part of the riff, invert the intervals, change the rhythm, and other compositional devices that I encourage you to try yourself.

My starting points

I chose songs from the following 5 decades as my starting points: the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. Can you identify what songs I’m using?

A word of CAUTION: Make sure your idea is different enough from your inspiration to avoid getting sued over copyright issues!

Compositional devices

As an exercise to the student, can you pick out how I’m changing the music that I’m using as a starting point? In future lessons, I will talk in more detail about variation techniques and how to use them in your songs.