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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Musician »

Permalink How do you write a surf song?

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I hesitate to wade in these waters, but, may I suggest that there is no such thing as a surf song, just a song arranged for a surf combo?

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PolloGuitar wrote:

I hesitate to wade in these waters, but, may I suggest that there is no such thing as a surf song, just a song arranged for a surf combo?

IIRC, You did an absolutely nice post about songwriting some time ago.

PolloGuitar wrote:

I hesitate to wade in these waters, but, may I suggest that there is no such thing as a surf song, just a song arranged for a surf combo?

Well stated.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

PolloGuitar wrote:

I hesitate to wade in these waters, but, may I suggest that there is no such thing as a surf song, just a song arranged for a surf combo?

Sure, if you’re talking about covers or adaptations. But what about original songs composed for a surf band?

Seems to me thread is not really about its title, rather about adapting stuff into surf.

I do think there’s a LOT of “unoriginal” (adaptations or variations) surf songs out there including many standards. But there are also many songs composed for surf that really don’t work in other styles or genres. Same for other genres like punk rock!

https://www.facebook.com/bloodreefsurf/
https://bloodreefsurf.bandcamp.com/releases (nothing official yet, just some badly mixed snippets from practice)

Last edited: Jan 27, 2019 15:02:37

DeathTide wrote:

Sure, if you’re talking about covers or adaptations. But what about original songs composed for a surf band?

Yes, definitely much harder to find examples of surf songs that made their way into other genres. But, a song is just melody and chords. A decent melody is all you need, the rest is just arrangement.

I posted this 17 years ago. the references are dated, but I stand by the rest of it: https://surfguitar101.com/news/story/31/

LISTEN & BUY " S P I N - T H E - B O T T L E " NOW @ Bandcamp

Pool Boys Euro Tour Blog

INSTAGRAM
Frankie in Frankie & The Pool Boys
Lazarus Longfellow in The TomorrowMen
DJ Frankie Pool Boy on North Sea Surf Radio
Phayrentz in Pollo Del Mar

I go back to the title of this thread and ask, how do you breath? Do you have to think about it? A great instrumental song comes from either a great melody or really cool rhythm riff you are playing on your guitar. Sometimes you play the riff over and over again and experiment with the chord changes that will make up the basic verse/chorus structure of the song. At this point the melody should start to flow. Next you want to add a little drama or change of some kind. Write a good bridge. Add a stop point, change the key a half step and start over, whatever!. Figure out how complex you want the entire piece to be developed.

I've got songs I've been working on for two years. I won't really know what else I will do with them until I'm in the studio. A good song idea can start with two notes. You have to love the sound you are working with and be really inspired with the guitar when playing it. Some people will hear the melody while they are washing the car and later develop the song from what their imagination produced earlier. The key is imagination and inspiration. That's where it starts. The rest of it is administration.

The Kahuna Kings

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kahuna-Kings/459752090818447

https://thekahunakings.bandcamp.com/releases

Last edited: Jan 27, 2019 15:33:55

I think the question should be, how do you overcome procrastination and get the songs in a recording studio where the magic takes place.

In general I'll leave the song title as a blueprint on how to write a great song.

The Kahuna Kings

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kahuna-Kings/459752090818447

https://thekahunakings.bandcamp.com/releases

I guess my premise was most songs created or written were adapted from other songs or inspired by to create them by other songs - Like Pipeline seems to have been adapted from Guitar Boogie form 1948 or some later recording (seems to be many in this exact same shape scale (E Dorian etc). I know the Mr Moto solo came from one of these versions of Guitar Boogie (I think the 1959 one) Because Paul Johnson said he slowed down the 45 to 33 & 1/3 and learned the solo that way but liked the slow solo version so he used a lot of that in the solo for Mr Moto etc....So to me to write a song your really only using either licks you learned or came up with thinking you created a new lick (Not realizing some already did in the past) Not really to much playing wise to invent anymore but how you connect bits a pieces together that is original - much like writing we don't event the words used - but we invent the way we put them together.

Its hard to write a catchy tune - I have heard a few song writers say out of 100 songs they write only 4 or 5 will be hits that make them money to live on (So its hard to do). The most used resource for lyrics was a phone book or TV show or movies - and usually a song is built from very simple sounding progressions and added to over various demos or built up over time.

stratdancer wrote:

I've got songs I've been working on for two years

Glad to hear I’m not alone. There have been a few songs that kinda dropped out, and others that have take YEARS to put with other riffs into a song. There’s one I’m trying to finish that has a six-year old riff added to a new riff, then a rehashing of the six year old riff. Only needs an ending...

In over 25 years I’ve only composed about twenty songs, but damned if the old ones aren’t just as awesome now. I stand behind almost all of them.

For example, that practice song Blood Reef has on the 2018 comp was written in 1992!

https://www.facebook.com/bloodreefsurf/
https://bloodreefsurf.bandcamp.com/releases (nothing official yet, just some badly mixed snippets from practice)

I have been writing snippets, riffs, a string of chords that sound nice in certain sequences for the one day that I may use them in an actual composition of my very own. I have half-decent recording software that is easy to use and I always have my home setup plugged in for such an occasion. I also have used my smartphone/tablet to film myself playing a riff/chord sequence so that I can capture the feel and the thoughts of what struck me at the time the riff was spontaneously created.

I have written snippets and ideas while watching tv or a DVD, sometimes I wake up at dawn in the summertime (which is like 4am here in my part of the world) and I am most creative at that time of day. That's what works for me. I am not "anti" anything but what has always worked for me is a clear, calm mind fuelled only by a cup of strong English tea Rock
I have the use of my Ditto phrase looper that I test-drive melodies over chords (or vice-versa) and I also use Guitar Pro to build-up arrangements and experiment.
For me, it was a long time coming in writing originals and while I am not very satisfied with my overall degree of output, so far, I am very proud of the approx. 20 songs I have finished writing. I am also proud to say that if an idea just started to suck badly, I had the wherewithal to deep-six it while not letting it discourage me to start other tunes. Not every inspiration is going to make it through full gestation.

People need to find their own motivations. Make it their own. Writing the above was not meant to be advice on a method, rather it was sharing my ideas that great things will come from your own methods and that it is a matter of not giving up on finding those methods.

Mai Tai Surf on Facebook
Hang-Ten Hangmen https://www.facebook.com/HangTenHangmen/
http://www.dionysusrecords.com/shop/the-hang-ten-hangmen-its-boss-lp.html

Using a camera phone or tablet is an important tool when riffing and you think you struck gold. I have several riffs stored that may turn into songs for the next Kahuna Kings record. Otherwise the most important songs for the next record are all memorized. They all started with a cool and simple riff. Once you get a killer riff it's hard to forget as you start expanding the song structure.

The Kahuna Kings

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Kahuna-Kings/459752090818447

https://thekahunakings.bandcamp.com/releases

DeathTide wrote:

Brian wrote:

Can we please stay on topic?

Please ignore this comment and continue haha! I am utterly FASCINATED by this discussion. Synchro:

image

Ask and he shall receive.:)

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

PolloGuitar wrote:

DeathTide wrote:

Sure, if you’re talking about covers or adaptations. But what about original songs composed for a surf band?

Yes, definitely much harder to find examples of surf songs that made their way into other genres. But, a song is just melody and chords. A decent melody is all you need, the rest is just arrangement.

I posted this 17 years ago. the references are dated, but I stand by the rest of it: https://surfguitar101.com/news/story/31/

It would be hard to imagine Mr. Moto as a Country, Jazz or Delta Blues song, but not at all hard to imagine a Country, Jazz or Delta Blues song being used for Surf.

A couple of the things you posted to the Yahoo groups really caught my interest and I’d like to quote them here.

“A good song should be able to be arranged for a variety of genres.”

Very true. In at least some cases, I think that the word treatment works well to describe what we frequently call genres. A good song is a good song. Dean Martin was a crooner, but he recorded some Country tunes and they sold well. I could imagine one of those songs, Houston, as a Surf tune if you played it with a Surf beat, plenty of reverb and all the trimmings of Surf.

“But to start out the song writing process by saying, well I'm
going to have a glissando going into a reverb kick followed by
the drum lick to Wipe Out and then the bassline to Pipeline with some pingy
notes on top, will create a completely unoriginal, paint by numbers
surf song. And, to my ear, there is lot of that happening in surf music these
days. Arrangements are the wrapping for the present, but don't
skimp on the gift for fancy paper and bows.”

You said a mouthful there. I’ve heard some wonderful music in modern day Surf, but I’ve also heard some Surf offering which were nothing more than cliches strung together. The same thing happens in Rockabilly, BTW. The Rockabilly revival has a lot of cookie cutter songs.

There’s a cautionary tale here for songwriters. It’s easy to copy the obvious and that will get you a song which you can call a Surf tune. But it might not make for a good song. Just because a song has a Surf beat, lots of drip and is written in a minor key, that doesn’t mean it’s truly an original Surf song. Even in the early sixties, there were more than a few songs which were little more than copies of Surf cliches. But there were some stunning originals.

Pipeline, the National Anthem of Surf, is simple, but highly effective. The way the second verse segues into the bridge breaks all the rules, but it works and works beautifully. It’s a great song.

Penetration is another example. The verses are dead simple, just a I and a IV, then back to the I. The chorus is a take on the Andalusian Cadence, but using strictly Major triads. At a theoretical level, the song is almost as simple as a nursery rhyme, but it’s effective. I think it’s the most evocative of all the First Wave Surf tunes. Whenever I hear it, I instantly have a mental picture of a lonely stretch of the beach with grayish-blue clouds and pounding waves. IMHO, it’s probably the best of the original songs. Writing something like that is an artistic triumph.

“A great exercise is to take apart your favorite songs. I don't mean to just
learn how to play it, but to really examine where the melody starts
in relation to the key of the song, and how the melody shifts as chords change.
Really, look at it note by note against the chords.”

The best learning tool I’ve ever had has been copying from songs. It forces you to think in terms of scales, chord progressions and how a song fits all of its pieces together. A lot of songs, Surf, Country, Rock, even Standards, state a phrase against the I chord, then repeat it a 4th higher, against the IV chord. It’s a cliche, and not necessarily bad in and of itself, but it can draw you into cookie cutter land.

Classical music handles voicings somewhat differently and could be a good source of ideas. Many classical tunes utilize simple chords, but they lead into one another in complex ways. For example:

C / / / G7/B / / / Am / / / C7/G / / / F / / / D7/F# / / / G7 / / / C / G7 / There are only a few chords, but they mesh very tightly and drive the melody. I’ve seen this sort of chord sequence in more modern music, but it’s roots are in Classical music.

Where that’s concerned, classical music is a great source of material and almost certainly public domain. I’ve always thought the Mozart’s 40th Symphony would make a dandy Surf tune. The Baronics did wonders with Moonlight Sonata. I’m sure that there are plenty more great Surf tunes in the world of Classical music, and all sorts of ideas you can freely utilize in your own compositions.

One last thought when it comes to writing Surf would be that of genres. I guess it’s only natural that there are different genres, but the boundaries are yet another matter, altogether. I’ve heard late sixties and seventies Rock that was essentially Jazz with a rock beat. Country and Rock have changed their common boundary almost ceaselessly throughout my lifetime.

PolloGuitar wrote:

I hesitate to wade in these waters, but, may I suggest that there is no such thing as a surf song, just a song arranged for a surf combo?

This makes a lot of sense. Not every song can be adapted to a Surf treatment, but many songs can be. Just playing songs mentally and imagining them as Surf suggests to me that songs with straightforward changes and a straightforward beat can make the hop pretty easily. OTOH, a song with +11 chords on the IV and Major 7ths for the I might be more of a challenge. Think of Johnny Rivers’ Poor Side of Town, which is twangy as heck roughy out of the gate, but uses Maj 7 chords extensively. You could play it as Surf, but my guess is that it would sound schmaltzy. If you were trying to write for Surf, I guess that any and all experience would be helpful in avoiding song structure, especially chords which don’t translate well into Surf music.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

So thoughtful of a post. I have always, always agreed that what you’re calling a I to IV is basically what I call the 1-4-5 structure, and is super hackey. Yes those two songs you mention are just brilliant, but that structure cheeses me out. Which is why I pretty much nip that in the bud - if a riff needs to jump a string just to verbatim repeat and jump back, I throw it away. Same with octave-jumping. I have one song that does it (also from the 90s) but the riff is cool and the song is short haha. Oh and actually there’s one other song that’s the only one I ever co-wrote, and the other dude’s riff does the 1-4 jump, but thankfully no 5 part. In fact, I honestly don’t even like to repeat anything more than once!

Great thread. There’s a lot more to respond to but that part jumped out at me.

https://www.facebook.com/bloodreefsurf/
https://bloodreefsurf.bandcamp.com/releases (nothing official yet, just some badly mixed snippets from practice)

Lots of good ideas - and that waking up in the morning thing definitely works for many Song and Fiction writers - almost a dream state - always write that stuff down before you forget it Smile

I have other books in this series already and now buying these two available on Amazon listed below.

Guitar Grimoire: Progressions & Improvisation

The Guitar Grimoire - Chords and Voicings

I have found many sites online free like the other books in the series - if anyone knows of any like the above two books let me know here.

Another site that's been a big help to me is below in helping me reverse engineer recordings to learn songs that way.

https://jguitar.com/scale?root=E&scale=Dorian&fret=0&labels=none&notes=sharps

This site has many other resources on the main menu - I like this better than the above book series being I can see the scales better (my eyes aren't what they use to be) and I can print out these scales. Maybe some song writers on here can use this site as well.

Or if you know a better site let us know here - there are many out there but I thought this one is the easiest to use for me anyway.

I'm looking for a dictionary or melody progressions I guess - much like chord charts or is that really just the same or can be used for that? I have a "The Chord Wheel: The Ultimate Tool for All Musicians" found on amazon as well, I have had but never used much - It's good for song writing anyway - but there may be free resources online as well. But it's cool how the wheel turns to figure out where to go next etc...but I wish there was a book with all the possible riffs (OK that would be a big book) - I guess I got that idea from Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead - he supposedly had a ring binder he kept his whole career that had every lick he ever learned or came across - and by evidence on live recordings he definitly used most of them. Would be nice to have something like that or make one ourselves. I never did that before - And in Surf Instrumentals I came across many of the same riffs or variations similar to other songs and groups etc. So I'm thinking it would be cool to make a notebook of this type stuff - maybe that would help create new songs or ways to update old songs re-arranged etc...

If anybody knows of any books or web sites or threads already on this site let me know here. Thanks

Last edited: Jan 28, 2019 06:37:19

DeathTide wrote:

So thoughtful of a post. I have always, always agreed that what you’re calling a I to IV is basically what I call the 1-4-5 structure, and is super hackey. Yes those two songs you mention are just brilliant, but that structure cheeses me out. Which is why I pretty much nip that in the bud - if a riff needs to jump a string just to verbatim repeat and jump back, I throw it away. Same with octave-jumping. I have one song that does it (also from the 90s) but the riff is cool and the song is short haha. Oh and actually there’s one other song that’s the only one I ever co-wrote, and the other dude’s riff does the 1-4 jump, but thankfully no 5 part. In fact, I honestly don’t even like to repeat anything more than once!

Great thread. There’s a lot more to respond to but that part jumped out at me.

Simple can be good, however. At one point, I went though a phase of wanting to play complex changes, and nothing else would do. But even that wore thin and the Steely Dan material I used to find fascinating has lost a lot of its luster. These days, I’m more interested in how the song is arranged and how the chords, even simple chords, are put to use. A lot of the songs I grew up,liking are simple, frequently I, IV, V changes, but perhaps with a twist. Roger Miller’s King of the Road has four chords, A, A/C#, D and E(7). But it has a great swing to it and sounds right. What sells it is a walking bass line that swings. My point here is that it’s not simply composition; there’s an element of packaging at work too.

Most Surf tunes from the First Wave are simple, but they are also pleasing. I think it’s fair to say that they are an exercise in packaging, because that’s exactly what makes them stand out. If you played the same notes and chords with a Polka band, it might not have the same appeal. Or, looking at it from the other direction, Meshugga Beach Party took Jewish songs that stretch back into antiquity and repackaged them as Surf; and it works.

Among the songs our band plays, is an old chestnut from the early ‘60s called Ruby Baby. I give it the full treatment, using changes similar to what Steely Dan used when they used it as a soundcheck song. There are diminished 5ths, #9s, b9s and all sorts of harmonic trickery afoot and it works, but I couldn’t imagine trying to use the same sorts of changes in the body of a Surf tune. The power and drive would be greatly compromised. Complex chords imply complex tone centers, but most Surf songs are in one or two tone centers.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

There is a lot to be said about simplicity in music. All of the most popular songs or hits through time are incredibly stupid from a musicians perspective. Yet an audience responds the most to the most basic music forms of music and if a Guitarist adds in mannerisms like kicking your head back with strained facial muscles while holding only one single stupid note (as if that's that hard to do) that gets the crowd jumping even higher. It's more of a act than actual content in reality performance wise. So in most cases the best sounding material to a large crowd is basically dumb music. Think about Surf Music - Kids in high school played this stuff - how hard could it be lol.

I know we all like to show off our music skills in songs etc ...but in the end your are a entertainer in reality and entertainers that don't entertain don't make any money in this game.

Music was original devised for dancing - I'm wondering if studying dance moves would be a good field of study for song writers - it take years to learn dance moves properly - Is there a connection there between song writing and other arts like dance? Even drumming - some beats just dance better. Can we write songs to dance moves - is that the real key to all this? I think studying dance and vamps that allow certain dance moves or influence them is the key - much like drum rudiments where originally military signals for battle and used later for playing on drum kits or coordination type stuff. So dance to me is the key to writing music somehow?

I just looked up some books on dancing - one is a 6 volume work - Ok I'm thinking is all the different forms of music just backing tracks for dance in reality - all the different riff and rhythms and chord progressions and even vamps - Is it all about dancing - is it that simple of a idea to start with dancing and write a song from that perspective first? Another wards all the music beats support dancing much like emotional beats support fiction writing on best sellers etc.

Last edited: Jan 28, 2019 08:12:35

Surfing Sam, your use of the words 'stupid' and 'dumb' are quite negative. Do you even like this music?
And tailoring music to dance styles has been with us since the dawn of humanity to my way of thinking. Choosing a bpm and a swing, a time signature, etc to reflect the tastes and dance styles is all part of it. But then all you have at that point is basic rules of engagement...to me, it is more about a drum beat that laypersons can tap on a countertop while waiting for the toaster to finish, or tap on the steering wheel while waiting for the light to turn green and memorable tunes that can be hummed or whistled while walking, etc.

Mai Tai Surf on Facebook
Hang-Ten Hangmen https://www.facebook.com/HangTenHangmen/
http://www.dionysusrecords.com/shop/the-hang-ten-hangmen-its-boss-lp.html

I would not be on here if I didn't love this music.

Yes drum grooves are definitely is a big part of it. There are at least three found on many hit songs. I'm just saying as far as writing songs it might be better to study dance to improve our ability to write catchy tunes. Start from there and work backwards to write new material. Most writers do it the other way around and hope its a hit etc. (most fail) Only 2% of all fiction writing is successful - song writing no different. Its an art of manipulation in phycological terms. Only about 4 songs out of a 100 are hits.(Why?)

Good fiction writers manipulate the reader with proven emotional beats and other devises - Song writers and music performers do the same thing in reality (all the arts do) - its a field of study I think is missing in most new material I have heard except maybe Euro-Dance and even then sometimes - Just whistling a tune won't get you there without previous study of the arts in general - You have to have the skill sets in the arts to pull off consistently writing viable material I feel. That's why many songs were written or made up from older material - its hard to top proven devices and unless your aware of them writing can be as futile as unfinished first drafts in fiction writing. There is proven devises used all across the history of music - I think study dance moves has to be a big part of that. Even sound can effect mood like different modes in music - Its all tied together.

Many very successful song writers consider themselves artists - In fact many went to art schools that taught the very topics I described in the past few posts . Just saying I think these arts are all tied together some how. Why do certain musical and dance forms move us so.

Just my opinions … Forums are open discussions Smile Sorry you took my presentation the wrong way - I love surf music

Last edited: Jan 28, 2019 08:59:19

Simple music is popular. There's nothing wrong with that, either. When I first started gigging, I was young and ready to show the world a thing or two. I wanted to play harmonically complex music and knock 'em dead. Then I found out that audiences had different ideas.

The audience, with the possible exception of classical or jazz audiences, want to be entertained. The want something they can relate to and most of them don't care about Coltrane, or Bach, or Mozart, or Gershwin. They want to hear something they remember fondly, or maybe they want to dance. In most cases, they want something simple.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
My Guitar WebSite
Dead Thread

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