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How to Write and Compose a Rockabilly Song
Write your lyrics.It's important to remember that Rockabilly takes influence from Blues and Country, so your song topic will most likely be along the lines of heartbreak, drinking and smoking, women, gambling, hard times, hot rods, or even the genre itself. This is just a guideline, and is not set in stone. Sing about whatever you want!
When structuring your lyrics, keep in mind that Rockabilly follows more often than not the "12 Bar Blues" song structure.At this point, just get your lyrics out on paper. When you start creating your Rhythm Guitar chording, the lyrics will most likely be tweaked to fit. Check out the web for info on 12 Bar Blues song structure if you're unsure. A good example of a simple song is Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues". There's four sets of rhyming verses and two guitar solos. Start with that example if you're unsure on how to structure your lyrics. Don't forget about choruses, too! They're optional.
Once you have your lyrics on paper, start with creating chords for Rhythm guitar.The most common chord progression is E-A-B. Other common ones are C-F-G and G-C-D. These three follow the 1st, 4th and 5th major chords of a key. You can either keep it simple with three chords, or add in as you see fit. Or, you can combine other chords within a given key. Rockabilly also takes influence from old jazz, so don't be afraid to throw in some jazz chords. Just play with it and see what sounds good. Remember to have your chord progressions follow the "12 Bar Blues" format.
Establish a Bassline.The simplest way is a 1 - 5 bassline. A good source of info is www.rockabillybass.com. Don't forget to add slaps, especially if you don't have a drummer. The slaps act as a backbeat. Keep your basic baseline in the same key as your rhythm guitar. A bass solo is great to add in!
Establish a Drumbeat.A good start for the drums is snare hits on two and four and eights on a ride cymbal. Add bass drum on one and three as you like. Fills should be played mostly on the snare drum; you can also use crashes and snare to accent strong beats and unison riffs.
Create riffs for the Lead Guitar.This step is essential in forming the "sound" of Rockabilly, as the lead guitar carries the song through. The most common format is an opening riff to start the song, a couple of riffs after the verses or chorus, and a closing riff to end the song. There are also small riffs played during the verses, and possibly at the end of each sung verse. You are free to experiment here. Scales are an excellent tool to improv riffs. You can also listen to Blues, as a lot of Rockabilly riffs are simply Blues riffs sped up. Old Country pickin' is a good source for inspiration, as are of course existing Rockabilly songs. Have fun here, as you are limited by your imagination and playing skill.
Throw it all together, play through it, and tweak as necessary.
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- Listen to old Blues, Country and Jazz for ideas.
- When singing your lyrics, don't forget to add in the yells & "hiccups" that's characteristic of Rockabilly singers. Listen to old and new Rockabilly songs to get a feel on how to sing. One of my favorite vocal effects is the "tremolo", used by Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio. Songs like "All By Myself", "Lonesome Train" & "Baby Blue Eyes" are great examples of Johnny's voice tremolo effect.
- For that Rockabilly sound, an all-tube Fender amp is the best you can get. Good examples are the Blues Jr., Blues Deluxe, Champ, Blues Deville, Twin, or '59 Bassman. You can get away with a solid-state amp, but for that vintage tone an all-tube amp can't be beat. Keep the pre-amp volume low enough so as not to get distortion, but overdrive.
- If you are keeping Rhythm chords basic by using only three, the 7th chords can add a bit of "attitude" to the song. For example, in the basic E-A-D progression, try a E-A-B7 progression. It'll change the "mood" of the song. With chords, don't be afraid to experiment!
- For Rhythm Guitar, a steel-string acoustic is commonly used. You can even use a Resonator style guitar for a unique sound. A 12-string can add more "depth" to the song, especially if it's run through an amp. But the Rhythm Guitar is usually amplified through the same microphone as the lead singer's.
- You can also add a Piano, Saxophone, Harmonica (for a Blues-feeling), Banjo even. But be aware that the addition of these instruments will change the feel and you'll lose the "Traditional" sound.
- Common guitar effects include Compression/Sustain, Overdrive and Echo/Delay. For the overdrive, keep it below the threshold of distortion. This is Rockabilly, not Hard Rock/Metal! :) For Echo/Delay, set the time between 100-200 ms and not more than a few repeats and have the first repeat to be about 75% of the original volume (for the "slapback" echo). Try to use echo instead of delay, as echo effects "roll off" some of the high-end tone for a more vintage sound. Don't use Reverb, as this will make it sound like Surf music.
- For Lead Guitar, an electric with single-coil pickups are the most common. The most commonly used electric guitars are Gretsch hollow body models with DeArmond pickups and a Bigsby, Fender Telecasters, Gibson or Epiphone Les Pauls and ES-*** models with P90 pickups. Seldom used are guitars with humbuckers. But... keep in mind that Brian Setzer used a Gretsch 6120 with Filtertron humbuckers and has a hell of a sound. Almost any guitar with single-coil pickups will do, but try to get your hands on one of the listed guitars for Rockabilly. A Bigsby tailpiece will give you that vintage-style vibrato.
- When using "hiccups" in your singing, be aware that it's very easy to overdo it. In my opinion, excess "hiccups" can ruin a good song. It's your song, but just something to consider.
Things You'll Need
At the very least a Rhythm Guitarist/Singer, Upright Bassist and Lead Guitarist. Or, Guitarist, Upright Bassist and Drummer.
A Rockabilly quartet consists of: Rhythm Guitarist/Singer, Lead Guitarist, Upright Bassist and Drummer.
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Date: 10.12.2018, 01:57 / Views: 75135