Deconstruction of an original song

I wanted to deconstruct an original song I just finished- give a little background on how I went about it, tools used etc., in hopes that I can inspire and motivate a few of you to venture out of your comfort zones and attempt to write songs utilizing the bass. I think I am the ideal candidate because I am a very mediocre bass player. In fact I have not even completed the course yet! There is nothing really special about this song, but I am proud of how it turned out. (compared to some of my earlier efforts)

This song started completely with just the chorus bass part. It’s just a little riff I came up with many months ago and often just play it out of habit when I first plug in either at home or in a rehearsal space to set levels. It kind of follows a pattern I seem to gravitate towards: I play a series of maybe 4 or 5 notes that I like the sound of, and then the 2nd time I run through it, when I get to the last note, I play something slightly different. (never know why, just something I have always done) Several months ago, I am watching an interview with Sting and I am paraphrasing here, but he says something that kind of rings a bell: in music you want to try and surprise the listener, so when you play a series of notes or chords, when you get to certain part where the brain is expecting to hear something, if you change it to something else it can be really effective. I heard that and thought, wow, on a very miniscule level that’s kind of what I end up trying to do. (of course having no idea what I am doing). So in this case, I had this little riff for quite some time- and then once I decided to write a song, I realized it did not feel like a verse. It was shorter, so I tried to come up with a simple repeating part that could be a verse, and then utilize that older riff as the chorus parts. To this day, I have no clue how to write a bridge! Just about every song I listen to now, when it goes to the bridge, that part just jumps out at me and I marvel at how it fits, and then the way they usually transition back into the verse again. (or is it chorus, I am not sure) But I digress.

The other thing about working with riffs: once you have come up with a repeating pattern that you are digging, I always try playing that same riff with several different drum tracks. Sometimes reggae, surf, metal, punk, altering the tempos, adding pauses, doubling notes, etc. What typically happens when I do that is that I eventually find a drum track that just feels right.

I do want to mention vocals. I have never been a singer: at home, in church, in school, etc. (maybe the only time has been in the car singing along) But within the last couple of years, I started to get out of my comfort zone and started to try singing. Just a little back up vocals with my cover band on a few songs and then eventually practiced enough to sing lead and play bass at the same time on one song. (but only that one song!) But as far as trying to sing anything original, its been tough. I have no idea of melody. It is just a mystery that someone can hear a track with instrumentals and come up with something cool vocally that magically seems to work.

So I stumbled upon a youtube tutorial where a guy was explaining how he comes up with vocals. He just hits the record button and plays a section of his track over and over, just initially making sounds or non sensical words. Basically not being afraid to fail and attempting a lot of different directions. Eventually something starts making sense, and you are able build off those parts that are working. Surprisingly, this approach has worked for me. I record my simple bass parts playing along to a drum track, and then start formulating words and phrasing. In this case, once I started hearing the right notes, I ended up singing about something that comes from my own experiences. My mother in law has advanced dementia and lives in a memory care facility. I am always struck that all these individuals used to be someone, and now they are just reduced to something that is no longer them, just a part of their former selves. And nobody knows. There was a man there that used to sit slumped in a chair all day just making whistling noises. They called him captain. I learned later he used to be a Captain for American Airlines. Literally flew commercial planes, was in charge of protecting the souls of hundreds of people, most likely served his country as a pilot in the military. And now was just reduced to a shell of his former self. One time wife was visiting and a resident touched her arm, looked right into my wife’s eyes and said “Are we in hell?” (that ended up in the song) Anyway, enough about lyric inspiration.

Here is the initial version. It’s just bass playing along to a drum track. This specific drum track (and video) I borrowed from a youtube video. I practice quite a bit to this track, just because I love the energy and vibe. On this initial version, I am also singing (temporary) repeating lyrics. I posted this version to the website site in hopes of attracting a guitarist to add a track. If you are not familiar with it, you can add tracks to other users partially completed songs, or you can post your song and request something specific. In some cases your song can sit forever and get no responses- or if someone out there likes it and is inspired, they will upload a track for you to review and decide if you want to keep it. So here was the track:

Thankfully a guitarist from Germany liked it- he said it reminded him of post punk from the 80s so created a guitar track and uploaded it. I was totally expecting him to just play distorted rhythm guitar, just matching my bass. That would have been cool- but what he came up with instead was something far more creative and subdued. That brings me to another point: If you start creating from scratch, other people can start adding to it and sometimes it becomes something on a complete different level than you ever imagined. It that power of collaboration!

Once I heard what he had recorded, it motivated me to do more with it. I have a VERY rudimentary experience with guitar- I know maybe 4 or 5, two finger power chords. But I was able to approximate something that I liked, and added some distorted guitar in a few places. I also was not crazy about my vocals on their own, and wanted to hear what an actual singer might do with background and a little harmony. So I enlisted and hired a singer to add a track for a nominal fee. If you are not familiar with Fiver, you can find free-lancers of all sort, with rates often starting at $10 or $15.

I am a video editor by trade, so the last thing I did was to request videos from everyone- and then mucked up the visuals so that all the cuts have some uniformity.

So here is the final version:

So in conclusion to this lengthy post: if you don’t think you can do it but you have an interest in creating: just start with a simple bass riff, just a repeating pattern of notes that you like. Play that pattern 4 times to a drum track, and then come up with a 2nd pattern idea and play that one twice. You have just written a verse and chorus! Just play those 2 repeating patterns. If you are locked in with the drum pattern, you will be surprised to hear little drum fills and changes at the point that you are changing between verse/chorus patterns as well since the timing of songs seem to be in even numbers. (repeats 4 times, or 2 times or 8 times, etc)

Even if all you do is write and record riffs, I think it is excellent practice to then play those riffs with different drums and later your riff to fit. But of course, if you want to take it further, get out there and find collaborators! Your basic efforts can turn into a song with the help of others.


Nice. Lots of details on your process, that’s awesome. And a fun result. Good job and thanks for sharing.


Very cool. Thanks for sharing and breaking down your experience in such a clear way, it was a lot to read but all felt like good stuff, and a fun result!