Dr. Smitchens Discusses Song Structure And Merges Music And Morse Code

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Morse Code Letters

Welcome to another installment in this apparent ongoing series I’ve just sort of adopted on the art of composing with precise restrictions. Currently this is the third article on this topic so if you haven’t read the previous handicap articles yet you may find them of interest. Or you may hate them and begrudge me for wasting your time. Far be it for me to speak on behalf of everyone else’s perceptions of my works.

Part 1

Part 2

Song structure.

Have you ever listened to a song that sounded as aimless as it gets? You know. A song that sounds more like a storage bank for various ideas than it does something that’s going somewhere? Before I get to carried away it’s worth mentioning that there are a number of factors that contribute to that issue, but for the sake of content I’m going to focus on one aspect. The structure of a song.

Song structure is probably the easiest concern to alleviate. Near as I can tell people don’t copyright the ordering of sections in a song, so most of the time no one is going to notice or even care if you adopt the organization of riffs and passages to a T like some other song from some other band. In fact if you’ve ever heard a song on the radio you’ve heard a rehashed song structure. Most songs on the radio follow a specific format.

For the most part this isn’t really an authentic handicap as it is just me pointing out an option. There are a ton of bands out there that use and experiment with a variety of different structures from the Beatles to the Who. Dream Theater, Pink Floyd. Song structure is very important, but it’s not a remotely challenging hurdle to overcome. The only real handicap is to pick a structure and stick with it.

Morse code.

Morse Code Letters
Click to Enlarge

Now for a more experimental idea. I’ve been sitting on this idea for a while now and it seems like as good of a place as any to spill these beans.

Morse code by nature is a rhythmic language. The only difference here is that it’s rhythmic with light. We’re going to turn that into sound. All you need is a note and whatever note is half the duration (half note and a quarter note, quarter and an eighth note, you get the idea). In essence this is categorically like the notational limitations mentioned in the first handicap article.

The only thing you have to do is pick words, write them out in morse code, then assign the notation of your choice and start playing. The tones you choose to play are up to you. You can keep it simple as a droning rhythm or you can use it as the basis of your melody’s rhythm, or just keep it some lick to throw in and out of a solo. The creative options are as limiting as the dictionary.

For my own demonstration I’m going to use the words butt, head, and man. Not high on maturity, I know, but I seldom get accused of being mature. In fact as I’m writing this (with the piece already recorded) I can’t help but to shake my head at my own actions. But I digress.

Easing back to the discussion about structure I’ve attempted to demonstrate the merging the two topics into one audio demonstration. The structure isn’t complicated in any size shape and form and can be chalked up to verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro (some people assign letters to song sections, A-B-A-B-C. I don’t for whatever reason). The rhythm for each section is also based on each word in morse code so the structure can also be laid out as butt-head-butt-head-man.

And I can’t believe I wrote that. Man I’m dumb.

Anyway, here’s my little demonstration and for good measure we’ve included a morse code translation. If any of you readers actually try this and record it please send me an email. I’d love to hear what others might come up with.

Jameson’s Personal Theme Song by The Smitchens

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Kyle Smitchens

Kyle Smitchens is the Guitar-Muse Managing Editor, super hero extraordinaire, and all around great guy. He has been playing guitar since his late teens and writing personal biographies almost as long. An appreciator of all music, his biggest influences include Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Vai, Therion, and Jon Levasseur of Cryptopsy.

There are 2 comments

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    I dig the Morse code idea–could be used as a scheme for lots of other things as well, not just rhythms. Thanks, Smitch–this got me thinking.

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