"It’s a message from our subconscious, a place far beyond the capabilities of our analytic brains. . . So, when you start writing a song, treat it like a lover you are trying to seduce, a stranger who you are infatuated with and must learn everything about. Take your song to different places, meet with it at different times of day. Invite your song along to a wide variety of experiences. Stay curious about it."
I’m helping someone write their first song.
She’s a fairly new student and we’ve already had tears and laughter and witchy wu-wu moments together in our lessons. She’s healing some vocal pressure and tension that runs deep, related to a neck injury and some severe anxiety.
Amazingly, as unique as her particular story is, this isn’t an uncommon story line for the people who come to me for music lessons.
Vocal work and musical creativity are healing arts. They can open a portal to the hidden layers of our bodies and souls. I wasn’t surprised to find that we were going to be exploring more than the technical work of freeing the physical voice.
I had a feeling that she might enjoy songwriting. She has a creative mind and naturally collects and creates ideas and impressions. She had written little song snippets before, mostly as jokey jingles she’d sing to her dogs in the kitchen. I believe that if you can write a song snippet- any piece of a song- you can develop it into a song with some basic knowledge of song structure.
I suggested she try to write a whole song.
She took off with it. She started writing song snippets to process deeper and sometimes difficult emotions. I showed her the beautifully concise and precise structure of songs. She began to see how the snippets she was writing could come together to form a whole song.
She even found an app to help her play with a chord progression for the song.
We’re slowly exploring what this song will turn out to be.
I joked with her that she was having her first song baby, and I was the midwife.
We have a first version of the song, but there are still plenty of mysteries to solve.
What will the feel and tempo turn out to be? How will the different sections end up relating and transitioning into each other? What chords match with her melody? Does the melody in this section go up or down? Where does this song start, and where does it end, in terms of the key? Does it modulate?
What does the map of this song look like?
I started helping map out the chords and connect the melodies of the different sections together. My student, understandably, got super excited and for a moment wanted all the answers at once. Does this chord work here? What note do I start on? Is this the right chord for this section?
I thought about my grandfather, who wrote songs during the golden age of Hollywood. He wrote completely by ear. He’d literally dream an idea. He’d spend a year slowing drawing the song out of his imagination and into the piano keys. Then he’d take it down to the club where Nat King Cole was playing and ask him to take a look. The great musicians of that era appreciated my grandfather’s music because he was writing outside of convention, from a dream, with total surrender to imagination and creativity.
The structural and mathematic elements of songwriting are helpful when finishing a song. There is a strong mathematical component to music, which is why many musicians become doctors.
I believe that the most important function of a song is the mystery of its depths.
When we write a song, we don’t always understand where it’s coming from, or the story it’s trying to tell.
It’s a message from our subconscious, a place far beyond the capabilities of our analytic brains.
A song is a dream, the spontaneous energy of laughter or sobbing, the timeless quality of intimate pleasure.
When you start writing a song, treat her like a lover you are trying to seduce, a stranger who you are infatuated with and must learn everything about. Take her to different places, meet with her at different times of day. Invite her along to a wide variety of experiences. Stay curious about her. Let her glow with mystery before you try to figure out exactly what might be going on beneath the surface. Long for her form before you touch the shape of her body.
After all, chemistry requires a bit of mystery, the deliciously uneasy thrill of not knowing.
Eventually you’ll discover all of her secrets, but it might take years. Just when you think you know her, she’ll reveal something you didn’t know.
A song in progress. . .