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ICSE > ICSE Articles > Music and Movies > How to Write Music and Where to Begin

How to Write Music and Where to Begin

Despite my somewhat underwhelming reputation in the music business, I have been asked on occasion – usually by woefully uninformed novices – how to write music. Wow, this is kind of a heavy topic, I mean so many ways to address it. In order to save you from the unintelligible ramblings of someone who is not the most brilliant music theoreticians, I will skillfully side-step the technical aspects and move into the more esoteric aspects of writing good music.

Why are guys like Lennon and McCartney, Page and Plant and Sir Elton and Bernie Taupin so successful? I find that it’s because you have in these relationships the consummate lyricist and the consummate musician existing side-by-side. If Morrison was the poet, then Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore were the guys who set that poetry to music and they would not have been The Doors without that combination. It helps to know what you’re stronger in. I, for example have worked with pretty fair lyricists and some good musicians, and I find that I definitely fit in the lyricist category. I once heard The Edge of U2 comment that most of their songs were written on one string. That’s my philosophy, and I’m not being entirely facetious in that. I can see the logic that a “music” writer goes through in developing a song, but for the life of me, I have not been able to replicate that in my own dabblings. Realizing your own limitations is half the battle. There are some extraordinary people who are capable of writing both music and lyrics, but these are few and far between (and what is “… the pompitous of love” anyway). Find what you are good at and make that, either writing music or lyrics, your primary mission. That’s not to say that you should not do both, at least as an exercise in perspective. I think it’s extremely valuable to stretch yourself on a personal and professional basis, but it’s my opinion that you stand a better chance of scoring success long term by finding a philosophical Yin to your Yang. And it need not be only one person either. Many successful songs have been written as part of a group effort.

Once you’ve found your niche, it’s important to have a process in place for you to be productive. When I first realized that I would have to get a real job to put food on the table after college, I went into the information technology field. Now anyone who has worked in this area knows that they are really big on developing repeatable processes so that once they’ve successfully done something, they can keep going back to do it the same way. As an artist at heart, I rebelled against this notion. “It thwarts the creativity process,” I railed. Well, turns out that they may have been on to something. While having things too tightly structured may be a hindrance to creativity, having a set way of going about songwriting in general may be a great help. For example, let’s say you are a California band and you really want to emulate the Eagles, so you go into the studio with the mindset that you’re going to write a Southern rock song in 4/4 time only using this standard set of chords. Chances are, you’re going to be a pretty boring band. But, if you go into it saying, this is the style of music I feel comfortable with, we’re going to come in every day at 8:00 a.m., whether we feel like it or not, write until lunchtime, whether what we write is any good or not, and then after lunch write for a couple of more hours. By building that habit of writing at a certain time, for a certain amount of time, you’re creating a process that will produce consistently good songs with some flashes of brilliance. The reason is not because the process itself makes you any better, but it does produce a considerable amount of work that lets you get your ideas down on paper. Later you can separate the wheat from the chaff, and you won’t feel rushed to turn out a masterpiece in a day to fill in that last spot on the CD.

That in a nutshell is what I tell those who ask me for advice on writing music. When I reflect on what else I could have told them I keep coming back to the same conclusion, that if I had gotten down to the nuts and bolts of lyricism and musical structure, it really would not have helped much. All of the knowledge in the world will not help you if you do not have that spark. There’s a certain intuitiveness to songwriting that no one can teach. It’s the same reason that I don’t write music very well. I know chords, scales, structure and theory, but putting it all together escapes me. So I putter along and if I come up with an interesting progression, I go to my friend Steve and he takes it and runs with it. When he’s done, he gives the finished product back to me and I add the lyrics. It’s a system that works well, and although we’ll never be famous, we have fun, because each of us knows our unique gift, and we’ve learned how to use them together.

About The Author

Kenny Auyoung: Webmaster@GetMeABand.com - Looking for a band? Search through thousands of musician’s profiles to find the right band members in your local area. Find musicians, start a band, and play music - http://www.getmeaband.com

Date Posted: May 17, 2007

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