Friday, July 24, 2009

Songwriting

Simple music; great music

I was talking with a coworker a few weeks ago about music--we're both NIN fans--and he asked if I played anything. I mentioned I bought a guitar last year and was learning some basic chords and a few songs I liked. He said to make sure I don't just play songs I like from other artists but to actually write my own stuff, too. As we got talking I found out he played bass and had toured with some bands, one was Blind Melon (or what's left of the band).

This last week I've had free time and I've been playing around with my guitar a lot. I love just sitting down and playing, be it just a sequence of power chords or the intro to Hey There, Delilah. I'm sure no one within listening range feels the same; I'm not very good. I do enjoy it though.

I've been playing around and found some basic power chord riffs I really like. Listening to The White Stripes I've noticed that a lot of the stuff played by Jack White isn't incredibly complicated--the song Fell In Love With A Girl is played on only two strings using the perfect fifth of the power chords. What I'm saying is he uses two fingers and they're always in the same position, they just shift up and down the guitar. It's nothing like Eric Clapton's guitar work.

So, I'm playing around with power chords and seeing what I could come up with. I've found that I can't write lyrics at all, largely because I don't know the first thing about the process. I have this vision in my head that songwriters--just like authors and musicians and poets and anyone in a creative, artistic profession--get moments of inspiration, when a muse speaks to them and they hear the entire song or see the entire book laid out in front of them, and all they do is make it tangible. While there may be times when it does work like this, I believe almost every great work of music, of literature, of art in general comes from days and weeks and months and years of labor working to perfect it; to find that one word to finish the sentence or the sentence to finish the paragraph or the note to finish the measure.

The more you learn about something and the more skilled you become, the more patient I think you're able to be with it, because you know the outcome takes time. This is true with music, with science, and even with parenthood. In college I tutored math classes, and working with people who aren't familiar with math I find it interesting to see them expect the answer immediately or within a few steps, not knowing or wanting to go through the amount of work it can take to get to the answer sometimes. I'm sure artists think the same when they look at me and my expectations to be able to write a song in 20 minutes or a graphic in Adobe Photoshop in an hour. Painters can spend weeks on a painting, authors can spend years on a book, I can spend hours on a single math problem. I think it just comes down to knowing the process.

I think I'll take some time today and try and learn the songwriting process. At least get an idea of it.

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