Blogs » On Another Note » Rock and Roll 101 (Part 2)


The Inner Musician

Where do you get all those songs? That's kind of a hard question to answer. It's sort of like telling a comedian to "be funny" on the spot. Some can do it, some can't. But there are ways that the songs come. It does take work on your part...

1. Listen, Listen, Listen. As a musician, I hear music all the time. I've done it since I was a child. It's also the reasoning behind last 101's "homework". There is a reason why music is such a big part of people's lives. What's a movie without a soundtrack? What's a wedding without a first dance? What about all those mixtapes made in high school? I can hear a song from the early ninties and instantly be transplanted to a cold winter night, sitting downtown watching the skateboarders, listening to punk rock, and being what Victoria called a public menace.
You do it too, you may not even realize it. The song you listen too in the morning to wake up, the CD you play on the way to work. The playlist you have downloaded on your MP3 player if you are so lucky to have one these days... they all make up your personal tastes.
And that's the point... you need to listen to music past, present, and indie. The past so you will always remember what made the songs you like so awesome, the present so that you know what's going on in music nowadays, and the independant because we all know that most of the time what America considers "Top 40" is about 25 too many bad songs now.

2.Getting into the groove. A lot of writers tell each other to write every day, even when you have nothing to say. I'm not so sure it works for songwriters that way. As a musician... yes you should practice every day. It builds technique and your style (all players have one). As a kid, I never really liked lessons, I liked to peck at the piano myself for the sheer joy of it. My piano teacher used to give me these complicated pieces of sheet music that was boring, I really much rather preferred to play a note over and over on the piano, sometimes when I taught myself something that my teacher hadn't shown me yet, I was estatic. Was my way better? I'm not sure, I dropped piano lessons before the first year was even up, however I am still playing the piano years and years later, I've written and recorded two solo albums worth of original music with just me and piano... and I can't really say that any of those other kids taking lessons back then from that teacher are doing much with music nowadays.
My best advice I can give you is to find a teacher that shares your ideas and passion. My first guitar player for example, played in an underground band, took a zen approach to guitar playing, and taught with patience and praise, we are still friends to this day, I would still take lessons from him to this day, simply because this student could never surpass the master. I was sad to see him move away.
As a songwriter though, I'm not sure you shold "force" the music out. When I have music writer's block, I can sometimes spend days on the piano, trying different chords. I do that because you can almost make anything sound pretty on piano. Even an untrained musician can play a note on the piano and be happy with it. (Back to the listen, listen, listen thing)After a few chord progressions, maybe noddling around on a guitar, melodies sometimes just happen. When they do, write them down, I keep a notebook by my side when I noodle around on an instrument, and write real simple music notation for myself... it's not uncommon for you to see...Am, C, D, Am (left hand), C,E,F (right hand) or something to that effect, come up with your own code to remember stuff it helps. You have to write down your songs until they are yours in your head forever, songs dissapear like ghosts sometimes.
If you still have trouble with songs, try picking up an instrument you're not so familliar with, an a minor on a guitar sounds much different from an a minor on a piano. It works other ways too, play slow saongs fast and fast songs slow, a littel variety can really get the juices flowing.

3.Do it, but do it for yourself... I've written tons of songs in my life, but all of my most personal favorites come from experience.
My most favorite album of all time was when I was in an "emo" project called "The Love Letter" called "Cupid Hate Me". It was recorded in my living room with a digital recorder. We could have spent money to record it, but I wanted to make hundreds of copies and give it away free. You see, I wrote the whole album for my wife before we even started dating. I knew I was going to love her no matter what. It is filled with some of the most heartfelt things I could have evr said. In this case the message I had at this time was more important than turning over a profit... did it work? Well a few months after the CD hit local shows, a guy came up to me and told me my CD inspired him to stop his ex fiance's wedding to another man. (wow) I've also had people tell me they listen to that CD to sleep to, to mate to, and well.. just about everything else. Don't forget the fact that the girl those songs are written for is now my wife... so yeah, I think it is a success.

There's other songs... "Lonliness Disease" was written with my band "Broken Halo" we were going to break up that night because I was going through this emotional slump (hey I'm a musician we all got major issues in the brain) before we broke up, my guitar player at the time played this riff. in the 4th chord change, it felt exactly like I felt inside... the words came like hypno therapy... the recording sounds like I'm almost crying... every time we played that song, we felt it in the 4th chord, and we were in tune, we broke up later for other reasons, but that song kept us together longer than it should have.

"Heartshaped Box" was written by the Madagain Saints. It's about the box of momentos you keep of all your past relationships. When I met my wife, I threw all that junk away, pictures, conert tickets, letter, things that I had seen and done. My guitarist was in transition of relationships and kept a box too. We had a long talk about the things people keep. I wished I hadn't thrown mine out nowadays. I don't miss dating at all. But it reminds me of all the bad mistakes and broken hearts I have had to make me the person I am now. It makes me a better hudband, better musician and person.

I could write forever, but you're probably getting tired of my rambling... until next time...