I had originally planned on part 2 of this topic to be totally different from what you will read below, but I received a lot of e-mail after people read "Creativity and Expression - Part 1" regarding the last example I wrote about (the story board concept). Many people wanted a more detailed explanation of how the idea can be applied to their (your) songwriting. So here is an exercise for you to do.
For this writing experiment, I strongly suggest to write an
instrumental piece of music (song with no words or singing). My reason for
this is simple, most writers rely to heavily on the lyrics of the song to
express the thoughts, feelings, emotions, story, etc. that is being
communicated. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the lyrics telling the
story, but I think its a lot more valuable if you can tell the same story
with the music alone. Then when you add the lyrics (if you add them at
all), the power and impact of the song will be much greater on the listener.
So let's focus this experiment only on the music and not on the lyrics. You
can always add lyrics later once you are done if you want to.
1. Choose your topic. Find a something that you want to express musically.
You can choose anything you want such as: a personal event, feeling, thought
etc. from your own life, or a story that you heard about or read about, or
you can create a fictional story, event, etc. to use. The key is to know
exactly what it is that you are going to be expressing before you begin to
even think about writing music. What the are the expressive goals? Why
have you chosen this topic to express in music?
2. Write it down. Once you have chosen your topic, write it down on paper
in your own words in a few paragraphs. You will be coming back to this
written description of your topic over and over again as you are writing the
music, so keep this close by you when you are working. Describe (in
writing) the events, feelings, thoughts, the people, places or things
involved, etc. Remember what your expressive goals are?
3. Divide into sections. Divide story/topic into sections. The number of
sections will vary depending on many factors that are all based on your
story. For most songs, 3-8 sections are typical but more less are possible.
The sections of your story/topic will determine the number of musical
sections of your song, so think about this carefully. Number each section.
4. The 7 basic elements of music. Make a list of the 7 basic elements of
music. Then think about how each musical element (rhythm, harmony, melody,
texture, form, timbre, dynamics,) can best be used to express your
expressive goals (your story/topic) into music. Really think about each
element, don't just rush through this step. Write down your ideas about
each on the same paper that you prepared in step 2.
5. Climax. Think about where the climatic points in your topic/story are.
Which section is the main climatic point in? At specifically what point in
that section is the climax located (beginning, middle, end. etc.) It may be
a good idea for you to compose the climatic point first even if it's the
middle or end of the story. If you know where you are going, its going to
be a lot easier for you to get there. In most stores, parts before the
climax build up to the climax and parts after the climax generally move away
from it. In other words, what happens before the climax usually create
tension and what happens after the climax usually create resolution of all
the built up tension. Of course not all stories or music follow this
pattern, but often times it does. Write down your ideas about each on the
same paper that you prepared in step 2.
Now that you have all of this down on paper, you are ready to begin
writing the actual music for your song/composition. As you are writing the
music, go back to your original ideas that you wrote down on paper in steps
2-5. Are you following your original ideas or have you begun to evolve away
from them as are writing the music? It's common for me to sometimes get
away from my original intentions once I am composing the music and have been
working on the piece for a while. Sometimes the result of changing the
plans work out to be even better than the original, but sometimes it is a
failure and I go back to the original concepts and rework the music to
better fit my intentions. For the purpose of learning this way of writing
music, I encourage you to stick with your original plans for now no matter
what. After you fell more comfortable with writing/expressing yourself in
this way then certainly you can evolve out of of this compositional style
when it best suits your own needs.
As always, readers are welcome to e-mail me.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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