February 4, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

I used to play guitar for a young songwriter in Tucson. She didn't know anything about song structure. But she wrote cool lines. She also never took guitar lessons, and didn't know any standard chords, or music theory. She made up her own chords, which were cool. I always wondered how she thought of all those weird, cool ideas. Of course, I would use my knowledge of music to give her songs structure and polish, which (I think) she was grateful for.

My songwriting mentor told me that I'm "too smart for my own good" and I need to use "more heart, less brain". I didn't know what he was talking about. Now I think I do. Because I've been such a huge music lover all my life, listened to so much music, learned how to play the guitar and a little piano, I understand the components of a song, musically and lyrically. When I go to compose a song, from the very start, I'm thinking about all those components, and how to frame what I want to say within the structure of a song.

I also noticed from my own experience, as well as that of other songwriters, that, once you've written your first batch of songs you consider good, it's harder to write the next batch. You've set the bar at a high level, and you feel the pressure to exceed that level.

I know two English teachers. They have a hard time writing. They know too much. Their standards are high.

It seems so unfair that the people who love literature the most, have the hardest time writing it, and the people who love music the most, have the hardest time writing songs!

So I think at need to find a way to pretend that I'm ignorant of music. At least at the beginning stages of the song.

I have an idea: when starting a song, I'll write the poem first. By "poem", I don't know mean a real poem, well-thought-out, edited with craft; I mean, just write lines with rhythm, but no rhyme or structure. Since I don't have any poetry craft, that will guarantee that I'll just write simple, crude, primitive stuff, purely from the heart. Then I can use my songwriting craft to convert it to song lines, give it structure, and pretty it up with similes, metaphors, imagery and detail.

Well, that's the strategy I'm going to try next. Who knows if it will work? But worth a shot.



Tom said...

That's an interesting idea Rob. Will you just do that with the words? Will you try improvising musical ideas in the same way as well, or leave the music for the 'craft' part afterwards?


Rob Roper said...

That's a good question, Tom. I can't pretend I don't know chords and basic music theory. However, lately I've been playing around in the DADGAD tuning. I'm just figuring out chords in that tuning, so I'm a beginner there. I've got some music ideas in that tuning, and hope to get some lyrical ideas for them one of these days.