A constant balancing of spontaneity and deliberate analysis: That’s the paradoxical challenge throughout
the entire process of writing and recording music. That balancing act comes into play from the very start of a new piece.
It’s usually best for us to complete the entire composition stage of our project on a single instrument
of our choice. Guitar or Piano are the most common instruments songwriters/composers use. By staying with the
one instrument, we’re forcing ourselves to actually Write the song, compose the piece of music. We aren’t
jumping ahead to orchestration, to the arrangement. I feel the discipline of writing a bonafide stand-alone piece of
music this way first, only makes the later more fleshed-out version all the more strong.
Caveat: Some forms of modern pop music are often arrived at from setting up a few simple “grooves”
and the writer improvises to looped playbacks of these grooves. Fine. I’m talking about music which isn’t
groove based, which is more traditional in its theory and construction. This isn’t to say that some amount of
improvising over a repeating pattern can’t be part of the process.
I used to work on songs at an acoustic piano with the aim of being able to play them straight through from start
to finish. Now that I’ve used sequencers and computers for so long, those days are Long gone. It’s
Nice to be able to play things we’ve written in this traditional linear way, but it is not at All necessary. The
things I write now are arrived at in pieces, and I never stop to learn how to play the entire thing in Real Time because there’s
no need. I’m only concerned with the computer being able to play back a cohesive piece of music.
The initial material on which a musical piece is based can only be arrived at spontaneously. We allow ourselves
to improvise with as little self-editing as possible. We let a series of notes play in our head, we hum them, we sing
them, and/or we plunk them out on an instrument.
When a musical phrase is insistent enough, we move to our instrument of choice if we’re not already there,
and start playing the phrase over and over. A logical second phrase often presents itself almost immediately.
Maybe its the first phrase played backwards (retrograde) or based on a literal retrograde pattern. Maybe it’s
a phrase that continues the first musical phrase up higher on the scale. Whatever the case may be, it answers the first
phrase, it completes it.
Maybe a long phrase has been arrived at this way, possibly what will become the chorus or verse of a song. However,
these sections are often very short, one or two measures. After hearing Western music all our lives (not “Country
and Western”-I mean Western as opposed to Eastern music which uses different scales and a different musical sensibility)—we
tend to think in terms of 8 measure phrases, because most of what we’ve heard is structured like that. That’s
fine. If we find that we’re coming up with phrases shorter or longer—no worries. The farther away
from pop genres we go, the less likely that we’ll need to concern ourselves about adhering to expected structures.
To take a universally well known body of work in the popular music genre, the vast majority of what The Beatles
wrote was in a simple and strict structure of several 8 bar patterns. They were still writing in the same “Tin
Pan Alley” formats that had been around for decades, even in their latter more experimental sounding songs. Country
and Western music of the present day tends to still adhere to these predictable patterns.
But music of every genre has opened up greatly in recent times, to the point that I don’t feel we need
to concern ourselves whether or not we’re sticking to 8 bar patterns, 12 bar patterns etc. I write what I want
without a worry in this area, and so find myself coming up with 7 bar patterns, 19 bar patterns etc.