I Need to Write Something

I’ve been focusing too much in one area. Doing the “work” work because it’s easier and it’s new and refreshing. But what I really need today is to write some music. Maybe even just work on something I haven’t finished yet. I feel like I haven’t been creative in weeks. I’ve been busy, sure. And I’ve been making great things happen. But I haven’t made music. It’s been too long.

If I think about it, I’m wrong. I wrote a song recently. It wasn’t great, but it was fast and dirty. And thinking more, I’ve started a few more. So in the past month I’ve probably written (started more like it) 4 songs. That’s way down for me. I typically start (and usually finish a draft version) once every day or two. And I’ve only done 4 this month. Ugh. I feel dirty. Like the grime of life is mucking up my talent. Maybe that’s why I’ve been taking so many showers? Who knows. I’m maybe mixing metaphors.

I’m not like the typical musician. I don’t pick up an instrument and let the music flow out of me. I don’t get inspired very often. And when I do, it’s never as easy as playing the guitar while I belt out an awesome song that is 10% away from simple perfection. I get an idea and I sit down at my computer, turn on Sibelius, meticulously build my staves and choose my instruments, work out tempo, rhythm and time signature, edit the meta data and note by note enter the main melody and/or chord progression. The first pass at the shape of the song begins to take form about 1-2 hours after I have the idea. In short, it is work. Every single time it is work. There’s a rhythm to it definitely, but it is work.

It’s like carving a sculpture out of granite. You make a stroke, take a step back and see how it fits in the grand scheme and make another stroke only to begin again. My music is like that. I hear it in my head then put the notes down and listen for accuracy. I’m pretty good at being able to “see” the music, but I still check every measure. It is an arduous and meticulous process. As an example, my Main Titles Track (above) has 16 staves. Each measure of each staff has an average of 8 notes. And there is 99 measures. That’s 12,672 individual notes that I input one at a time. And that’s not even including the articulations, dynamics, expression or any of the other modifiers I use.  You begin to get a picture of the work that goes in to these tracks. It’s work. This song in particular, I had bursts of inspiration. It was relatively “easy”, meaning that every time I sat down I knew what I wanted and all I had to do was work it out and get it on the page. Still, this song took me a week to write and 2 months to mix. And that’s a song that was relatively easy, albeit a large song on a very large scale. This one is pretty deep.

A few measures from Main Titles

Some tracks are much faster and some take even longer. But the point that I’m making is that it is always work. Even when I rock through it in two days, it’s an exercise in focus and persistence. The song below took me 2 days to compose and mix. There was only 5 staves on that one. Logically, it should have taken me 1/3 the time as the other track, but it took me less than 3% of the time. Why? The answer is that adding an instrument adds a multitude of new considerations. The song below is just brass: Trumpets, French Horn, Tombone and Tube, all with similar tone qualities. I loathe to say that this makes it easier, but composing for 1 instrument group is definitely less intricate work than arranging 4 different instrument groups. Even so, there is much to consider.

I suppose my summation of today’s thoughts is this: music is a muscle that I flex and when I use it less it atrophies, as would any muscle.

I promised this blog would be layperson friendly, so here are some definitions written without the aid of a textbook.

  • Measure: a unit of music consisting of several beats. If you listen to a song, and count along, eg 1-2-3-4, the 1 is the start of a new measure.
  • Staff: (pl staves) a system of separating different instruments. It’s typical use is 1 per instrument (2 for piano and select other instrument). A staff consists of many measures.
  • Articulation: how a note is played. Short, long, hard, soft. There are many types of articulations, some specific to each instrument type.\
  • Dynamics: how loudly a note is played. Loud or quiet. Especially in contrast to other instruments.
  • Expression: how a phrase is played. This is harder to break down in words, but if you listen to a song, you may feel a certain way, sad or energetic, this is largely due to the expression. Perhaps a phrase gets louder and then softer, or it continues to diminish into nothing.
  • Tempo: how quick a song is. Fast or slow.
  • Rhythm: The way the note are played in relation to the time signature. Are they played on the downbeat of off? Is it quick quick slow or slow slow slow slow? The easiest instrument to hear rhythm is the drums. It is the music without the tones.
  • Time Signature: how the song is counted. 1-2-3, 1-2-3 OR 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, OR even 1-2-3-4-5-6. The time signature is very important in determining how a song will feel.

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