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Songwriting And The Muse


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Many years ago I defined myself as a musician/singer/songwriter/composer, even though I made my living in engineering. At the time, I had a second chance at "true love" which I purposely let slip away, and a friend from Wales who always took time to listen to my latest piece, whether it be over the phone or in my studio.

Then came years of church ministry, where my writing changed to a simpler diatonic approach for the congregation (audience).

Many years later, I find myself wanting to write, but I lack inspiration. I have the equipment and the means to acquire more. I have some talent and the time to practice. What I don't have these days is a muse. What I don't have is that tearing sorrow/pain that kept me grounded/connected to my emotions.

Anyone have a spare muse they're willing to loan out?

Anyone been in the same space as me who's managed to grasp that elusive spark and nurture it?

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Hey

I've gone through phases where i've struggled for inspiration. Usually when busy and proccupied or when I have just come out such a period.

For me I find it is an issue with giving myself over to my emotions. Expressing my emotions yes, but first you have to be open to them to experess them. Once I can give myself over to them I find I start having more emotional reactions to things, and that is the trigger for the muse. The bfact that i am once again considering How I feel about things opens the door.

Once the door is open, scan a newspaper but take time to consider how you feel about the topics, what they mean or meant to you.

You can try writing whatever comes to mind, prose, poem lyric or music and explore the emotion. I quite often find listening to a very emotive piece of music, one I know I will have an emotional reaction to can help get me going.

Music is about communication of meaning but more than anything the communication of emotion and feeling. As we lose the need to push causes that we often feel passionate about in our youth inspiration suffers as we lack purpose. We overly filter and over qualify what we write. The thing is we spend years learning how not to be governed by our emotions, about controlling when and where we express them that it takes it's toll on our songwriting.

So, however you do it, you need to learn how to open Pandora's Box, look in and look around and close it over when you are finished.

I hope that helps! :)

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Thanks for the reply. You reinforced what I know to be fact -- emotions drive the creative juices.

I've spent too many years shutting myself off from feeling. Partly due to my profession, partly due to my fears. In any case, I'll keep plugging along until something breaks out into the open.

You're up late....

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.....just one quick thought to add here. Since you've written a lot in past years, rather than trying to coax new material out right away, why not start with a rewite or two? Pick a couple of older tunes that you feel like you could have done a bit more with, get those creative juices flowing again....and see where it takes you. Who knows.....it may be just a matter of getting yourself back into a creative state of mind?

Tom

Interesting that you say this.

I've pulled out an old guitar piece that I'm thinking of re-lyricing. Also considered re-recording a few of my earlier work since my studio is virtually completely different (including the space) from the old days.

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Thanks for the reply. You reinforced what I know to be fact -- emotions drive the creative juices.

I've spent too many years shutting myself off from feeling. Partly due to my profession, partly due to my fears. In any case, I'll keep plugging along until something breaks out into the open.

You're up late....

The trick is to re-open the door and still be able to close the door over. Top tip is to try meditating. I've no big axe to grind on a spiritual level. Mindfulness is a particularly useful form of meditation. It's not so much spiritual as about awareness. The useful thing in this circumstance is that it can be used to deal with both emotion and the opening and closing of emotions.

If that is too esoteric, try taking songs you like and re-writing them into completely new songs. We're not talking plagiarism, but inspiration and an exercise in using your imagination. You don't need to do anything with them. View it as an exercise and your imagination will flow more freely without the constraint of thinking others will see the works.

Cheers

John

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I think you should just write everyday - even if you don't feel inspired - because from writing inspiration often comes - Even if I start a session feeling like a depressed zombie, I can suddenly get an idea that excites me.

There are times when nothing happens - zilch. So then I just study great songs - try and understand what made them work so fantastically - I find this acts as its own form of inspiration - but I guess it depends on how ambitious and analytical you are - if this doesn't apply, then I guess you are better off waiting for the muse.

Though if you have an engineering background, you must have a love of form and pattern?

Edited by Dolce
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The trick is to re-open the door and still be able to close the door over. Top tip is to try meditating. I've no big axe to grind on a spiritual level. Mindfulness is a particularly useful form of meditation. It's not so much spiritual as about awareness. The useful thing in this circumstance is that it can be used to deal with both emotion and the opening and closing of emotions.

Cheers

John

John, I think you're right on the money here. I've trained myself to try to distill everything into shades of black and white, which isn't compatable with emotive pursuits.

Cho

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I think you should just write everyday - even if you don't feel inspired - because from writing inspiration often comes - Even if I start a session feeling like a depressed zombie, I can suddenly get an idea that excites me.

There are times when nothing happens - zilch. So then I just study great songs - try and understand what made them work so fantastically - I find this acts as its own form of inspiration - but I guess it depends on how ambitious and analytical you are - if this doesn't apply, then I guess you are better off waiting for the muse.

Though if you have an engineering background, you must have a love of form and pattern?

Oooh, what a great post!

Yes, writing everyday is recommended for novelists as well, but I keep setting my manuscript aside to pursue other avenues. On the up side, I pick up my guitar almost every day and noodle a bit, although it's tough sometimes to decompress. Weekends are better, in that I have more time to get back into the frame of mind.

Depressed Zombie -- name of a grunge band on prozac?

Yes, I have a love of form and pattern, but I despise the "repeat four times" found so often in mainstream rock. Another pattern I find boring is the Verse/Chorus/Verse/Bridge.... Sometimes it's better to let the music dictate form and pattern instead of trying to jam it into a box. Also, I grow tired of the same timbre throughout a song, and like to crossfade different voices.... So form and pattern have their uses, but mostly, it's just a set of rules to gently break IMO.

Cho

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  • 2 weeks later...

J,

Great suggestions. I especially like the hat trick. Good exercise.

The color stuff, however, may well be beyond me. Not that I'm color blind, but I can't draw worth spit. Caused some problems for me when I was studying Calculus. I can visualize, just can't get much of it on paper. I pretty much gave up on color by association.

As for the political examples...well, let's just say that I try to avoid that while in my studio. I don't like the direction my country seems to be heading, and I don't like to slander or write angry words.

Anyway, thanks again for your input.

Cho

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One clever-trick is to grab some short bit from a classical music tune. (If the guy who wrote it's been dead for a couple centuries, then you can be certain that it's in the public domain. Furthermore, if the guy who wrote it's been dead for a couple centuries and people are still listening to it, chances are it must be pretty good.)

You can also grab many public-domain pieces from a resource that's quite familiar to you: a church hymnal.

Okay ... select a short passage, almost any passage in fact, and ... "there's where you are going to start." You don't have to sit there, staring at the walls and waiting for inspiration to strike: your starting point is now right there in front of you.

"Okay, what next?" Aye, there's the rub, but now you are quite free to use experimentation. Make up six entirely different chord progressions that could be used to harmonize that phrase. Write them all down, one after the other, then pick the one you like. Now take the phrase and flip it end for end ("retrograde"). Flip it note-for-note upside down ("inversion"). Do both at once ("retrograde inversion"), then cut out the middle third and squash the two ends together. Keep everything, but then feel free to focus on (cut-n-paste...) whatever you like best so far.

Now... let me add a caveat. I'm using a computer throughout. The computer is "performing" whatever I come up with, so I don't have to be limited by my rather pathetic instrument skills. Neither do you. In any case, you can certainly use the computer to hammer-out something that you can subsequently attempt to play.

One of the best real-world examples of this kind of "improvising on a classical melody" is Barry Manilow's Could It Be Magic, which (according to my trusty WikiPedia) was based on Frédéric Chopin's Prelude in C Minor, Opus 28, Number 20. This particular piece deliberately begins and ends with an actual excerpt from that piece, but there are literally thousands of pop songs out there which are based on existing, classical, public-domain material. It will surely get you started.

The funny thing about this approach is ... even though you'll say that the piece was based on this-or-that classic, inevitably the song will be "entirely yours." It's just that, by starting with a fertile seed from a known-good source, your creativity has something to focus on.

Edited by MikeRobinson
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Good pointers, Mike.

I can see where this is an exercise in exploring the depths of what I already know, only putting it into different forms.

In a sence, it's quite similar (and parallel) to J's suggestions. Break up the familiar and explore from different settings/perspectives.

Thanks.

Cho

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Good pointers, Mike.

I can see where this is an exercise in exploring the depths of what I already know, only putting it into different forms.

In a sence, it's quite similar (and parallel) to J's suggestions. Break up the familiar and explore from different settings/perspectives.

Thanks.

Cho

Yeah, I think that the crux of the suggestion is simply, "start, and don't stop." When you were doing stuff for your congregation, you had a definite deadline. You certainly have quite a bag-of-tricks still at hand, which you used to get the job done. So, the only two things that are different now are:

  • (maybe) the source melody; and...
  • what modifications, enhancements, embellishments, instrumentations etc. that you feel that you are now able to put into the mix, given that you don't have to prepare it for an untutored congregation of ... ummmm, "enthusiastic" :001_unsure: ... singers! (Does God wear earmuffs?) ;)

Writers who cut their teeth at newspapers have sometimes been quoted as saying, in so many words, "the best writing tool I ever had was three o'clock."

Charles Schulz (Peanuts) often said the same thing: every day, he closed the door to his office and he took out a notepad and he doodled. Even if no ideas came that day, he doodled. Every day. After all, he couldn't have drawn 17,897 strips in his lifetime by waiting on a fairy. :eusa_think:

Edited by MikeRobinson
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Yeah, this is different from writing for guitar, bass, drums and choir.

Like your earmuff comment. Never noticed (thankfully).

Currently working on the last stages of rebuilding my studio, getting everything to play nicely together. I have tools I can fall back on, but this is opportunity to not fall behind technologically.

Appreciate your input and insight, Mike.

Cho

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Yeah, this is different from writing for guitar, bass, drums and choir.

Like your earmuff comment. Never noticed (thankfully).

Currently working on the last stages of rebuilding my studio, getting everything to play nicely together. I have tools I can fall back on, but this is opportunity to not fall behind technologically.

Appreciate your input and insight, Mike.

Cho

You're welcome. Looking forward to hearing some of your (past and future) work. Believe me, if you've been writing for years ... or even in your own mind "just arranging and orchestrating" ... for guitar, bass, drums, and a live choir, then futzing with the hardware in your own home studio ... :punchit:(ooh, I love the selection of avatars on this site!) ... is merely a technical distraction that has nothing to do with "the muse" and "creativity."

You did it, either as a vocation or as an avocation or both (which meant, "deadlines" and "the expectations of paying people (not to mention Higher Powers)"). And what is more, you did it in a context that involved "real people," not just electronics in your den.

I would seriously recommend that you take a serious look at MuseScore, unless you already happen to be using Sibelius or Finale, because I think that it is an excellent compositional tool. Plus, "it runs on everything." Although the emphasis of the tool is on music scoring, not performance, with a good SoundFont installed it sounds very well indeed. Certainly more than enough capability, and at no cost, to allow you to write something and to see how it will sound when performed in a live setting. Plus, you can do it while you're otherwise preoccupied by ... connecting wires in your studio ... y'know ... "just to see what happens." :scared: ... :vuur1:

:ilovemusic:

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Added to my favorites. Looks like you can import MIDI. Thanks for the tip.

I'm currently exploring Cubase and EZDrummer, but having problems getting EZD to output audio. The real issue is probably with Win7/32.... Doesn't support my Soundblaster cards and haven't found (not that I've looked) a sound card that actually runs in that environment.

This "futzing around" is exercising my subconcious, which is probably my primary writing tool. Participating on this forum, especially listening and critiquing some very good music is beneficial and a muse of sorts. I'm starting to have ideas again, and at times I'll stop what I'm doing and grab the guitar or fire up a keyboard. I'm also finding that I'm working late in the evening on this stuff. Didn't get to bed last night until 10:30pm, which is really late for me, as I get up at 3:20am pretty much every day.

Cho

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:blink: Hey, just in case, I didn't mean anything whatsoever negatively by my perhaps-careless choice of phrase, "futzing around" ... Let me cover that base right now just in case any offense could be taken.

Having said that ...

I recently re-watched the (very good) documentary, It Might Get Loud, and one thing that you notice from that movie is that, every single time Jack White is playing anything at all, he reaches over to his reel-to-reel recorder and switches it on. Every time he strikes a chord, the tape is rolling. And I presume that he never erases them.

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No offense taken. None at all.

The rolling tape is parallel to the notepad or sketchpad, depending on what you're trying to paint.

I spent all last night with my own sketch pad (engineering pad, guitar, mics), woke up this morning and before I had my first cup of coffee, I was back in the cockpit of my studio, working. I almost feel normal again.

Put EZD aside for a while. I ordered a soundcard (a Soundblaster product, but forgot the model) that's supposed to work with Win7/32 and Win7/64. I'll give EZD another try when it gets here. Should be tomorrow.

Also thinking of moving away from the stand alone recorder (Zoom) and going back to HD recording. Probably fewer moves that way.

Cho

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  • 3 months later...

I'm back.

Decided that talking about it isn't the same as doing it, so I backed off and crawled back inside myself and started to write again.

Found a snippet of verse I wrote back in '92 (or thereabouts) and began to build a work around it. Every time I picked up the guitar or sat at the keyboard, the same old crud came out. So I wrote a second version of the same tune. Still not happy.

But I kept at it, even though I felt that everything that came from my pen, flowed from my fingers, or poured out of my mouth was rehashed diatonic slime.

I moved my studio from the dining room to the living room. I spent thousands in equipment and software. I even picked up a bass guitar so I could fiddle with bass lines.

Regardless, I was still stuck in the same rut.

Went back to the original version of the work. It had two changes I liked. It was everything else that sounded like drivel.

Then one day I found myself humming a bass line as I drove home from work. As I worked it out in my imagination, I found my excitement growing.

Got home and fired up the electronics. Next thing I knew, it was way past my bed time. I'd neglected the dogs. I forgot to eat. I was tired, but strangely energized.

I'M BACK! In spite of the whisperings in the back of my mind that I no longer have the gift, I kept going.

That was three days ago.

I just finished uploading the work to my soundcloud account and will start a thread in the appropriate forum.

The take away is, I don't need no stinkin' muse to write.

-----

Edited to add linky to my new tune.

http://forums.songstuff.com/topic/21028-wings/

Edited by BlackhawkFan
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