Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Songwriting - to me it's like trying to catch a fairy...

Catching a fairy - I nearly caught one yesterday but I let it go - I woke up at about 5.00 am, and there was a flash of a fairy's wing, a short musical phrase formed in my head... I clung to it, words came to it... the "fairy" was becoming tangible...I allowed myself to wake up a little and developed the song - I know I had it about a third written, being happy that it was original, it was "my" song... and remember thinking "I need to capture this on paper before I go back to sleep..." but I failed to do that. Next thing I knew, it was 7.30, I had slept again and the song had gone forever. I could not remember the tiniest bit. The fairy had flown. Folk who have flashes of nocturnal inspiration will be quite familiar with this scenario - the inspiration that dissolves with sleep.

The number of songs that I have finished writing and committed to video has risen from "a few" to "several" now... and they have all come the same way, not necessarily having their birth in the middle of the night or early in the morning... though actually, that does apply to most. So I thought I would share my own creative process.

I have often seen the advice to would-be songwriters, "play around with a chord sequence until you like it, experiment with a melodic line over it, then add lyrics"... and I know that many people use this method with success. As yet, that doesn't seem to suit me. I can only speak of my personal experience... when I have tried this, I haven't enjoyed it and it seems alien to me. Also, I find it difficult to begin to add words to a melody that's already formed. During the waking day, If I want to write a song, I do need to be in the mood, need to have that "magic cloak" on me... actually this comes to me most easily when I'm feeling very thoughtful and contemplative, generally. Living in my head. It may be a few words that someone said, a phrase that makes me think... and that sets me off. If I see a flash of that fairy wing I need to capture it right away... sometimes I grab my mobile(cell) phone and sing it into the "record" facility for later; if I can grab the minutes to develop it right away it's the notebook and pencil approach - but that bit of melody line must be preserved somehow... I might scribble out a quick five lines of stave and write it down, or write the pitch as tonic sol-fah - (d r m f s l t d) (doh ray me fah soh lah te doh)... and the rhythm in shorthand. I know I'm lucky to be able to do this - learned it years ago. The fact is, it has to be recorded somehow or it's forgotten. I have kept the song notebook and pencil by my bed for months now... and have been known to put the bedside light on at 5.30 am and start to scribble! The songs that have worked the best have been the ones where I know what I want to say in the lyrics... the most personal ones. If I've nothing to say, I have no real urge to write a song. I think that's why the "chord sequence" first has not worked worked for me yet. It's always the first words of the lyrics along with the first notes of the song that come first - and I build the song from there. When I've got enough of it down on paper to be a verse or chorus, I might sit down with the uke and start to put the chords in. I know how I want it to sound and I fiddle about with chords til I find the ones I want. This is where the ukulele scores for me - although I've played piano by ear to a small degree since I was in my teens, I could not have done this in my "before the ukulele" days. My keyboard skills and knowledge of chords structures simply didn't stretch that far. The uke is a godsend to songwriters!

What made me decide to start writing songs? Two things...

One, I decided a couple of years ago that I ought to be able to do it, therefore I should try... as a child of ten and eleven my favourite occupation was writing poems. I filled notebooks with them. Playing with rhyme is fully established in my brain from childhood. As for writing melody, it was an essential component of what used to be GCE "O" level Music back in the 1960's... which I did - always been a music lover. In fact in those days, for this exam at 16, we were taught to harmonise, on paper, a short melody for a choir to sing in 4 part harmony, SATB, (soprano, alto tenor and bass)... the syllabus for that exam is the basis of my musical knowledge. Similarly, we would be be given a few bars of the bass line, and have to write a melody over it. I don't know at which point in musical education this is learned in Britain these days. I wasn't that good at those things, it wasn't easy... but it was musical knowledge and experience, and priceless in its way. I did pass the exam though! At teacher training college I chose music as my main subject and again, there was some composition to do. No songwriting, however! But I love music, love language, enjoy being creative with both - and decided that I should at least TRY to put the two together and write some songs. I've left it late in life... but it's at this time in my life that having the time to do this presents itself. And time won't wait...

Oh yes the other thing? Briefly, seeing that other players on the Ukulele Underground Forum habitually write songs. I thought, "yes, perhaps I can do this, too..."

There is personal satisfaction to be had in completing a song, uke chords added... how much satisfaction depends entirely on my own perception of its quality... I don't like to feel that a line is clumsy, and I don't like the feeling that I've written a line of melody that in fact might be from a melody I've heard somewhere before. This is the aspect of songwriting that causes me some angst... but there you go, you can only do your best. I think my greatest thrill is in writing just one line of lyric that I'm particularly pleased with - a "golden line"... if I can write a couple of golden lines in a song, then I feel as if I've caught a particularly pretty fairy... perhaps even a green one - but that's another story!

There's a page with links to my songs.

Thanks for dropping in, thanks for reading! Perhaps you write songs, too - how do you go about it? Message me!

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HI! I hope you enjoy this blog and I'd love to hear your comments! But I know you'll forgive me if I read them over before I click the "publish" button! Thanks!