In the second installment of In the Mix, Karl Blau teaches us that writing beautiful songs is a pleasure that everyone can enjoy, not just wizards and rock stars.
It’s not common knowledge how accessible writing a song may be. The rules we’ve adopted from all directions would lead us to believe that making up a song should be a complicated process for only the most devoted.
Having studied the classical form of Western music as a youth I bought heavily into the notion that not only was songwriting intended to be difficult, but that only certain people could actually cross this barrier into “composer” or “songwriter” and provide the rest of us with the notation and songs. The world of songs made for radio was obviously untouchable; and songs therefore are to be learned or listened to, unless by some miraculous act you were chosen into the majestic family of rock.
Alongside this period of classical study I took every chance I could to grab a second of solitude and scribble with my pen on paper. Staying inside for recess, whatever came to my mind would make its way onto the page, one line informing the next. I felt free in this world, no one was there to tell me what I was doing right or wrong.
It wasn’t until years later when I discovered 4-track recording that I started to break down the thick, seemingly permanent, dogmatic wall that had been built up inside of me. The nonchalance of the cassette 4-track stimulated the same creative impulse as the previous era of pen and paper; I began to allow myself any method of song writing I could think of just as I had with sketching. Boldly, I would start recording with a track of drum beat only to see where that lead to.
Writing a poem and sussing out the mood of the words: form fitting the sound, pace, and structure to the specific tone and nuance of the lyrics. In this way, writing a song became more like sculpting from a block of wood, following the grain. Practicing deep listening to inner thoughts as well as sound, quieting my mind and letting the subconscious guide me.
Many elements exist in the realm of possibility of song. Like drawing a picture of a dragon, it is approachable by anyone with a pen and a little time and there are no hard rules. A song is an expression of living. A dragon is willed into existence. A dragon has a head: a song has a beginning. A neck, maybe not. A body, legs, wings? A tail: an outro or stopping point in regards to a song.
So, give it a shot. Draw yourself a dragon and write a song in your own unique way. If it’s your first, keep it real simple for a heightened enjoyment of the process. Here are just a few elements to play with. Let them encourage, inspire - but they are to be taken or left at your discretion - this is YOUR DRAGON:
MOOD - happy, sad, wounded, delicate, angry...
LENGTH - if you want your song longer, you may just want to repeat sections.
INTRO/OUTRO - these can be very different from the body of the song.
TEMPO - how fast the song is, maybe it changes speed, perhaps your song is a-rhythmic.
INSTRUMENTATION - if you don’t play any instruments, use your voice to make a little melody. You can hang on one note for an entire song just fine if you like. I suggest pick 3 notes and work with those, it’s lotsa fun.