Monday, March 25, 2024

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

In western music, we have twelve notes. If we play in a major or minor key, as most of our popular music is, that leaves us with seven. A key change may offer one or two more. Among those specifically defined patterns of vibrating air, most songs will favor four or five notes in various shapes and combinations, limiting the others to accented moments of dissonance. Those are the "blue" notes.
If so many songs are built from so few basic notes, haven't most, if not all of those patterns been used already? 
Playing at different rhythms and tempos helps mix it up a little. Even so, much like how different painters can create countless variations within the same rectangular dimensions and bound to the same basic colors of paint, I think that paradoxically, limitations can offer artists more creative freedom. 
It's not the notes, really; it's what you do with them that matters. 
Lots of songs use the same underlying chord structures. My aim when creating art of any kind is to offer a balance between the familiar and the unexpected. I also think that music, as with any other form of art, is part of a much larger conversation -- grounded by what came before it, but always changing in a perpetual act of synthesis. Art feeds upon itself to create something new. 

In my music, I play a lot of "cowboy chords," often with a capo. I have no shame in that. In fact, I tend to think that unless you're playing for a room full of trained musicians, it makes sense to keep it simple. Most people don't care how difficult something is to play if it doesn't sound good. Virtuosity does not necessarily amount to listenability.
My approach to songwriting is to always start with the music, usually with a riff or a chord progression that sounds cool to me, something that I land on in the midst of practicing. After some time on the daily rehearsal playlist rotation, it coalesces into something with a definite shape, at which point I begin to sing vowels over it with an ear for any words that may emerge from the melody. That's when I get out the paper and pencil and write down whatever phrases that come to mind as I play. Eventually, patterns in the words hint at the meaning and feeling of the song, which informs how I proceed with it.
It is a process that every once in a while delivers a product, but I have also put something of myself into it. It is inspired by the eclectic music I love, fashioned out of those same familiar notes, while hopefully contributing something new, both musically and lyrically. My intent is to write songs that are relatable but informed by my own unique perspective.
Balance is key.

Thank you for listening to my music and for supporting independent art.