How I Write Songs

1995-08-05

I play only guitar, though once in a while I fiddle around on the piano, to little avail (I can play some George Winston-style stuff, only). Mostly I am self-trained, though I have taken lessons on classical style guitar for brief periods, mostly while I was in Atlanta. I have written a few pieces for solo guitar, three suites and one set of variations totalling about 50 minutes of music. However, most of my output is songs, of which I have written about 30. I usually write song-cycles, of which I have completed three (well, the last one is missing one song that I have yet to write). Usually I write the words first. Some of my songs were originally poems, such as my poem "The Course of the Sun" which I have recently set to music. In these cases I will often have to change the words slightly to conform to the music. Poetry is more strict in its adherence to meter, but in songwriting you can be a little more free with beats per line because it is the music that sets the pace, not pure meter as in poetry. Some of my songs have come almost simultaneously with words and music at the same time -- that's always fun, but it doesn't happen often. Since I love guitar, I usually have some chord progressions that I'm playing with, and I marry those to words I am working on. Unfortunately this sometimes leaves the melody to fend for itself and I feel that my songs are not incredibly strong melodically, sometimes. But I'm aiming for the complete expression, so I don't worry too much about the relative weaknesses of my melodies. I work on my own only, I have only been in two bands, once in junior high school when I played bass in a hard-rock band and then in college when I played guitar for a folkie a capella group (hey, I know it sounds weird, but there were these three women who did these amazing harmonies and I accompanied them doing old CSN and Beatles and all that kind of music). Creatively, I always work alone since I am trying to concretize and express things that are deeply important to me as an individual. Musically, I am untrained or self-taught, no lessons really, and it was not until I was in college that I really listened to classical music, which now I love. However, my first love is folk-rock music by people like James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and so on. I used to be able to play about six hours of music by people like that but with a reduction in my free time I now concentrate on my own music. The stuff I write is pretty hard to play since I used to be a damn good acoustic guitarist (still am, really), and I like to challenge my fingers. I love my music and my ability to express things this way, and I hope to record my stuff at some point. I have right now four albums worth of music to record -- the three song-cycles plus the instrumental music -- but I have to this point done no recording of my own music. One of these years...


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