Systems Analysis

I am beyond tired and yet I can’t seem to stop whittling music out of my computer. It doesn’t feel like inspiraton, certainly, but there is something sort of other-wordly about writing music when it works really well. I use Finale and it is such a great program that I firmly believe I would be unable to write as quickly as I need to without it. If I don’t write in a manic flat out sprint then I don’t get my ideas down fast enough to be able to re-play them. I think I have not really written music before now simply because my computer skills and the software had not yet converged to allow me to. Every song I’ve written on guitar has slipped from my mind before I even decided on a theme.

What has been interesting to me is the fact that the systems put in place for the writing down of music are really here to help you. Every single teacher I had (bunch of fucking bastards they were) made it seem as if there was an incredibly difficult minotaur filled maze that you had to drag yourself through before you could make music, and it simply isn’t true. Rock and Roll stars have been proving for years that it’s far more magic and intuition than it is scholarship.

Of course I say that and it might be because it comes really easy to me. I’ve read music since long before I read words and I am always surprised when people can’t. It seems pretty intuitive to me.

But all the writing of it down requires is a little basic math and about ten hours of practice. The creation of music doesn’t require shit but an ear. And sometimes not even that. Mac, who is co-writing this musical with me, will come in the room with a sheet of paper and squawk some perfectly respectable melody line at me, and I copy it down note for note and add chords. The tune and the flow of the line are totally inspired, totally inate to him, and they are just as good or, frankly, better than anything I’ve come up with after hours of noodling.

Jordana will just start singing. She just fucking starts singing, words and all, off the top of her head. She writes music like I did when I was eight on the crapper, before I had any hang-ups about making, y’know, mixolydian cadences. I could tell you what a Dorian scale is, but I can’t possibly tell you why it’s useful.

What’s interesting is that it’s the lyrics that I’ve had to press Jordana and Mac on, both people who are verbal gymnasts. Lyrics are actually terrifically non-verbal, in a way, because you have to say something not just within an exact number of beats, but also up to the exact number of beats. I could sum up this blog in two sentences (and I’m sure you wish I would at this point) or I could write a book about this subject, but could I use *exactly* thirty two syllables? With each syllable falling at the exact right stress moment? And make it rhyme? And sound like normal speech?

Some lyric advice-

1) Don’t end a sentence with a verb. “Up on your fence you’re sitting” is a stupid sentence, and you are obviously just trying to rhyme it with something like “Shitting”.

2) Don’t keep adding modifiers until you get the number of syllables. “It seems to me, I think I might be getting too old” is bad, when what you mean is “I think I’m getting old”. If you are going to make someone listen to your music, treat every single second of their time as precious. I’m not kidding, if you’ve run out of stuff to say, then stop singing.

That actually should be a mantra for all plays. If you’ve already said it once, don’t say it again, and if you say it and it isn’t a whole play, then no amount of repeating will make it better.

3) Alliteration is fun, but hard consanant alliteration is bad. “Chuckie checked his checkered coat” is a fun like, but when you sing it, you aspirate every ‘ch’ and ‘k’ sound and you run out of air.

4) Land your emphasis where it fits musically. If you say “My opinon is based on fact” that’s great, unless the music fits it so that you sing “my *o*pinion is based *on* facts”. This is the hardest rule but the most important, unless you’re writing rock songs, and then it could be funny.

5) If a rhyme is too good it will make people laugh, no matter what you are saying. Consider the master, Ira Gershwin-

“IThere were chills up my spine

And some thrills I can’t define.

What a break, for heaven’s sake,

How long has this been going on?”

Those are simple to the point and they break your heart. Compared to-

“I’m bidin’ my time,

‘Cause that’s the kind of guy I’m

While other folks get dizzy, I stay busy

Bidin’ my time”

It isn’t that the point of the last one is hilarious, the rhymes are just so outrageous that it makes you smile. Between the three of us, we came up with this-

“then in undergrad, I dreamed of Chad,

The defensive back supreme

So I stuffed a sock down in my jock

And tried out for the team

He tackled me in practice,

He said I could take a hit.

But his girlfriend Anne came from the bland

Sorority I quit…”

The context is too bizzarre to explain, but I like it because the rhymes are just enough to make you smile, the internal rhymes all line up, there are no verbs at the ends of phrases and the verse reads the way people actually talk. The overall idea of the song was mine, the actual lyrics are largely Jordana’s, and the edits and refiguring were all three of us, I don’t know who should get credit for any of this. It took us about an hour to come up with these few lines.

Some of the stuff is just easy as pie. Mac sang a song “The Seven C’s” (The coast guard call to arms) and for the chorus I haven’t altered even a rhythm of what he stood and sang at me last week. I even made a suggestion and he sat down for an hour and gave me five versions of what I asked him about.

I don’t know. Maybe all of this will suck and won’t be nearly as funny to other people as it is to us. I’m writing a song right now that our male hero sings about his dead boyfriend, who is actually a woman and not dead and, it turns out, tied up and gagged and sitting next to him.

It’s possible that it won’t work at all.