I don’t read music, and I know hardly anything about music theory. But, I understand music, and I bet you do, too.
So, if you’re wondering if or how you can write a song, I invite you first to just write one. What? How? With the 5 minute song start.
[ATTN: Interactive demonstration to follow on Facebook Live at The Oar page, on Sunday March 29th at 11:00am Pacific time! You can still watch if you’re not on Facebook. SEE FLYER BELOW!]
Like children who acquire basic language fluency without studying systematic rules of grammar, people acquire basic music fluency without studying the complex math of music theory. If you’ve listened to much music, you likely speak it at a conversational level, whether you acknowledge this fact or not.
What that means to me is, not only can you remember melodies and lyrics and sing them at a moment’s notice, you can also come up with some of your own, at a moment’s notice. We are mimetic creatures — we constantly make impressions of one another and our surroundings. This doesn’t stop with music.
So, whether you’d like to challenge yourself to get songwriting, bust through a writer’s block, or just play a fun game, I encourage you to try a 5 minute song start!
It’s unlikely you’ll get a whole song in 5 minutes, although once, when I first created this exercise for myself, I came close.
You can hear the story about this, and the resulting song, in this video of Sean, Bill and I playing in Marin a few years ago:
Did you watch? If so, you get the idea. I gave myself a general topic, and the freedom to choose something specific within it that I knew I had words and feelings about. The amazing gift was hearing the metaphor and deeper meanings in it all, without necessarily having intended them at first.
Now that I’ve gotten used to using this 5 minute Song Start exercise, here are my basics:
What I’m trying to get:
—A line, any line. It can be part of a verse or chorus
And it must have:
—some kind of melody — it can be changed later, no problem
—some kind of lyric — not written in stone, in fact some of it can be nonsense
How I try to get it:
—A general topic — one that leaves me room to choose something specific within it that holds meaning for me. Besides the example above, with students I’ve used “a city or town.”
—If I need to, I’ll throw the specific topic on a paper with a circle around it, and start naming words for images, thoughts, things related to that topic.
—Let the words guide your sound, happy and upbeat? Sad or lonely? Let the words inform the music (or if you’re someone who stars with music, perhaps do it the other way around.)
Let’s say you give me a general topic, like “transportation.” My head starts throwing around types of transportation that evoke visual images, feelings I can recall, etc. Like, my old truck, or that train that wakes me up at 3:30am every morning, but then I settle on “roller skates.”
I throw “roller skates” on a paper with a circle around it, and start writing down words or thoughts I associate with it (see my “Quarantine” song for an example of this kind of song development notes.)
I pick some words I like, maybe try to think of any rhymes to connect them. I start trying to sing them in a way that I think might reflect the feelings they impart. For roller skates, I’m thinking cool and blissful, flying feelings. Try not to be self-conscious about it, just let it take over.
Since I use a guitar to write, I like to be warmed up and ready to just let myself mess around on it. So if you have an instrument, be warmed up and ready to make some noises.
As stated above, I’d like to demonstrate this 5 Minute Song Start thing on Sunday, March 29th at 11:00am Pacific Time. It will be on Facebook Live, on The Oar Facebook Page. Think of some general topics to surprise me with, in the comments! If you are not on Facebook, no worries, you can still watch. Please join us! Invite your friends. It will be silly, fun, and you can watch me squirm and play with 5 minute song starts.
Hey Now! This little March 28th addendum is to share what subscriber Amelia Hollins Gagliano just sent me -- her song she came up with after doing a 5 Minute Song Start! Thank you Amelia, smashing job!
Here's a video/audio of Bend That Curve (and accompanying song development notes.)