2020 08 08
I remember a listening exercise that took place in my music appreciation class: the teacher put on a song and we had to tell him what naturally came to mind as we heard it.
After it was done, the teacher started the discussion by telling us his experience: he mentally pictured children playing on a merry-go-round, running through a small downtown district with bright, colorful lights surrounding them.
I was incredibly surprised. That’s what spontaneously manifested as he listened? He confirmed that yes, it was - for him, vivid visual scenes are what always pop up as he hears a song.
I myself have never had flashes of images or the like when listening to music; I simply have a ‘gut feeling’ that manifests. It has no visual aspect, shape, or form - it’s a purely visceral sensation.
It never occurred to me that others may experience music differently in this sense. I stood up and polled the class as I was curious how they naturally interpreted the song, and there was a mixture of different ways that people intuitively comprehended it & music as a whole. It was very eye-opening.
I later brought this up to my one friend, who’s a songwriter like myself, and he confirmed that he too has his own natural way of ‘processing’: his mind makes up a character (as in a person) or an environment to fit a song as he listens to it. He also writes music according to whatever character or scene comes to mind, that expresses the nature of the song-to-be.
Similarly, I write based off of that visceral sensation mentioned above. While it has no visual aspect, shape, or form; it does have a concrete & definite nature. I can tell if what I’m writing for a song is right or not depending on if it resonates with said ‘force’.
Interestingly, we both found that it’s less natural and even produces a lesser song if we try to write with a different sense of ‘processing’. He can make a palatable song by going off a non-visual ‘force’, but it won’t be his best. Similarly, I can write something fine off of images or a landscape but I write at my best by going off of that ‘force’.
It’s funny to think that this friend & I are complete opposites in terms of how we go about songwriting, but the end result is always the same: a complete, well-written song. Our methods may not be all too different from a larger perspective, however: what we’re both doing is simply going off of our intuition.
This brings to mind a story that I had heard once before: there was a world-class chess player who was naturally aggressive but had some holes in his defensive game that he had to remedy.
He had two teachers: one who was incredibly defensive in nature, like a fortress. He specialized in a campy, turtle-esque approach - if you studied with him, you learned by his rules.
The second teacher was phenomenal too, though he encouraged students to explore concepts from their own frame of intuition. He told this player that if he were to learn defense, he ought to study legendary players with a similar style as himself and how they developed their defense in tune with their aggressive nature.
This chess player initially studied under the first teacher. If he was to learn defense, why not learn from the most defensive?
This proved to be a fairly non-productive disaster.
As hard as the player tried, the hyper-defensive nature of the game that the first teacher tried to instill within him simply felt alien & didn’t click.
It wasn’t working as it wasn’t in line with the player’s intuitive understanding of chess.
The second teacher’s approach - studying other aggressive players & how they incorporated defense - was a completely different story.
This resonated with the player’s natural sense of style, easily made sense, & seamlessly fit into his play. The difference was night & day.
The moral of the story would be to always follow your own mode of intuition!
Though I digress.
It’s simply amazing that people vary in their sense of ‘processing’, yet one could go their entire life without knowing so. How would a person know that ways other than their own exist unless someone else described their own differing sense of experience? It took me until I was an adult to learn this.
How do you experience music?
2020 07 19
A few of my friends pointed out to me recently that I make a lot of relatively far-removed connections between different areas of life, just about all of the time. They found it interesting to the point of sparking a deep discussion. In the end it inspired me to start this series of blog posts - I'll report the sort of connections & observations between music & whatever else is on my mind at the time as food for thought. I hope for it to be educational & insightful.
A new entry will be added every Sunday morning.
Without further ado:
There’s a meat & produce market near my house that I really love. It buys all of its product from local organic farms - the quality is truly something else!
The staff knows me very well at this point. The one girl that they have out doing curbside pick-up (due to COVID-19 concerns) knows my order by heart. She’s very sweet & attentive.
It’s a very simple ordeal for her: greet me, collect my money, turn around & walk straight inside the shop to fetch my groceries.
I found myself wondering recently: what could happen to delay or frustrate this simple set of events?
What if as soon as she reached the door, someone opened it from inside to walk out? They’d share an ‘oops, pardon me’ & she’d have to wait a second to let them pass before stepping inside, but ultimately it’s no big deal.
What if she instead tripped & fell to the ground on her way back toward the store? Would she laugh it off or would she be embarrassed? Maybe a bit of both. She’d be back on her feet in a minute however.
What if a car in the parking lot lost control and hit the front of the building? Quite an extreme development! Our worker wouldn’t be able to get inside with the entrance blocked, but it’s much more than that: the shop would most likely have to suspend business (it’s an incredibly small place!) while the police come & assess the situation. A strong catalyst like that can completely change the course of events.
I find that these sort of mental exercises have a lot of parallels to writing music.
Let’s take this melody:
Very simple. It has a clear progressional pattern - its path - with a clear goal that it attains naturally at the end.
Let’s just do a small variation:
This makes the melody less monotonous & its arrival a bit more impactful.
Let's flesh it out with some accompaniment while we're at it.
What if we frustrate its plans?
Now it begs to continue. Let’s have it try again afterwards.
There we go! A lot more musical interest was created due to this little story we put it through.
What if we want to take it into a new direction instead?
That’s all right. Let’s give it some more intensity so that it really gives us a feeling that we’re soaring off to somewhere new.
It's very important for a songwriter to be aware of these different possible branches of development - as well as their implications. The music above all came from a simple episode of playful sketching, but it calls for the same mindset on a much deeper level when it comes time to write a song.
This branch of options & their development is similar to what we come across in life. It pops up with little things:
"Should I order takeout tonight? It'd make cleanup a lot easier - I don't feel like doing the dishes from a homemade meal. Or maybe I'll go over to my parents' and eat supper with them; I'm due for a visit anyway."
And with major decisions:
A young adult fresh out of high school. What's next: college? Trade school? Entrepreneurship? Cashier for the next twenty years?
Each life path would paint a result very different from the others.
Overall, this is a very fun & informative way to look at the world. It's helpful in just about every aspect you could think of - please give it a try & see what results!
P.S. get some summer vegetables from your local farm or farmer's market! All the fan favorites are ripe & available now; they're absolutely delicious and refreshing.