The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #31433   Message #408756
Posted By: Jim the Bart
01-Mar-01 - 09:59 AM
Thread Name: HOW do you write your songs?
Subject: RE: BS: HOW do you write your songs?
Amos, I'm worried - a lot of what you said made sense to me.

Naemanson, you ask the most interesting questions. Now were you referring to "songs", "good songs" or "great songs".

For me a great song has something that the others don't; something special about it that resonates (like those drone strings on the fiddle discussed in the museum instrument thread). Whatever mechanism delivers that kernel of originality - whether lyrical or melodic - is what I think of as "the muse".

I think you can attune yourself to it, if you work hard and learn to focus, but I don't think anyone can call it up at will. I think that once you have connected to it once you can get there again. Further, I feel that it will visit you unbidden at times when your mind is extremely relaxed or extremely stressed - you can either be lulled or pushed into that state of "No Mind" that the zen guys talk about.

I have written some wonderful melodic songs on a commuter train without being anywhere near an instrument. I have had guitar noodling suddenly unleash a stream of words that seem to work just right. Usually, bouts of "inspiration" have come after long sessions of struggling to write without success. Most often after I'd given up. I think the work, though unsuccessful in itself, helped create the mental state that let the song out, so to speak.

I am mostly self-taught (and instructed by all the great players with whom I've worked over the years), but I think it helps to have a some mastery of the tools of songwriting. It helps to read verse, listen to really good music, learn some scales and new chord forms every now and again.

Mostly, you have to be ruthlessly self-critical; you need to refuse to settle for cr*p. You have to be able to look at your song as if it were someone else's; to pick it apart until it yields what it was meant to. That may mean that after 100 revisions it's exactly the way it was first written. Or it's in the garbage. Or it's set aside until you grow into it. Songs mature, just like people do. Hopefully.

I'm just trying to figure this out myself. Thanks for letting me vamp a bit.
Bart