I like to think of music as something like ancient Greek mythology.
There are the deities up in the sky, who created this whole kerazy musical setup and who are watching it all play out. Then there’s the demi-gods who live among us and do incredible things with these divinely crafted tools. Finally there’s us mere mortals who toil endlessly to try to make the best of what we have. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have the power to achieve great things – we feel weak and helpless. It’s not our fault – we are not made of the same stuff as the demigods!
Yet the all-powerful gods need the faith of us puny mortals to survive. Surprisingly there is actually a link to what this article is about lurking here. There is a way to harness the power of the music gods, but it requires strength of mind, resourcefulness, courage and imagination…
One of the beautiful things about music is that sounds don’t lie – they are what they are. This means that when you hear a piece of music that you adore, but you don’t feel you could ever have written – the simple truth is that every note of it is right under your nose. Nothing is hidden – you can scrutinise it as deeply as you wish. The secrets of the music gods are there in plain sight – all you need to do is believe that you can learn and understand them. To put it another way: all this god-like music that seems to have come gift-packaged and perfect, direct from heaven…it was all made by people. Sometimes by just one person. Usually by someone who had to try very very hard to achieve what they did. And they almost always have bad hair.
Most of us have a selection of “false” idols that we regard as untouchable geniuses. These people are the key to our inspiration. The trick for us mortals is to ask ourselves:
What would they have done?
Sometimes putting aside your own views and trying to think like someone else can throw up interesting and unexpected ideas. Take your starting material, and use it like one of your genius idols – what would they have done with these ideas (apart from starting with a massive champagne and cocaine binge…)? Really immerse yourself in it – imagine the person/people that you admire so much working with your ideas – would changes would they make? What would they keep?
What sounds would they use that you haven’t thought of…
Ask yourself all the questions you can imagine about this situation…. If you are of a certain persuasion, you might go down the route of visualisation and role play at this point. Which is fine if you’re a hippy or social worker, but I’m not going to force any “spiritual marketing” type guff on you (You ever read that guy who said he got rich by giving all his money away? Yeah,think I’ll try that…). I’d rather say, use your imagination, and most importantly, let your mind play the music – all you need to do is listen and remember it. So often, when practicing techniques like this, I get a song playing in my head – clear as day. It’s a bit tricky sometimes turning that imaginary tune into something real…but the creative part has already been done by your subconscious, you just need to listen in…
Because I don’t know who your favourite is.
There’s a “lite” (phonetic spellings make things so much more street ) version of this idea as well. If you find that getting this new music flowing inside your head is not happening, here’s a quicker, easier way to flex those musical imagination muscles. I call it the Covers Game. I didn’t actually, until I came to write this, but it seemed like it should have a name. The basic principle is this:
You set your subconscious mind (can I call it your SCM to save me some typing?) to work on a task. In this case you take a well known song, and imagine it being played by a contrasting band. You give it some time, then you come back and see if your SCM has come up with an answer. For something like this, where the song, and the style of the new band playing it are known, your SCM should deliver immediately. Hopefully you should be able to throw this pair of ideas together, and enjoy a private concert in your head when your SCM mashes them together, instantly crunching them, like some demented Japanese robot, into a finished result. I’m hoping that this will not be too tricky… over-thinking it is the enemy here. Let your mind do the work. Just tune out for a moment, then check back in to pick up the results as they are delivered to your conscious mind.
Once you’ve mastered the “lite” version – you should start trying the same technique, with your own music being played by a band or artist you like.
Try to hear the details really vividly. Take every idea you can from it – completely plunder it for inspiration, without the slightest hint of shame – after all it’s your own imagination, that’s what it’s for.
David Learnt composition (harmony, counterpoint and orchestration) to degree level through studying Schoenbergs Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He is a founder member of Avant Pop duo Cnut, and orchestral doombience outfit Regolith.
Make Better Music is updated every Tuesday. For previous articles search for ‘Dave Graham’
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