As I’ve said in previous posts, I can’t read or write music notation. However I do have something that I think makes up for it.
Let’s call it “Musical Mediation”
I have the ability to build a song idea in my head. It can start from a riff, a drum pattern or a lyrical phrase. I can “hear” inside
my head what works and what doesn’t.
For example I can try out certain vocal harmonies in my head. and hear how slight variations can create a better or worse result.
I can tell if something will sound too full or too empty before I’ve physically played or sung a note. Sometimes I don’t know exactly
what is missing but I know it’s not quite “right”.
Although I have this ability, I don’t actually use it as often as I should.
The main reason is that I find it works better for me when I’m making guitar based songs. I figure electronic songs are more difficult
because the soundscape is largely unfamiliar. I think many great composers are so great at dreaming up symphonies because they are
so familiar with each instrument that would make up a symphonic piece of music.
I was thinking about this today and pondering how I could develop this skill of mine and perhaps help others develop as well.
Here is an approach that I’ve come up with:
Dreaming up sounds:
In order to accurately get a unique sound that is in your head into your computer or recording device, you are going to need to
understand the fundamentals of sound.
*Try going into a synth and only use 1 oscillator.
*Turn off the filters and effects and just listen to each type of waveform, Sine, Square, Triangle, Saw.
These are the basic sound palates to every sound you will create. Understand these basics and you have the fundamentals to
dreaming up great sounds and being able to put the sound in your head into an actual song.
Although getting sidetracked can lead to some wonderfully surprising sounds, for this exercise it’s of utmost importance that
you see this process through without losing focus. I think it can be argued that this loss of focus is one of the leading causes
of not completing songs.
Here’s the scenario:
You had an original idea in your head but lost focus early on and just went with whatever interesting sound jumped out at
you first. Soon you are listening to a loop or collection of sounds over and over without anywhere to go. You have essentially
lost your steam.
It’s no wonder you get bored with the idea so quickly. You aren’t creating anything close to what inspired you in the first place!
What if you were able to quickly get the ideas out of your head accurately before you lost focus?
My guess is that you would probably find more satisfaction in your work.
Then of course once you got the basic idea out of your head you could allow for more experimentation and happy accidents.
Remember, this isn’t a lesson in inflexibility but of focus.
Having trouble dreaming up your own sounds? Try dreaming up someone else’s.
*Pull out a CD or pull up a song in your computer.
*Listen to just one tone that attracts you.
*When you find a sound you like, listen to it as closely as possible.
*Listen to how the sound characteristics change with each note.
*If there are volume variations, take note of those too.
Breaking it down:
If the sound you are trying to recreate in your head is complex, break it down into the separate parts that make the sound up.
If you have a hard time doing this, think of it as 3 different sounds. One sound in the lower frequency, one in the mid frequency
and one in the high frequency. In the same way you might break down a harmony into each separate voice, many sound designers
and musicians break down sounds to their most basic elements. When you can mentality break sounds down to their basic elements,
you can better predict how to build your own complex tones as well.
Now that you have that sound in your head, close your eyes and try to vividly recreate that sound in your head. Try to hear it
all by itself instead of in the context of a song. You may want to give this sound a name so you can mentally access it more
Recreate the part you heard in your head in as much detail as possible.
Next try changing some notes around and creating variations. Try not to lose the image in your head and don’t change the sound in your head. It’s very easy to get bored and wander off, but what we are trying to do is ingrain this sound into your memory as vividly as possible so you can add it to your mental palate.
Imagine changing the eq, or filtering out the high frequencies, then the low frequencies.
Imagine the sound with a bit of distortion, flange,delay or reverb. If you can’t vividly imagine these effects, you may want to spend some time adding these effects to some basic sounds so your mind has something to work with.
Practice makes perfect:
When you are able to do this with some proficiency, You will be able to add more and more instruments in your head and know how to get exactly what you want before you’ve even played a note. You’ll be able to build and arrange full song ideas in your
head and work out the kinks before you waste any time in the studio.
In the same way that it takes a while to become good at meditating and blocking out all of the days thoughts, it’s also difficult to start using “musical meditation” to focus on an idea without distractions. You may not get it right immediately, but with practice I am confident you will have an amazingly powerful tool that will just continue to get better and better.
Happy Music Making,