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Making Music

December 6th, 2003 · 1 Comment

Lots of media about music – maybe to do with Grammy nominee week?! – anyway, here’s my list of what’s caught my eye and ear…

Ted brought home from his trip today’s USA Today with the cover story Downloading squeezes the art out of the album I found it fun to read various musician’s opinions, from David Bowie to David Matthews to Michelle Shocked, on how “the album, music’s dominant creative framework for the past 40 years, is dying under the wheels of an accelerating revolution.” It will be interesting to observe how the new culture of “disposable art” and “novelty songs” affects the music makers and the music they make.

On Sunday morning NPR I heard most of a program on what mastering engineers do to old recordings on Remastering Engineers . It was interesting to learn specific illustrations of the constant compromise between musical performance and technological limitations. For example, Bob Dylan’s high harmonica notes in the middle of his songs were often lowered in pitch, because the recording technology at that time couldn’t handle the extreme difference. It was also mentioned that the trend now is “louder is better”, so many recordings are simply made loud, where as a mastering engineer may want to bring out the subtleties instead. I was intrigued to learn how the engineer, like an artist restoring masterpieces, makes choices while restoring – rejuvenating, and in some sense re-inventing – old Bob Dylan tapes to digital.

On NPR again tonight, while cooking dinner, I heard a pieces of a program on Preserving the Sacred Harp Singing Tradition with the intriguing quote that caught my ear: how one singer could “feel soundwaves from fellow singers so strong you could get up and walk on them…”

As someone who is learning songwriting, I spied on New Scientist their interview The power of music – On song with Mike Stock. “The art of the three minute pop song” may not be exactly what I hope to emulate, but it still was interesting to read what he does, how those ubiquitous tunes get birthed. Interesting – indicative? – that he has no musical training….and often writes the songs overnight, even at the last minute before meeting with the singers….

…My creative writing was done either in the bath or while driving to the studio. … I’d wake up and my brain would have been working on it all night. By the time I was in the bath, I would be developing an idea. And then I’d sing it to myself in the car. I don’t read or write music and I never had any musical training. I always hear it in my head. Then I have to get it out, put it to music or translate it onto tape…..

He claims he doesn’t have a formula but describes his “musical devices”:

There’s a chord sequence I’ve used a lot in my big hits. If you are in the key of C, you actually start on the F major, then later resolve to C. After playing the F, you move up a tone to G, but at the same time you linger with the bass on F. That creates tension…Then you drop to E minor…….Another device is to keep the crescendo and power in a song by going up in tone or key as it develops. For example, if I write a song all in one key then realise that the tune is great but it doesn’t really develop, I might put in key changes.

Aha….well now I know what to do to write songs: take a bath and start with F major….

If I need to learn F major or other chords on my guitar I can use a chordfinder. The other day I started looking around, after reading through a tab discussion on the Lifehouse discussion board , and so far I like this one the best. We have a paper book version, but this one seems easier to use, no pages and tabs to flip.

Finally I want to mention that we enjoyed dining with friends, a singer/songwriter and his wife, over Thanksgiving weekend. Many of you at our wedding may remember the couple who sang a duet for us. Their son, Nathan Scoggins , has inherited many of his parents giftings, including their musical abilities. It was great to spend some time with him and his wife Katie over Thanksgiving weekend. The last time we saw them, he was handing out his new CD Blind Man’s Sight , with accompanying art by Katie, and the mix of acoustic guitar, djembe and harmonica is of our daughters’ favorites for dancing. They, of course, wanted to know if Nathan had brought his guitar to Bellevue with him. I like lyrics, and his are thoughtful, challenging, grasping and honest: “I don’t know how to accept all your grace. How to look you in the face…” With all we’ve been going through this fall, I think his first song, People Get Ready, and its chorus, means the most to me at the moment:

It’s about love
It’s about truth
It’s about me
It’s about you
It’s about all of us in the mix
when we don’t know where we going to
It’s about grace
It’s about respect
I may know all the things in the world
but I don’t have it yet
It’s about love

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Nathan // Dec 11, 2003 at 11:40 pm

    I’m so glad to know you enjoy the song. Next time I will have to bring the guitar — can’t afford to disappoint my fans, especially the under-5 set! Zach’s been working on music too, though his style’s a little different! (Very 70s drum, bass, and funk/punk.)
    It’s interesting to read your writing, because since I’ve started writing screenplays, my own writing has become very spare. (I don’t journal much any more — my songs are my journals, I suppose.) I admire your ability to fill the page with poetry of the soul. Thank you for sharing yours with us.