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Composing February 16, 2015

Oh the writing of music. As I mentioned in my previous post, I use many aides to write music. For starters, I always need one catch all method for musical ideas as they strike. In the past that’s been a blank notebook. All the early Kyla Tilley stuff was just lyrics and chord charts jotted on lined paper, with some notes on rhythm and picking/strumming patterns, but I never took the time to write out melodies or the guitar parts, nor did I record myself playing my songs, I just memorized how the songs went. Anything I didn’t play regularly enough evolved each time I had to re-remember how it went. These days I mostly work the same way for KT, but I break out the microphone and record the song once I have it at a somewhat completed stage, and I tend to take the time to grab a piece of manuscript and jot down any instrumental sections.

Later I found this piano writing notebook. It had staff for vocals, and two for treble and bass, which I used either for guitar and bass, or, well, my writing is always all over the place. Literally. I always start out saying I’m going to go through my notebooks linearly, but it never works out. I always end up leaving room for something, starting on a later page, and a year or two later flipping back and filling up all the blank spaces, which makes it really difficult to find anything. Still, it seems to work. “The Musician’s Notebook:Piano” as it was called served me well, but it’s format didn’t really work for me. There wasn’t enough space to make notes, and each page had an “inspirational” quote, which is the type of thing that I generally find uninspiring. Many of the quotes were actually depressing and defeatist. I did however circle a Leonard Bernstein quote in the book and try to live up to it. “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” I’m good on the plan part, but I need to work on not giving myself quite enough time.

Now I’m using a Moleskin with one page of blank, and one page of staff. I just started it, but it should be better for jotting down Molt ideas, as I always need blank pages for conceptual ideas, as well as manuscript for actual notes. Theoretically I could use the blanks for lyrics, but I’m not sure that will work. We’ll see.

I have separate notebooks for lyrics, because I find at some point in the songwriting process I need to go away from my instruments to write the lyrics. For Kyla Tilley at least, I always have some phrases, often a verse or a chorus that I’m working with as I write the music, but if I’m sitting in bed with a guitar in my hand, I’m going to play it. So I’m either going over the guitar part with the lyrics I already have, or writing more sections. I usually come up with more lyrics as I’m doing this, but never all the lyrics. When I say I need to get away from my guitar to write lyrics, I mean really far away. I can’t be in the same building as a guitar if I’m going to think about words, so I take my lyric notebook, and go to a cafe or a bar and write the words there. (For some reason I always found the Tim’s on Freshwater Rd. in St. John’s to be particularly inspiring. Probably cause it was usually the only place open during my nocturnal period.) I usually don’t have the music finished when I do this, and most of my songs require multiple trips to get right.

I mentioned I keep a set of D&D dice on hand. This came from last year’s failed attempt at participating in the RPM challenge. I wanted to write an instrumental Dungeons and Dragons inspired solo guitar album. I made myself a Dungeon Master’s screen with scales, tones, guitars, and time signatures. I had different sided dice to roll for each thing, as well as dice to determine how many bars a section should have, and how many sections a song would have. It was working very nicely, but I’m never successful at RPM. (Not entirely true, but that’s a story for another post.) What gets me every year is that I want to write new music during February as well, and it never works out. I’m a ruminating writer, not a fast writer. While I haven’t used this method to write whole songs,(apart from what I wrote for RPM) I have used it to start off new ideas. I’ve always found that having constraints makes you much more creative than having no constraints. When you can do anything, you tend to stay within the invisible boundaries you’ve already laid for yourself.

One of my 2015 resolutions (and I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions) is to start each day with one hour of writing. I alternate days between blogging and writing music. I have a piano app on my phone, so I don’t even get out of bed. I wake up, somebody brings me a coffee, I grab my notebook, turn on the teeny tiny piano, and start writing. My guitars are on hand in case I want to use one, but I like writing riffs on a different instrument. It makes you write things you might not have thought about noodling around on your primary instrument. (Hmm, I’ll have to grab one of Julian’s practice pads and beat out rhythms one of these mornings.) Some mornings I write random things, but I usually have pieces I’m working on, and I find my hour in the morning so far has contributed greatly to finishing parts I’ve been meaning to work out.

I’ve tried to instigate morning rituals in the past. I read the book Daily Rituals, which is full of authors who do all their writing in the morning before work or whatever, and I always thought, Yeah, easy to do if you’re a writer, if I could sit in bed with a pen and paper in the morning I’d get lots done too, but I need too much gear to do my thing. I would always try to get an hour of shredding in in the morning before work, but I’m not a morning person, so with various jobs, getting up in time to shred and then leave the house on time just didn’t work. Not too mention, my body is stiff in the morning, I need to spend longer warming up to shred, so it rarely worked out. Now that I work from home on my own schedule, I can take that hour first thing even if I was up late and sleep in, and writing music instead of shredding means it doesn’t matter if I’m stiff.

That’s a little bit about how I write solo, next post will be about my collaborative processes.

— Kyla
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