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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Involuntary & Deliberative

Some decisions or impulses seem somewhat out of our control. For example, I began to write songs in September of this year. This arose from simply staying at my girlfriend's house for a few weeks to take care of dog and chickens while she was in Japan, and fooling around on the piano. Soon, I had a song, then another one. Then I began writing the lyrics for them, naturally enough.

This is still voluntary, in the sense that I wasn't forced to do it against my will. Rather, I felt as though I should listen to this impulse, that it was coming from somewhere significant that I would ignore to my detriment. It isn't a scholarly impulse per se, since I am not in the Songwriting Department, though I did develop a proposal for the discipline of song studies" at one point in the recent past.

It is also deliberative, in the sense that I take deliberate, self-conscious steps, to compose what I feel is a good song, and to educate myself enough to do. I have to write the next song without a tritone substitution or using III instead of I, and not beginning the song on II.

Perhaps the relation between the deliberative and the involuntary is similar to that between the routine and the improvisatory. In both cases, we can understand human creativity as mysterious in its workings. It requires both conscious and unconscious effort, and we don't really understand the relations between these two things.


Although I don't think much of Malcolm Gladwell, the 10,000 hour principle he popularized is useful. I'm thinking, for example, of spending 10,000 hours watching television, a seemingly passive activity, or listening to songs and singers in the tradition of the great American song-book for countless hours, as I have done. Many of us are intuitive experts on many things that we have done over and over. I know (in the sense of recognizing) hundreds of songs by Gershwin, Arlen, etc... My songs are likely to be amateurish, yet I feel that must teach myself to write them.


Thomas said...

I fool around the piano and guitar too. (I play every day and sometimes do try to work out the progression for a verse-chorus-bridge type song.) This sentence made me realize something: "I have to write the next song without a tritone substitution or using III instead of I, and not beginning the song on II." I don't really know what that means, but I'm almost certain that I've "deliberated" about the same things. Also, while I can use sheet music to work out how to play a Bach piece, I wouldn't be able to score any of my compositions very adequately. What this tells me is that I can, in a certain sense, "write a song". But I can't write it down.

Jonathan said...

I can write it down, too, but I'm slow & lazy about it. My facility will grow the more I do it.

I would be the tonic, II, a chord with a root with the second note of the scale, etc... The tritone sub is doing a C#7 instead of a G7, for example. Subbing III for I would be doing an E minor 7 instead of a Cmaj7. I am hooked on a few facile harmonic tricks like that and need to do something else for the next song. Sometimes move to the next logical chord and am not sure what it is: my fingers just seem to know it.

There are probably millions of guys (and gals) who can do this at the level I can, yet it is very satisfying.

Thomas said...

I'm going to teach myself to understand what you just said. Reminds me of that post about Bill Evans. He shows a "top-flight", a "simple" and a "vague" way of playing piano. And all of it is outside my range of competence.