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Topic: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

  1. #1
    Moderator/Developer Brian2112's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2003
    Out of my Mind

    Thumbs up 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Hello All!

    Given the way that I use GPO, and the fact that my health has been less than stellar for the past few weeks, I don’t feel as though I have been contributing as much to this wonderful forum as I would like. So I would like to humbly offer a few tips on beating writer’s block that I learned at Berklee as well as some of my own that I discovered through time.

    In my final semester at Berklee, I took the Advanced Songwriting 2 class. It worked on a two week basis. The class of week 1 was devoted to describing a certain style of pop music. We then had until the next weeks class to write, record, and present a demo of the tune, complete with a lead sheet transparency for analysis by the class. Upon arrival for class on week 2, the class and instructor would then analyze the work, and the rest of the next week was devoted to the re-write (with new demo and lead sheet transparency). The first half of week three class was devoted to analysis of the re-write and then we turned the final work in for grading. The second half of that class moved on to the next style of music, and we repeated the process for this next style. In short, we had one week to write and record a good tune or we were dead.

    I was terrified. Recording the demo and transcribing the piece would take half the week, so I had just a few days to actually write. Fortunately, I found that I write best under pressure so most weeks went pretty well. But for those that didn’t, I had to figure out a system. Here are some of the things that I did that worked:

    1) If you are working on a deadline, don’t panic! (You don’t have time, and the worry clogs the universe to brain transmission).

    2) While writing your last piece, you probably have “out takes” of ideas you didn’t use. Change the arrangement around and try in make it work in any style.

    3) Get organized. Spend time sharpening pencils, reading your sequencer’s manual, cleaning your work space, organizing your files on your hard drive, making GPO templates, and so on. In other words prepare to write. When you are preparing to write, your brain is actually in writing mode and subconsciously working on your next piece.

    4) Every musician friend that I have told this to correctly thought I was nuts, but came to me later to tell me that it works! Here it is: Play, or learn to play Chess! Why? At one point during a bad week, I threw up my hands and said “Oh well, no song this week!” at which point I thought I’d just play a stupid computer game. I played a few of the mindless ones figuring that it would offer a break and a clean slate (it didn’t really work). Finally, I bought a computer chess game on a bleak, cold, rainy, Boston day. I walked home with it in a plastic bag under my coat. When I got home, I fired it up and played the computer. After 4 hours of getting creamed by the remarkably good A.I. (never underestimate your opponent! ), the music machine was spinning, and out came the tune plus material for the next two weeks! How did this work? (Glad you asked - I have a theory): Chess involves the same type of thinking as writing music. You are dealing with combinations, intuition, recognizing patterns and where they will lead, finding order out of what seems to be chaos, making your own order out of chaos, symmetry, asymmetry, logical conclusions to a line of thinking, surprise, questions, answers, and counterpoint, - it’s all there! You are training the brain, writing the next piece, and taking a break from it, all at the same time! This has been one of my biggest musical secrets that I usually keep to myself. It is now yours. It sounds nuts, but try it!

    5) Don’t sit down to write a masterpiece. I-IV-V-I works, and is used a lot for a reason! Start there, try a melody over it, re-arrange, re harmonize, and you suddenly don’t have just a I-IV-V-I piece!

    6) Load up a bunch of sounds you normally wouldn’t use (synths are great for this, weird ethnic instruments, or whatever). They can inspire, and alter your perspective.

    7) The best composition advice I ever heard: From Elton John in an interview “When in doubt, write a hymn”

    8) Look for metaphors. Perhaps you are walking down the street and see a broken flower pot with dirt and dead flowers. Notice it! Why is it broken? Did someone just hear terrible news that caused them to drop it and run off in agony? Did an old woman looking for some beauty in her lonely life find a perfect flower only to have her heart broken again?...complete the story! Movies, books and other media can inspire, but nothing like the way your own brain can. There is music in that barely noticeable broken flower pot!

    9) Listen to the sounds of the Earth. Not every sound has to be pleasant. Birds sing little motives all the time, but so do car horns, chainsaws, lawnmowers, crowds of people. Connect the dots with them all and you will hear music.

    10) Listen to silence! The real music is between the notes.

    I hope this can help. I could expand on this, and I will if there is any interest. I just wanted to list some less obvious stuff.

    "So what if some parts of life are a crap shoot? Get out there and shoot the crap." -- Neil Peart
    Hint:1.6180339887498948482 Φ

  2. #2

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Thanks Brian. Tips like these are always welcome. And if you have more, by all means, they are welcome. But chess, who woulda thought....

  3. #3

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Thanks for the tips! I guess I should organize my desk . . . .

    The chess tip is interesting! Not only did I play chess throughout high school, but so did my friend who was an accomplished pianist (and he usually beat me. I beat him a few times though). There is definitely a link between the two. I wonder, if I get better at music, well I get better at chess?
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Out in left field

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Great post, Brian. Thanks, and

    P-K4 !

  5. #5

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Excellent thoughts!


  6. #6

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    All suggestions are excellent except number 1. Panic is an irrational thing .. overcoming it is a more complex process than saying "don't panic"

    11) (Works only if you're world famous already) ... just hit three keys, put on loop and submit. They'll say It's his/her best yet in all the mags ...
    (Wish I was kidding I really do ... J M Jarre published another record ... have mercy... )


  7. #7
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Thumbs up Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Geeezzzz and all this time I was beating my writers.
    This is great 2112 <> 2112 thanks for posting.

  8. #8

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Very wise and true. Terrific advice. Thanks Brian!


  9. #9
    Senior Member CString's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2004

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    2112, those are good tips. I play Mahjongg instead of Chess but, same difference.

    For those that are anti-training (formal, that is) writing through blocks is one of the things you learn when you're trained. At least, I did. Remember the saying it's 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration? Replace the 90% with technique.

    Yes, things can come out academic if you're not careful BUT that is using technique as a crutch. That's a no-no. If you are actually concerned about your product you don't do that. You use it as a tool. A spoon to stir the pot if you will. It allows you to master your craft instead of having it master you. It takes finding the right teacher. Which, granted, is sometimes easier said than done.

    Sorry if this is preachy. I've been in both places - trained and untrained - and trained definitely gives you an advantage. You could be as creative as Mozart; but, if you don't know how to put it together, you're simply firing blind hoping your work comes out how you envisioned. That never leads to mastery. Ever. Even Mozart was trained.

    Me fail English? That's unpossible.

  10. #10

    Re: 2112's Beating Writer's Block Tutorial

    Really interesting post Brian. I've never really been much of a chess player but I can see your logic and I think I will take it up.
    "Music is a manifestation of the human spirit similar to a language. If we do not want such things to remain dead treasures, we must do our utmost to make the greatest number of people understand their secrets" -- Zoltan Kodaly

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