The art of songwriting is a noble one. The task of storytelling through music, whether fictional or inspired by events in one’s life, is challenging and rewarding. But all delusions of grandeur aside, songwriting can be a real pain, especially when deadlines, stress, and writer’s block come into the picture. Whether you are writing music by yourself for a project, collaborating with your bandmates for your next release, or composing for another artist or a soundtrack, writer’s block can, at best, slow you down and make you question your creative abilities and, at worst, make you wonder if you’ve reached your artistic peak and question your entire career. If you find yourself experiencing these negative doubts about your songwriting, here are four steps to consider while you try to escape writer’s block.
From her 1997 live album, right before she launches into “Tyrone”, Erykah speaks to my artistic heart. It took me a long time to admit that I am an artist. The word has a bit of stigma attached to it, usually that artists are needy, too sensitive, too fragile. But I believe we’re all artists in some capacity, and it’s important to embrace it. As Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) teaches, your artist is similar to your inner child — creative, unafraid, free, and incredibly passionate. It’s so important to nurture that part of you and be honest about your humanity. No one is made of steel.
“I worked with Jeff in earlier sessions of Introduction to the Composer’s Craft and the Headliners Club. He has a beautiful perspective and really seems to look at his music from multiple angles. In addition to writing music, Jeff is a gifted photographer, and that comes through when you listen to his work. In the composition course, we discussed the foundations of writing music — things like form, tonality, etc., and then went on to develop his artistic voice during a follow-up session of the Headliners Club.
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Ethan Hein is a Doctoral Fellow in Music Education at New York University. He teaches music technology, production and education at NYU and Montclair State University. With the NYU Music Experience Design Lab, Ethan has taken a leadership role in the creation of new technologies for learning and expression, most notably the Groove Pizza. He is the instructor of the free Soundfly course series called Theory for Producers. He maintains a widely-followed and influential blog, and has written for various publications, including Slate, Quartz, and NewMusicBox.
Hughes says, “So if you’re in the key of C major, at the top of the hierarchy is the note C. Because that’s the most important note in the key of C major.” That’s the root or tonic of the scale, and the name of the scale — and so it’s the most important note.
The key is to link up a singer’s already incredible ear with what they see on the page — and, use a more robust knowledge of harmony to anticipate what comes next. Learning key signatures, intervals, scales, chord progressions, and function help singers be one step ahead. And, become the kind of colleagues that get hired back again and again.
I was thinking about “Clair de Lune” and how strange and complicated the rhythm is. I was humming it to myself and couldn’t figure out where the downbeats were. I have previously used Ableton Live to help me learn a classical piece aurally, so I figured I would do the same thing with this one.
All of our mentored online courses come with six weeks of 1-on-1 professional coaching and feedback on your work. It’s like having a personal trainer, but for music! Share your goals with us and we’ll find a course for you, or create a custom mentorship session with a pro musician, engineer, educator, or music industry veteran, to help you achieve them.
A mode is like a scale: It is a collection of pitches which have a certain relationship between each other. Just like any major or minor scale, a mode has a Tonic (a point of rest) and a “Dominant” (a point of tension which needs resolution). I have put the word Dominant in quotations because in the case of modes, the dominant is not always found on the 5th degree — like in any major scale for example — but it is the degree(s) which contain the characteristic note (the note that gives a certain mode its peculiar sound) that functions as a dominant.
One final note is looking at contrasting the delivery of words per second for an audience. High-speed, high-energy lyrics need careful delivery to hit the spot for a first time listener and one of the ways songwriters can meet the hunger for surprise, sass, and audibility is highlighted in this song by Lizzo, called “Jerome.”
I can spend an ungodly amount of time shopping, especially at Buffalo Exchange, simply because the music is good. Here, you’ll find vintage, funky threads, hats, jewelry, costumes, coats, etc. If you have some time and need a cute outfit for a night on the town, then definitely make a pit stop here (but be prepared to stay longer than you initially planned). You’ll find a cool outfit while listening to the soundtrack of your life.
Just like your mind and your muscles, your ears also have a shelf life. Go too long without taking a break, and you’ll run the risk of not being able to separate good takes from bad ones. It might sound odd to recommend taking breaks as a time-saving tool for home-recording, but keeping your dexterity as well as your listening skills sharp will protect you from making costly recording mistakes.
For all these reasons, we’re super happy to be able to experience musical life in Africa through the work of a handful of amazing nonprofit organizations, learning communities, and platforms for creative expression, and we believe that the future of global popular music is already being shaped on the African continent as we speak. Here are six initiatives in Africa today doing constructive work for the future of music and music education.