How To Write a Song

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Via Daniel Florien, I became aware of the video above, “How To Write a Worship Song” in five minutes or less.

I’ve been doing some songwriting lately, and so I appreciated the humor. But the truth is that much human music, secular or sacred, is the same chord progressions with some pinky movements, and lyrics with rhymes that are not exactly unpredictable. And the most popular songs tend not to be the ones that involve amazing virtuosity throughout, but ones that have an underlying simplicity (with a solo of some sort thrown in, perhaps).

In fact, recently there was a BBC article suggesting that a computer might be able to predict what songs will be hits based on certain features.

And while some have tried to invigorate music by doing things that are radically innovative – from adding new instruments to abandoning tonality – there is good reason to think that, just like a game of chess, the simple rules and structures of tonal music allow for so many different possible combinations, that only an eternal or nearly eternal being could ever become bored of the game (anyone else remember that scene from Star Trek: Enterprise?). And (to make another Star Trek reference) adding a third dimension to chess doesn’t necessarily make the new version more enjoyable than the classic game.

American composer Alan Hovhaness at one point in his life decided to scrap his very modernistic music and begin composing in a neo-tonal idiom. I shared one example of his prodigious output recently, and it is not at all boring just because it works within a traditional framework of musical expression.

Indeed, it seems as though our very lives are the arrangement of some common features into individual lives that are distinctive, meaningful, and worthwhile. We are just like songs in many respects.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I might write a song about this…

  • Bobby

    Yeah, but Sonic Youth is still my favorite band.


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