What is a song?

I had one of those nights where I just picked up my guitar and found a setting on my PODHD500 and then threw out three chords and just jammed on it. The inspiration then drove me to boot up Logic and create a drummer track. One region variation led to another and all of a sudden those three chords started sounding like a song.

That started me asking, “what is a song”?

It has to be more than the three chords I was playing. All of a sudden, this simple progression had feeling. It had emotional energy. It almost seemed to develop a life of its own. A song must embody these things. It must live, breathe and feel beyond the chords and notes that are playing. That must be how it connects with people, making people feel a certain way similar to the way that interactions between people do. A song may not be a person, but it is definitely alive in its own way.

In a way, these are things that I need to remember when I am writing a song. It’s not about the notes and chords that I chose. It’s about the life that is being given to it, whether by me or by God. I often find myself judging, and often condemming, a song long before its completion based on whether I like the notes, arrangement or whatever. However, there was still a connection to the song. That is what I should be judging a song by: that connection. If I’m feeling some life in the song that I am writing, even if it is just an ember, I should not abandon writing that song. If anything, like any ember, breathing a bit more life into it, like blowing on an ember, may be just what it needs to take on a life of its own.

I like Elton John… so what?

As a kid, I grew up listening to Elton John. Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player just came out and Crocodile Rock was all over the radio and I taught myself to play the opening organ riff on our little house organ. Yeah, it sounded cheesy, but then again so was the organ that was used in the song. However, it was called music. Real music. 

I can remember when I first heard Daniel on the radio, I had to learn the whole song. Of course I learned it on our ol’ cheesy house organ. When my mother would take me to Town and Country Square shopping maill, the first place I would go to was the keyboard store and play Daniel on the Lowry organs with the built-in rhythm machines. I can remember it almost like it was yesterday.

My sister actually introduced me to the album Honky Chateau. She would play it on stereo night and day. Honky Cat and Rocket Man became my turning point. I had to learn how to play all these songs. My problem was that all I had was that cheesy organ and these were piano songs. As well, I was becoming more fascinated with the guitar. I decided to learn some of those songs on the guitar. It wasn’t the same, so I had to let it go for a while and make room for music from Kiss, Rush (which is still one of my favourite bands), Led Zeppelin, and plenty of guitar heroes who have gained my respect as I grew up and grew old.

Full circle 40 years later, and I have been taking piano lessons for a while, from a set of lessons that I found on the Internet. Aside from fact that these lessons focus more on helping me just play the piano, they are showing me that I can indeed play the piano. As well, I also found a bunch of Elton John piano transcriptions and have finally got to a point in my lessons where I can start learning my favorite songs, like “Levon” and “The King Must Die”. The cool part about it was that I was actually playing those riffs and my ears loved what they heard.

Say what you want about him, but there’s no mistaking the fact that Elton John is a great musician, composer and arranger. Back in the seventies, his music was amazing and that’s how I prefer to remember him. Perhaps, his songs of today are far from what I would prefer to hear, but then again, I was always a child of the 70s, and to me, that was music all around.

Rant: The Line Between Tools and Talent

I read a post on one of the discussion boards from someone having some issues using Logic Pro X’s Drummer track. In short the user is having trouble getting the Drummer track to automatically follow a song by adding a rest note.

This is where the frustration lies, as the Drummer Track is just not following the midi track accurately enough. The drum machine track utilises regular rest notes – accentuated beforehand with a kick/cymbal ‘stab’ – in both the verses and choruses, but try as I might I cannot get the drummer to recognise these rest notes or perform fills around them.

Hello… it’s a computer program. It’s not a mind reader. It’s not doing what you think is right. It is doing what it is programmed to do: play a drum rhythm. It isn’t your song unless you want it to be. If you don’t like the part it is playing, you either change the rhythm or you get your hands dirty and write the part yourself. Simple as that. Don’t blame the program.

Yes – I can manually go in and adjust the drum track by converting it to midi and creating the rests, but then I’ve got to deal with a preceding fill that doesn’t fit the rest note, meaning a lot of fiddling about and risk the flow of the Drummer Track that I wanted in the first place. I’ve also got a few more other songs to import from the drum machine that I know I’ll have the same bother with.

There’s only one answer I will give you: big deal!

Somewhere along the line, people have gotten lazy. They get a tool and as soon as they all of a sudden expect it to do everything. As soon as they have to do some work with it, all of a sudden, the tool has a problem. Herein lies the dividing live between tools and talent. Who ever said that just because you have a tool, you no longer have to do the work with it? It doesn’t matter if you have a sequencer, drum machine or even a robotic guitar tuner, it’s not a replacement for your talent and abilities. They are meant to help you make music. Not make music for you. If you need to go in and add your own rest notes to make a song your own, then get off your butt and add those rest notes. I have a song that I am working on right now that uses Logic Pro X’s Drummer track and there’s a part where I am breaking the song into a set of triplets and then a pause. Do you think that I expect the Drummer track to actually know what I am intending with the emotion of that part? Honestly, I would be scared if it did know what I wanted. But, alas, it doesn’t. I have to go in and add the triplets and the rest and voila, the song is mine. Yeah, I used Drummer, but it was a tool in the end. It helped me write the song. It wasn’t the song.

Whether I have talent or not is subjective. However, I would have had a guaranteed no if I were to rely solely on any tool to do my thinking for me.