On the surface one creative discipline seems to be a far outcry from the other. But what if it really wasn’t the case, that maybe there are underlying rules to creativity, that it is all tied together by parallels between the artistic disciplines and when you understand the creative framework, you can apply it to them all. I see a glimpse of this because I have written both words and music. The principals of artistry are there and the only difference is the medium with which you write the story.
The Example: Hey Jude
I’m a fan of oldies… Beatles, Eagles, Journey, Billy Joel, all the modern classics. Of course the hard part here is picking one song as an example, but let’s go with Hey Jude. Lyrically it is telling a story, but the brilliance of these songs is that the music also tells a story, one that reinforces the words and helps it all sink in. At least the great songs do this and you know which ones they are because they are hummed the most.
Hey Jude starts off nice and easy with the first verse. That is then repeated with the same melody. There is a little bit of a transition which takes us to a second melody. So far we have an AA, B pattern going on. Now for the Nah-Nah’s, but only the transitory set… it is not time for the signature hook of the song, just a teaser. Back to A, but only one verse this time because there is a bit more instrumentation going on and you can feel the tension building. Straight to the B phrase. Then that Nah-Nah teaser, one last A phrase, and then the full blown Nah-Nah’s. By this point you’re immersed into the story with your arm around Jude’s shoulder giving him the advice and friendly nudge to get the girl, and by golly you aren’t going to finish singing Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah until Jude is sufficiently jazzed up or irritated and actually goes and does it.
Be it music or writing, the goal is to take the person reading and/or listening on a journey. But with any journey, begin nice and easy with the warm up and as the person is ready, build the intensity. There is a point where it comes to its peak, when you have the person’s full attention, and then you drive the point home. In Hey Jude it is the Nah-nah-nah’s, the progression of pattern layered with chords and stylistic variations that brought you to it’s apex. After that peak, the story winds back down, and if you think of the song or writing in four parts, this is the final quarter.
Foundations & Patterns
Music – In musical composition you’ll find phrases and sentences, just like you would in a paragraph. The melodic phrase is built into larger strings, or what you could call the sentences. There are different patterns with the phrasing, and in Hey Jude there were about 3 different “paragraphs” that were used in the entire song. In many songs there is a verse, chorus, verse, chorus pattern that happens, each verse being different and the chorus tying it all in. The difference between music and words, is the pattern. There is a little more creative license to vary from ABAB to AABAB or AABAB, etc. Writing follows a more linear path.
Writing – When I was taught writing, it was a similar process… start with a foundation. That will be the structure of your idea or the story line. This is where I use outlines to frame out the concepts I want to talk about. This only has to be a phrase or even a word, you don’t have to write the entire paragraph when building your foundation, there is plenty of time for that. The format I normally take is to end cap the main points that I just outlined with an introductory paragraph, then a concluding paragraph. Within the introduction I catch the reader’s attention, normally with something off the wall, an analogy, or simply give a glimpse of my upcoming points. The end always wraps it all up and reinforces the point of the whole article.
Filling It In
Music – One thing you’ll find in art is layers. We discussed the foundational pattern of the melody, but to add depth, or the harmony, we introduce another set of patterns, the chord structure. As the melody does it’s thing, it is supported by a pattern of corresponding notes. You’ll find that these chords shift less frequently than the individual notes of the melody, but more frequent than the shifts of musical phrases. This is where you can start adding in creativity, especially if you are doing a cover of a song and putting your own interpretation on it. This is also where you start seeing the individuality of the composer.
Words – With the outline you put together, you can begin filling it in with explaining each idea. Just as the harmonies give depth and personality, so will the way you explain and fill out the information gives a unique sound to the idea. I love using analogy to explain concepts, or throw in real-life examples. There are so many ways ideas have been passed down through history, use a variety just as you would not stick to the same boring chord patterns.
Music – Once you have a melody and the chords, this is where you can go crazy. But wait, there is still a lot of technique and structure going on. With piano, your right hand can play a single note melody, or add harmony, and that can be simple with two notes, or three to four notes at once. For more emphasis, you use octaves, or doubling the melody with the same hand. The left hand adds in the fill, and there are some different ways to do that. I gravitate to broken chords that are spread out over 1-2 octaves… it gives a relaxed feel. But if I need a little syncopation or emphasis, then I double up that baseline with an octave. There are also solid chords, or you can break the chord into that base note and jump the left hand to a triad, more of the ragtime or gospel style.
Words – Some of the tricks I use with writing is how I begin the sentence… don’t start every one with a noun, but try a preposition, adverbs, a word that ends with “ing.” There are also other little stylistic tricks such as using a triad of three short sentences. And as there is tempo and rhythm in music, vary the length of your sentences to keep readers engaged. Short means staccato. It catches attention. It works. Or you can employ longer sentences to add a little bit of legato that relaxes and lulls the reader. As you write more words, and music, you’ll start noticing stylistic things you are or could do, and that creates a repository of building blocks you can use.
If you were to take a very granular look at all the artistic pursuits, you’d be surprised to see how much they are held together by patterns, symmetry, and logic. If that structure is lacking, you can usually tell. When you build off an organized framework, the creative layers of lyrical and musical expression then enhance what is there and the person walks away clearly knowing the message and hopefully made better by it. The foundation gave clarity, and the creativity enhanced it. But adding those stylistic building blocks that you build on with, takes time, experience, and skill.
What creative mediums do you work with and what are the parallels? What is your framework, or set of patterns that is the springboard for the creative layering? This is my question, can the most impactful composition, no matter the medium, be built in the same way… by knowing its structure and then taking all the creative building blocks and layering them on? I think so, and you know this type of work when you experience it because it will speak to your mind and heart and you walk away all the better because of it.