My previous post was about my song/instrumental composition “Griffin’s Tale.” In that write up, there were hints at how the task of composing works for me…when it works. I promised a follow up article on how I go about composing music, so here is that follow up article.
(Before I go on, some may have noticed that the title of this article, the title of the previous article and the title of the song/composition itself each contain homophones. That is quite intentional, I assure you. Just a little word play for my word nerd friends out there.)
I mentioned previously that this composition is the result of experimenting with open tunings on the guitar, specifically something called “Double Dropped D” tuning, where both the high E and low E strings are tuned down or “dropped” a step, from E down to D. Working in such a tuning can be quite a challenge, for me, anyway.
You see, I can’t read music. A friend and one time singing partner once accused me of bragging when I said that. But truthfully, I never admit this without some sense of embarrassment, as though I’ve just admitted that I’m not a real musician. I’ve been asked on several occasions to teach someone to play, and my answer has always been, “No, you need a teacher that knows what he’s doing.” I can play guitar, after a fashion, but I never play anything “right.” I play by ear, figuring out what works for me.
So yeah, almost fifty years ago, I taught myself to play guitar, muddling through it by brute strength and awkwardness. I learned to play by ear. Even when I play guitar tuned to standard pitch, I don’t always know what notes or chords I’m playing. And if I’m in an open tuning, all bets are off. Because I don’t know the theory behind how chords are constructed, I don’t know what notes played together makes a chord in alternate tunings. I just experiment with different chord shapes and notes until I find something that works.
So this song I’ve written? “Griffin’s Tale”? I can play it, but I don’t know what the chords are; I’m not even sure of what key it’s in. I can play it, but I can’t write out the music to preserve it. It’s really embarrassing to admit this, but I’ve composed other instrumental pieces that are lost to me now. Four years ago I composed both music and lyrics for a song that’s now lost to me. I still have the lyrics, but I did not play it/perform it very much, and I didn’t record it. So now the tune is lost to me.
I’m determined not to let this happen again, so I’ve been playing “Griffin’s Tale” every day, a dozen times a day. I’ll keep on doing so until I have it memorized and/or until I can get a video recording of it.