Composing – first steps (WHO ME?)

With all of the extra time you now have, it is a great time for you to stick your toe into the pool of songwriting. Ok don’t scream, shudder or declare “absolutely not!” before you hear me out. Think about this: We improvise all of the time in our daily lives; when we speak, when we prepare a meal, when we exercise, etc. We are born improvisors, putting things together as we go along. So why not play around a bit on your keyboard just for the fun of it? Or just out of curiosity? Also, improvising is REALLY GREAT for your brain. If you don’t believe me, listen to Charles Limb’s 16 minute Ted Talk and you’ll be fully convinced. Then please read or reread my blog posts about improvising: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to get you started playing to some chord progressions.

If I have convinced you to try improvising, here are some ideas to take you to the next step. First, de-clutter your practice space. Move sheet music you aren’t currently playing away from your field of vision. An open space supports an open, creative mind. Keep your tools (blank manuscript paper, pencils, eraser, pens) neat, clean and visible, so that you’re reminded to practice whenever you pass by. Begin your practice with small steps and low expectations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every artist was first an amateur.” Start by setting an intention to just mingle with your keys for 10 minutes a day. Make it part of your healthful daily routines such as brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast. Don’t let your head hit the pillow at night until you’ve jammed on the keyboard for 10 minutes. Notice which musical phrases you liked, and which you didn’t like. Write down the phrases you liked either as notes on manuscript paper (blank sheet music lined paper) or as letters going up or down on the page. You might use the phrases you like in a song later.

If you would like to try to write a song with lyrics, scribble words—any words—on paper for 10 minutes. Write about your angst, your fear, your lethargy, your blank page—whatever the obstacle is feeling like at the moment. I have a piano student who one day realized that he wanted to become a songwriter. When I asked him what he’d like to write about first, he grimaced, “I can’t do it! I’m so uncomfortable!” “Great!” I replied. “That’s your first line.” And he wrote a great song called, Uncomfortable. Or you might write about what or who you love, about your gratitude, or about something fun (remember having fun? call upon those memories even if you aren’t having fun right now!) Just play around with your lyrics ’til you get a couple of lines down that you like. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is great advice. Forget about creating your masterpiece. Just flex the muscles of your imagination. Shake hands with it and take it out for a little spin. Taking those first tentative steps daily, saves us from the tyranny of procrastination. With time, try to become a little braver during your 10 minutes . Trust your creativity more than your fear. As author John A. Shedd said, “A ship in harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are built for.”  What are you built for? Begin to tap into your own style, voice, and perspective. Get curious and dabble. Then find a small focus towards your creative progress and work on it. For at least 10 minutes each day. Set your phone timer for 10 minutes then forget about time and focus on your art.

In my next post I will help you get started with putting a song (with lyrics) or instrumental piece (without lyrics) together.

How is your piano practice going? Do you find it relaxing to practice? I hope you are coping as well as can be during our quarantine. With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul

P.S. If you need a manuscript book for your compositions you can click on the yellow book below to purchase ours on Amazon. You can also check out our Upper Hands Piano instruction book and our Songs of the Seasons: Spring book!

Subscribe (top left) to receive new sheet music coming May 1st!

4 Replies to “Composing – first steps (WHO ME?)”

  1. I actually wrote ( I cannot use the word compose for me) two measures and began the third before thinking “This is crazy, I am a late intermediate playing just 8 years!” I do love what I wrote in my favorite key of D. I put it aside. Who knows!!!
    Thank you, Gaili, for the encouragement.
    And, as an aside, your tutorial on 6ths and 7ths got through to me. I have submerged myself in a study of them, along with using the flash cards you provided. They are really not that hard once you begin to work with them. I am going to begin to invert them in the next couple of weeks once I am proficient with root position. Isolation has been musically fruitful.
    With gratitude,

    1. That age old sneer always pops up in our consciousness when we try to create something new- Who do you think you are? And it threatens to halt our artistic efforts before they even get a chance to see the light of day. When those “This is crazy” voice comes up, just notice it with a smile- “oh hear it comes again, that voice that just wants to sabotage me” then let it go. Keep writing or composing or improvising in spite of those doubts and the embarrassment of actually taking yourself seriously.

      Carol I’m thrilled to hear that you loved what you wrote. Keep that first success in mind as you continue to play around with creating music at the piano. Some days you won’t like what you are coming up with, but either did Leonardo Da Vinci! We don’t create masterpieces every day, but if you find something you like, enjoy your magic!

      I’m so glad you are finding the 6th and 7th chords materials useful. The more you know about chords the bigger your toolbox when writing music! Also knowing about chords helps you to read music faster with greater recall. We play better when we understand what we are reading. Thanks for your encouraging reply. Keep us posted!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *