Saturday, December 2, 2017

Seven November Tunes

Back in June I set a goal of writing 50 tunes in a year's time.  With 7 tunes added in November, I'm now up to 33 total - on the way to having 50 tunes by the end of May 2018.  Calendar-wise, this is the half-way point (6 months in).  The act of writing tunes is now more familiar, however, the concern over when is this going to get difficult is now apparent.  Am I repeating myself?  Falling back on repetitive patterns, characteristics, or intervals?  Is that wrong?  I had these concerns a few times in November.

The first November tune was actually written on November 1st.  To compose it I took some personal catchphrases from my childhood and added melodies to the rhythm of those nonsense sayings.  That supplied an A and B part.  Then I tacked on a winterish melody I had been playing around with to make a C part.  I don't always care if parts go together musically or thematically.  If I was writing them both around the same time then they fit together for other reasons.

Fall Winter Cold

After writing Fall Winter Cold, which arrived almost effortlessly, most of a week went by with no tangible results.  For several days I played around with an idea inspired by the sound of a children's TV show theme and/or a 1950's girl singing act.  I almost gave up until I realized that I might have something there.  What I arrived at was almost too minimal - more of a jingle than a fully fleshed out tune - but I really like it. 

Virginia Fur

I have a book called Musical Scales of the World by Michael Hewitt.  If/when I run I run out of ideas, my thought was that I could refer to that book and see if any melodies could be derived from an unusual scale.  On the morning of November 14th, I had about ten minutes to spare before I had to leave for work so I opened the book randomly to the page on the Major Blues Scale, which, believe it or not, was brand new to me.  The very first thing I played upon looking at that scale has become the A-part to The Sparrow Blues.  It seemed good enough to me.  I wrote down those notes before leaving for work.  By the time I had gotten home that evening I had an idea for the B-part: take a Russian folk melody and alter the notes to conform to the Blues Scale.  I walked in the door, got out the banjo, and within 30 minutes had the B-part.

The Sparrow Blues

The Sparrow Blues was ridiculously easy to come up with and it is super fun to play.  A tough act to follow.  Whatever I came up with next was going to be my 30th tune, so that made things a little more difficult.  It took a few days of ruminating, but I pieced together an odd, chilling melody called Change for a Thirty.  Something I've been doing recently, which really helps, is to quickly make up words to go with the melody.  In this case those words are (A part) "hey now how 'bout you, have you had enough to do, did the seasons change, be the change you're looking for", and (B part) "take it easy don't look back, it's the same old song, be the change you're looking for".

Change for a Thirty

There's a screw in my bed roll isn't anything I had to write - it was just....there.  Words and melody.  It was a non-premeditated improvisation that I played on 11/20/17 in real time out of the blue by thinking/singing the words "there's a screw in my bedroll" (whatever that means) while simultaneously playing a melody to go with it.  Without pausing I added "and it's nailed shut doors ten fold", then "all the people there complain about things that they don't know", then returning to "there's a screw in my bedroll".  I played that part again and knew I needed to go higher for the B-part, so without hesitation I went higher and improvised the words/melody "there's a brighter side I know, through open doors once closed, not ev-ry one needs another one, there's a brighter side I know".  Done.  I played it again, and again, and again to make sure this could legitimately be a composition.  Then slept on it.  I might have ultimately changed one note.  Will this ever happen again?

Screw in my Bedroll

At this point I was good for the month of November.  Five tunes.  I felt pretty sated, but the inspiration kept coming.  Change for a Thirty and Screw in my Bedroll are both pretty dark and cold, so I pulled a switcheroo with a cliche Jamaican-style melody called Job To Do. (formula = melody first > then words > name of tune taken from words).  Before I decided to write and play my own tunes, I had been learning and playing Caribbean melodies.  The 5th tune I wrote - Bougainvillea Moon - is a Caribbean melody, but Job To Do might be the first overtly Caribbean feeling tune since then.  I try to write melodies without any discernible relation to a style of music other than my own, but with Job To Do it's inevitable that it sounds Jamaican.

Job To Do

I was home sick on November 30th with a cold, but not too sick to play the banjo.  So with instrument in hand and the general sound of three songs in my head (I'm A Lonesome Fugitive by Merle Haggard, As I Went Out One Morning by Bob Dylan and Greenville by Lucinda Williams) I started plucking out a melody, with no intention of actually composing a tune on the last day of the month.  Four hours later, after having being sucked down the creative wormhole and forgetting to eat or drink or dwell on the fact that I was congested with a sore throat, I had something.  I love that feeling of churning out a melody.  After letting it sit for 48 hours, I just played through Night Time To Day again this morning and it can stay, having gotten in on the last day of November.

Night Time Today

That was the November re-cap.  I'm 66% of the way at the half-way point.

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