In 1995, Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave an AMAZING talk about overcoming selfishness. I swear every sentence is a home-run. Anyway, Jenni and I read and discussed his talk, and we hope you learn as much as we did!
Music, Art, and Media Series
Have you ever wondered why things like beat, rhythm, and intensity are mentioned by the brethren as things to be aware of when are choosing what type of music to listen to? I have, and this talk addressed that very well.
Alice sat down behind the information desk, exhausted at the end of a full day. In the early afternoon, a school class had come on a field trip to the library, and Alice was the only one available to give them a tour and read to them. Then after school let out, one of the local scout troops had come for some merit badge… something. Somehow it felt like she was catching up on everything else for the rest of the day. But now it was 8 pm, the library was closed, and the doors were locked. She slumped back in the chair, tempted to fall asleep right at the computer.
She looked down at a paper next to the keyboard. She had nearly forgotten about her research on local history. The sticky note had the names of the books Matt Robinson had brought in.
There was something strange about Matt. When he had come in the library that morning, he had been dressed in an outfit that Alice would have described as being appropriate for a mountain-man, and he was accompanied by a young kid of ten or eleven. His attitude had been very direct and determined, though she had assumed that he was a foreigner. He acted like he’d never seen the inside of a library before, and was very conscious of everything happening around him.
But when he returned in the afternoon, he was Continue reading
Matt stared at her.
“Actually, it’s been a lot of fun to research,” the librarian said. “This has always been a curious little town to me. My Grandparents grew up here and own a house nearby, so I’ve been to visit often throughout my life. When my Grandpa passed away I offered to move in with Grandma so I could attend school here. She’s really independent but she’s grateful for the company.”
A teenage boy stood by, waiting to check out some books. “Oh, excuse me for a minute,” she said, turning to the boy.
Matt watched her. She spoke to Matt as though she knew him well. Was she just a very trusting person, or was she mistaking him for someone else? And how did she know Continue reading
I’ve decided to try something. This is sort of my personal/family blog, and it has the least focus of all my blogs. So I thought it might be cool to post the majority of the stuff I post on my other blogs and podcasts on this blog as well. It’s kind of an experiment, so it might not last. I’ll mostly just duplicate the stuff that is original content (meaning I wrote the words, made the video, or created the music, rather than just sharing something I found elsewhere on the Internet) when it’s from the other blogs.
If it works, this blog will get busier, but since the stuff going on in my other blogs are a big part of my life and family, they still fit the intent of this blog.
Let me know how it works for you who are reading!
Incidentally, here are my most regular blogs/podcasts:
Making Moments: My Daddy Blog (this one), and hence sometimes a humor blog as well. If this experiment works, though, it’s going to get a little more scattered.
Overtones: My music blog/podcast. Listen to my original music, musical thoughts, etc. By the way, my second CD comes out in downloadable form at the end of this week!
Popcorn and Podcasting: An LDS podcast my wife and I do together. We try to have a new post up every Saturday, but occasionally they go up late.
The Synergetic Novel: A collaborative weekly serial novel. I should say up front that the reason the author is not posted on the site is because I hope there will eventually be many contributing authors – if the idea ever gets big enough to expand. But so far I am the author, with the help of some of my fictional friends… and a lot of help from readers!
Music is a remarkable thing. So is the mind and the heart. Together, these three elements can create beautiful music for all who hear it. I’ve noticed that generally it is the simpler music that touches people most deeply. I encourage any who enjoy listening to music to give writing music a try. The best indicator to tell if you have ability to write music is to notice how much you enjoy listening to it. The more you enjoy listening to it, the more developed your mental ear is, and the greater capacity your mind has to bring new music to life. This may be hard to believe, but in my experience, it is true.
Many people, even musicians, may try to convince you that music writing is something you’ve either ‘got’ or you don’t. Don’t believe them. This is but a convenient way to make musicianship sound unreachable for the inexperienced.
The truth is, even the most gifted musicians have developed the capacities we have been discussing, but they rarely know how to explain it, because so much of what is happening in practice is internal. So they only explain those things which are easily explained – the note values, the time signatures, and the drill techniques. These are all good, but they are only the technical parts. I hope in this series I’ve been able to convey some internal ideas that are used in playing and writing music.
That is not an easy task, but I hope my attempts prove helpful in your quest to play and write music, by ear and by heart.
The Sound Method
The basic idea of the sound method also works with silence, but silence can be a little more difficult to find in the busy world that we live in. If the opportunity presents itself, try creating music using only your mental ear while you are in complete silence.
Also, have you ever noticed that when you sit or lay in complete silence – perhaps shortly before you begin to fall asleep, you can occasionally imagine sounds so well that you can almost convince yourself that you actually hear them? I don’t think this is anything strange. As your mind approaches sleep, it will sometimes begin to drift into dreaming before you have completely fallen asleep.
If you ever find yourself drifting off, and are aware that you are doing so, try playing with your mental ear. You may, on occasion, find that you can make yourself hear music – not actually hear it, but almost hear it. If it works, you may find that you can create beautiful music, much in the same way you would if you used the sound method. The only caution with the sleepy method is that if you fall asleep completely, you’ll probably forget what your music sounded like.
In speaking of these methods, I hope not to create the impression that writing music by heart requires some kind of deep meditation or something. That is not the case at all. Actually, these sound and silence methods work best if you have already created some of your own music using the basic methods we’ve already discussed. Sound and silence methods are just a fun way to play with your developing mental ear.
Music is a simple thing that promotes emotion and motivation, and is best created with that idea in mind.
If this method does prove itself effective for you, you may find that it is not difficult to invent a tune while humming during a walk, or whistling while you work. You will likely find that you can spontaneously begin humming a tune that you have never before heard, and perhaps you will never hear again – unless you have a piano handy. Try some things out, and you may be surprised how easily you can write original music.
The Sound Method
This section of the Play by Ear, Write by Heart series may seem like the strangest, and may give you the impression that I have a bit of a mental disorder, but if you will take it seriously, and try it out, I’m sure you will find these tools as useful for you as they have been for me. These methods are certainly not necessary, but they can be a bit of fun, and might even help you in creating original music.
Your mental ear is quite powerful. It is also very sensitive, and can be easily manipulated. If you have ever been in a situation where you have been surrounded by a continuous and solid noise, such as a loud motor or fan, you may have noticed that any sound that you hear in the distance may be distorted and misunderstood. If someone speaks to you while you are next to a loud motor, for example, you may hear something different than what they actually said. This can be frustrating in terms of communication, but if you are trying to learn to write music by heart, a loud and constant sound can be a great tool.
I should clarify that I am not speaking of loud music or loud rhythm. Those will prevent the very thing you are trying to accomplish. I am speaking of a constant sound, such as the hum of a vacuum cleaner or the crashing of falling water.
As you listen to the sound, listen carefully. Listen intently and try to hear more in the hum than what is really there. When you feel as though you might be able to hear echoes of other sounds emanating from the hum, let your mental ear play with it. Imagine that you can hear music in the hum. Imagine it with as detailed as you can.
As your mind begins developing a tune, repeat it over and over, until you feel confident that you won’t easily forget it. Then, go to a piano and try to play it. This may or may not work, but when it does work, it can be a fun way of inventing a piece of music.
Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged when your attempt at playing your imagined music on the piano doesn’t sound nearly as good as you remember hearing it.
Your mental ear has much more skill than your hands do. Your mind can play entire orchestras with every little detail. After all, consider a piece of music that you’ve heard dozens of times. Can’t you hear the tune in your mind with all the little instrumental details? That is your mental ear playing back a piece of music. This same format can be used to write a whole new piece of music that has never been heard before by anyone.
If you can come up with a basic tune this way, allow yourself time to learn to play it.
You’ll also find that a tune is MUCH easier to remember once you’ve played it on the piano (however inadequately), because sometimes when you come back to a piece you can remember the fingering better than the tune. That’s all right, since as soon as your fingers do their work, your mind will recall the feelings and notes of your original music.
Cautions concerning your mental ear
Your mental ear has a remarkable capacity to remember and bring forth beautiful music from a seeming oblivion. It collects information from every tune it hears, and binds emotion to any mix of chords. Using this as a guide to writing music can make it possible to promote virtually any emotion that the human heart can experience. The mental ear also builds up a catalog of chord usages to draw from for writing music.
I would like to share a couple of cautions, however, concerning the mental ear. It is so common, and so easy, for a person to write a piece of music by heart, only to find later that the piece already exists. You may find, after writing a piece, that the melody or chord structure has already been written by someone else. It is comforting to know that chord structures are not copyrighted, but it is important to also understand that melodies are. If you find that your chords match some other song that already existed, but your melody is different, don’t worry, that is alright. There’s nothing wrong with using the same chords that someone else is using. But if you find that your melody is already in existence, recognize that it is not yours, and you must either give proper credit to the writer, or change your tune.
My second bit of caution is also the more important caution: if this happens to you (you write a piece only to discover that someone else wrote it first) do not get discouraged by this. It can be embarrassing if you have publicized (not published) your piece already, only to find that it wasn’t yours in the first place, but do not let this scare you from writing more! Consider it a great compliment. Does it not prove that your capacity to write music is great? Does it not prove that your musical ear is incredibly powerful and effective? If you can write a melody that is already popular without even knowing that someone else wrote it, does that not validate the talent that you have developed?
Sometime read “The Story of my Life” by Helen Keller. She went through this on a heavy level. But with her, it was with writing instead of music. She was very gifted with words and wrote a beautiful story, only to find out later that it wasn’t hers. She could only assume afterward that she had heard it years before and forgotten about it. She was greatly complimented for her work, but when it was discovered that the story already existed, she was looked down upon by some of the people she most admired. During her recovery period from this most challenging part of her life, she said:
Miss Canby [a teacher] herself wrote kindly, “Some day you will write a great story out of your own head, that will be a comfort and help to many.” But this kind prophecy has never been fulfilled. I have never played with words again for the mere pleasure of the game. Indeed, I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own.
The shock of the whole event discouraged her from writing fiction for the rest of her life. This is a tragedy. Don’t let that happen to you! When you find that a piece is not yours, simply step down and start working on your next piece. You have infinite music in your heart that has yet to be written, and no matter how good your piece is, your best is not yet written. Write it, and let no failure or fear of embarrassment hinder you.