Bit by Bit: Balancing Musical Intuition with Education

- Posted May 20th, 2016 by

Hello, friends!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I wanted to start of by thanking all of you that have specifically brought your interest and appreciation of this article series to my attention.  It certainly helps motivate me to continue making these, and coincidentally I have the outlines on an article based off of motivation and goals, but that’s for another time.  This article is based on the necessity to balance your musical intuition with education.  Both, from my perspective, are crucial.  Your application of both of them, of course, is all up to you.

When you're paying the Hoodie image tax, but remembered you have to keep it relevant

When you’re paying the Hoodie image tax, but remembered you have to keep it relevant


In the first article, I discussed the concept of consistently making music regardless of its quality.  One thing that I didn’t get on about what exactly when you should be trying to improve said quality; this was because the wording I used implied that it will happen eventually and over time through the sense of your own intuition.  Typically, this is not inaccurate.  There are instances, however, when people realize that they have “hit a plateau or a wall” with their creativity.  For some people, this can manifest in feeling “stuck” within a genre and others might think that they can’t think of the next song to create.

This is where music education, if you have not incorporated any of it into your knowledge base, is crucial.  To a lot of people I have said this to directly, there has been a bit of hesitation.  In my own experience, I was starting to learn a little about theory, and once I brought up a song in which even theoretically I didn’t know enough about, the immediate response I got was, “Nahhh fuck music theory.  You learn it in order to forget it and re-learn it.”  To which another person in who had influence also responded in kind with a hearty cry of, “Yeah, fuck theory!”

Well, I’m here to say fuck that sentiment.  Sure, I understand now that what they meant was that it’s basically a strong guideline which can easily be broken.  I just wish I discovered that’s what they meant back then.  Both intuition and education are valuable tools which will lead you towards a solid foundation, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll break the bank in the process.  Often, in my experience with a formal music education (thus far), a lot of the beginning concepts are a combination of what most composers and musicians take for granted, and the scrutinizing analysis of every production’s most subtle details.

When I was starting out, I wrote music entirely based on my own intuition.  The most I knew of anything music-theory-wise was that Famitracker (in its earlier versions) had buttons for making major arpeggios and minor arpeggios, and that was it.  Everything else was a new, crazy world I only thought would be a hobby.  I would write whenever I felt inspiration, but it was always so fleeting.  For years I wondered why, but recently it had dawned on me.  Sure, people vary and everyone is both inspired and motivated by a wide variety of things.  However, I would lose inspiration because I would constantly sit there not understanding how anything worked, and it would take constant learning and practice to get things to make sense, which often lead to new music.  For every song on my albums, I learned something new about the tools that I used to create music.  Be it theory or technical function, I was always learning to do something different in every song.  Fortunately, by the time I got back into education for myself, I noticed that the more I sat down and learned, the more interested I was in making more music.

If you feel stagnant, I want you do me and yourself a favor.  Take the problem and write it down in front of you.  Or type it.  Either way, put that problem in front of your field of vision.   One by one, I want you to try mapping out the direction of the song you’re making.  What genre is it?  Remember, “chiptune” is not definitively a genre.  Did you write out a form for it?  What is different in every part of the form to help distinguish it from the previous?  What emotion are you trying to convey through the song?  Is this song in an album, and if so, where is this song placed on that track list?  Do you plan on making this a highlighted track or equivalent of a single to promote the album to others?

If any of this seemed to make no sense to you, I would recommend learning about it.  You might realize you knew about this all along, and you never knew there was a name for it.  If you’re curious about “how,” I would recommend using a search engine to get the general idea of what you do not understand.  After that, I would recommend learning about music production analysis.  Being able to listen to and deconstruct a song is a crucial part of learning why successful songs tend to be so memorable and successful.  Another part is the actual part of production, of course.  If you don’t know what reverb, chorusing, layering and other effects happen to be or sound like, you might get stuck on a specific detail and miss the big picture until it’s too late.

For example, if you want an example of syncopation and form, J.B. Dyas did a great example of both of these in a youtube video made for teaching high school and college band students how to get into jazz.  From there I learned of the pianist Keith Jarret, as well as the vibraphone player Gary Burton, and found a bunch of recorded masterclasses discussing various things, from stories through their career as well as how they learned certain concepts, techniques, or came up with some of their most popular songs.  There are plenty of lessons to get you started, from professionals to people just wanting to educate others on youtube, never mind other websites.

If you’re curious about some very detailed music analysis, I recommend  I got introduced to the website by a professor of mine during my own music production analysis course, and the level of detail described for every song he covers is fascinating.  With a musical bias, I used to think a lot of pop music was generic or similar, but when you see the level of detail actually put into one of the current hits, you realize the amount of generalization you’ve made really undermines the level of subtlety and detail put into songs you otherwise would’ve dismissed.  I assure you, I never thought I would learn something from the deconstruction of a Selena Gomez song, or Hotline Bling.  The next thing I know, I was sitting there following along to some of the charts written out.

The next article might take me a while to properly formulate, as I might overwrite about the next subject and go unnecessarily in-depth over, but if you’re up for it, I’ll see you all in a bit.  Happy creating, and see you then.

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