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Finding New In The Old

In 2013, I took a beginner's music theory course in college. Seven years later, I dug up the song in its digital form and gave it new life.

I don't write as much music as I used to. There's a combination of reasons for why that is or may be, but their irrelevant to this post. Though I may not sit down and produce a song in its entirety that often, it's a given that I'll end up recording a snippet of a future song during my practice sessions.

Those recordings - typically a video so I can see myself doing the thing - end up in my Google photos library where they get thrown into a folder aptly named "Song Ideas."

In case you haven't guessed yet, there are/were problems with that process.

  1. I can't search for any of these videos by name;
  2. They don't get categorized any further than being labeled a song idea.

My old process was to periodically download them to my laptop and organize them locally in folders named by genres (or percentage complete as a song). Then, when I am in the mood to write for a longer period of time, I create a Guitar Pro 5 session and tab it all out - guitars, drums, bass, you name it.

This Rube Goldberg machine of songwriting got the best of me, so I finally made a better system through the use of a account, automatic uploads to the cloud for each video/photo, and subsequent categorization with those aptly named folders that now live in the data atmosphere.

Things get lost though; with hundreds of ideas living in video form, I don't have the time or desire to make a full-blown song out of all of them. Hell, some are real blasts from the past to a time when I was about 30lbs heavier and didn't know a soul patch looked terrible on a high schooler.

But one of those lost treasures stood out to me recently; it's a song I wrote in 2013 as part of a beginner's music theory course.

The purpose of the project was something along the lines of needing to write a song X measures long with Y sections and Z number of instruments. I was incredibly confident going into it considering I already had years of playing and writing behind me.

Remember: this is a music theory course, and I had neglected to care about anything music theory up until this point. I wanted to learn it and the course fit my schedule, but I shoudn't have been as confident as I was.

It turned out to be a test of what little ego I had at the time. I wrote this fast-paced punk-style song with bright melodies and non-standard chords - my typical I've come to learn.

I was pretty proud of the little thing and thought for sure I'd nailed it.

My professor reviewed it and sent back his notes, including a re-write of the song to show me what he meant. Among those edits were:

  • Cutting the BPM in half;
  • Solidifying it into a major key;
  • Changing emphasis of key chords;
  • And some other things that would be too much to list.

I was a bit unsettled hearing the changes, but it was nothing meant to offend me. He was incredibly nice and helpful about the project. Looking back, I greatly appreciate it even if it changed the theme of the song so much.

I realize now that what he did was make it better. Sure, I still don't write songs that keep to the key as tightly as they could - and I like it that way - but his rendition of my song showed me there were more paths to take with a melody.

And it gave me a taste of what a back-and-forth songwriting process could look like in the future.

I'll finish writing that song some day; maybe this year, maybe next year, but eventually. And I'll always remember how it got to where it was and what lessons can be learned by handing off a creation of your own and letting someone else make it their own.

In this case, it made it better. Collaboration in music is truly a great thing.


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