This never ceases to amaze me. Our musical scale consists of only 12 notes (which repeat in octaves, but still…). And yet Western musicians seem to find endless ways to combine those notes for melodies and chords.
And then there’s the lyric variety. Not as much of a surprise there, since the English language contains at least 170,000 words currently in use. (Which makes you wonder why so many lyricists still focus obsessively on analyzing their love lives, or lack thereof, and use the same old phrases and rhymes, such as “tonight/all right” to do it – but that’s another story!)
I write songs, but even I can’t tell you where half my ideas come from. The creative process is part blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also part magic.
For instance, I just wrote a song for a friend’s wedding. And yet I can’t recall where the idea sprang from, even though I started it just barely 48 hours ago. (No, for better or for worse, I’m not one of those folks who dash songs off in 10 minutes…) The first half of the first line just appeared: “When love comes a-calling…” And then, from some mysterious place, came the idea to repeat that line, completing it each time with a colourful expression or idiom.
E.g., “When love comes a-calling / you can run but you just can’t hide,” and “When love comes a-calling / all your ducks line up in a row.” Anyway, thank god for Google and sites that list idioms and proverbs and the like, which helped me find more. And then other phrases just appeared in that magical way, seemingly out of thin air, without research.
Also, the “love comes a-calling” line soon began to create a melody for itself as I repeated it in my head. By the time I picked up the guitar, the song was half written musically too.
The song’s now finished, I think it’s pretty good, and I even worked the couple’s names into it. (We’ll see how it goes over at the post-nuptial party.) But I still can’t tell you where it came from!
Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com