Have you ever had a really great Idea and followed it to find the river runs dry and you’re left with a half-done song? Or have you ever had a great plan for a song which leaves you with a stale, repetitive bore of a piece? Believe it or not these issues are two sides of the same coin. One is a case of too much emotion and the other – too much logic…
Stream of Consciousness
Stream of consciousness writing is where you take any idea and follow it’s train of thought. words and music seem to flow better because the emotional side of your brain is doing the writing. the downside is that while the music and lyrics flow, they may not make sense logically. Things like writing about an old lover can bring about multiple ideas floating around in your head about the situation but not make sense what you’re actually trying to get across. Like emotion, the result can sometimes turn out incoherently.
Goal based writing on the other hand is when you have a clear end point or framework you want to use, and you write based on a more logical approach. I’m going through The Study of Counterpoint just now, and in order to learn the lessons are very rule based, so my note choices are based on what I’m allowed to use more than what my natural instincts are. This approach leads to understandably structured music, and It can sound good but it can also be very predictable or boring. Taking the same scenario before of an ex and coldly listing what happened for you to break up is unlikely to bring about inspiring music!
Balance is Key
There are of course advantages to both methods of writing. I’ve found that SOC writing is great until you hit a wall and the ideas stop flowing, then Goal based is a great way to finish up an otherwise incomplete song. When I write articles on here I’ll write a constant flow of what I want to write about a subject and then use a structure to make the ideas make more sense.
In the example of guitar playing John Petrucci will come up with a small fragment that sounds good and try out the same structure across multiple scales, speeds and tonalities. He can then use the one fragment to write an entire section without sounding boring or incoherent.
There are so many examples out there, it’s just a case of balance between logic and emotion to produce something that’s both thoughtful and emotional.
Mastering the Art
the Ultimate goal is to have both, to be able to have an end goal in your head and be able to have the music flow for an entire song achieving that goal, but also being able to come up with an idea on the spot and develop it to a coherent song that has a clear focus.
Freddie Mercury believed that as soon as you had an idea for a song it had to be grabbed and writtern as quickly as possible so that the original Idea remained intact, indicating a Stream of Consciousness approach
Schoenberg on the other hand said “A succession is aimless; a progression aims for a definite goal…”
One hit wonders might strike it lucky sometimes but professionals get results time and again. By being able to use both Stream of Consciousness and Goal-based Writing consistently you would be able to take any job, any subject to write about and come up with a great song. It’s how top composers, Pop writers and long-term successful artists are able to stay on top and keep bringing great music into the world.
Emogical as ever