Writing/Composing Music

BanjoBack in high school, I played a lot of music. I joined all of the music activities I could and practiced the trumpet for hours every day. By senior year I was burned out. Sure, I still listened to a lot of music, but I grew tired of playing. Sometime later I played in a band for a year or so. Then, off-and-on for the next ten years, I played just the guitar. In the 1990s, maybe it was  1996, I was tired of just playing other musician’s music, and thought that I wanted to write my own music. But, how does one just do that?

Writing your own music, that is, melody, chords and lyrics seemed completely foreign to me. You wouldn’t think so having been listening to it or playing it for most of my life, but I just didn’t know where to begin. A co-worker owned a music studio and offered to record me singing and playing guitar. So, I learned a simple song from a Doc Watson/Chet Atkins album. It was strange; especially to hear my voice, as I never realized what my voice sounded like and . . . I didn’t particularly like it either. One friend said I sounded like Gordon Lightfoot. I played the recording for my father and he said, “Who is that?”, not even recognizing my singing voice. Anyway, I thought, “Okay, I can do this”, though nothing happened for months. Then one evening I was goofing around, like I normally did, with the guitar, playing a little finger-picking thing I made up and then it struck me . . . “this could be something”. Then I added a chord progression, then some lyrics, then a chorus, and within two hours I wrote my first song and I called it “Knowing You”. More on that later.

But, what just happened? That was weird. I went from zero to full song in two hours?

Within a few weeks I wrote a few more songs. It came pretty easy, though they weren’t exactly top 40 or anything like that. I bought a 4-track recorder and some microphones and I learned how to do multi-track recording and away I went.

Lyrics are a mysterious phenomenon, in my opinion. I’d write a song and ask people what they thought it meant and it turns out they mean something different to everyone who hears them. Here are some lyrics of my first song:

Lyrcis to verse 1 and chorus of Knowing You

(Me talking to them)

You’re lookin’ ‘round for what you’re missin’

Waiting to talk, but no one’s listenin’

Life goes on, but where’s it goin’

You got to work, for what it’s worth to you

For what it’s worth to you, for what it’s worth to you

(Them talking to me)

And, I don’t understand, this feeling that you have

You say you know some truth, but I know it’s just you

Knowing you . . . knowing you . . . knowing you

People didn’t understand that I was playing the voice of the people I know, who inspired the song, during the chorus and the dismissive attitude they had to what I was saying in the verses.  I wrote about personal experiences, so, I guess, how could they know? The second song came during another goof around session, and with another finger-picking thing with the capo on the fourth fret, which reminded me of a children’s music box. A memory came to me about watching my son Luke learning to ride a bicycle the previous summer while he was wearing one of those big white helmets and very focused. The song begins, “You don’t know me, but I love you, you don’t know it, I want to help you grow”. I think most people were wondering about that, especially because they didn’t know the background, but it was only meant to say that given his young age of about 5, he couldn’t possibly know me as anything other than his father or that I got great joy from just watching him grow up.  Here’s the lyrics:

Song 2, verse 1, Lyrics:

You don’t know me, but I love you,

You don’t know it, I want to help you grow

I am with you, in the morning

But I have to leave you for a while

When I see you, you’re so happy

Loving eyes, I know what’s deep inside

Chord Change

The day goes on, it won’t slow down

I wish I may, I wish I might see you

I’ll be home it won’t be long

I’ll see your smiling face, I can’t go wrong

Verse 2

All day long are new adventures

Time to share and love to make you whole

As you grow I love to watch you

Changing quickly, right before my eyes

Soon you’ll want to do your own thing

I can’t keep you always by my side

Chord change

What will become of you my son

I wish I knew what life will bring to you

I’ll try my best to teach you soundly

After that I know it’s up to you


Determining a song title is very difficult for me. That second song never really got a definitive name. I think I renamed it four or five times and I still haven’t settled on one. The fourth song I wrote was about a guy I used to know from high school that got married on Valentine’s Day and then hadn’t heard from him in 15 or 20 years.  If he ever reads this he’ll know he was the inspiration. I was jamming with a couple of co-workers after work one day and played it for them and asked them about a title. They both replied immediately with “February Wedding, of course!” What was so obvious to them, escaped me completely. There’s a section of the lyrics which goes, “a cool day, a February wedding for you”, which I guess stood out to them. By the way, the idea for the song came when I was striking two harmonics and then three fretted notes in sequence and somehow it reminded me of rainy evening. That raining sound led to reminiscing about people I once knew and the lyrics just came flowing out.

But, even more strange than all of that, was writing and titling an instrumental. I listened to a lot of jazz and Chet Atkins when I was younger and I never could figure how they named those lyric-less tunes. None of the eight tunes on those LPs had lyrics and yet they all had different names! How could they decide what to call it? In the summer of 2000, I bought a Fender Stratocaster and was goofing around with it one afternoon. I created what seemed like a good introduction to something, but no lyrics came to mind. I continued, and using the 4-track I added chords, and then I added a guitar solo over the played-back chords. But, wait . . . it wasn’t a solo, it became the melody for the whole thing. No lyrics required! When I played back all of the tracks (2 guitars, drums,and fretless bass) it immediately reminded me of a recent backpacking trip to Lake Ann (FYI – I frequently misspell this as Anne for some reason), in Colorado. The intro made me think of a sunrise, and thus, this one would be called, “Sunrise at Lake Ann”. Huh . . . I got it, after all these years. Whenever I listen to it I think of the sun rising over the mountain peaks in the Collegiate Range in Colorado. So, all of those instrumental song titles actually mean something, at least to the person who composed them. Who knew? Listen to Sunrise at Lake Anne.

All total, I probably wrote 18 songs over the years and not all of them were finished or recorded either. And, though it’s been more than 5 years (probably closer to 10) since my last one, I imagine that I might become inspired again one day.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


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