The Creative Process and Songwriting

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Photo taken of my songwriting notebook in a recording session.

Photo taken of my songwriting notebook in a recording session.

There are several factors involved in the songwriting process, including the development of melodic themes, rhythmic patterns, instrumentation, and (sometimes) lyrics. When choosing an instrument, musicians tend to go for one that reflects their identity and personality. An instrument can make a huge difference in the way someone is able to express their creativity, and it also influences the style of a song.

Expertise and musicianship allows for creativity because the playing becomes automatic, and the attention is free to explore other areas of the mind. The more fundamental skills that a musician has, the more possibilities they have to draw from. Songwriters may choose to collaborate at any of the stages, which allows for a combination of ideas and increases the possibilities for any song.

One theme that seems to be important in the creative process is intention. The biggest difference between improvisation and songwriting is whether or not the musician intends to remember and repeat the song. Improvisation has a unique quality of being unattached to the music, which can often lead to a beautiful flow. If the goal is to keep a song, the flow may be interrupted by having to write things down or go back to a section to change something. Improvisation and songwriting are both incredible experiences, and there are qualities from each which can be utilized with the other.

Finding inspiration on a public piano in British Columbia.

Finding inspiration on a public piano in British Columbia.

I recently finished writing and recording an album Pathways for my senior project at Cal Poly, which was part of my research on the Psychology of Creativity and Musical Composition. During this process, many of these themes were apparent in each stage. There seemed to be two kinds of songwriting for me – one in which I felt completely free and able to improvise, and one in which I had a logical desire to write. The resulting songs in these two categories sound distinct, and my connection to each is vastly different.

I also noticed that my experience with music allowed for creative freedom and flexibility. For example, I originally wrote one of the songs on guitar, but decided in a recording session that it felt more like a piano song. Having the skills to play both instruments allowed me to quickly adapt the song to piano, which dramatically changed the overall tone, including the collaborative instrumentation. I left the recording studio feeling confident in my strengths, as well as understanding the areas in which I wanted to improve. This project was an incredible experience which gave me a new perspective on the creative process and the psychology behind songwriting.

These songs can be heard at: Laurenvukicevich.bandcamp.com.

The album cover for my project.

The album cover for my project.

Synesthesia and the Musical Experience

Written by: Darren Johnson

What does the number seven smell like? Can you taste purple? Despite what you might think, I’m not talking about the result of some out of class *cough* “research” that you may have done in college; I’m referring to a phenomenon known as synesthesia. This is a rare neurological condition in which a person experiences a cross-wiring of two or more senses during their daily lives. For example, the most common form is people associating numbers and months with colors. Is the number five red to you? Is August green? If so, you may experience synesthesia.

Image1Some defining characteristics of this condition are that your crossings are consistent, and they can’t be turned off. If you see August as green, it’s always green and trying to imagine it as yellow feels terribly wrong. Unlike people without synesthesia who may be able to imagine August as green, people with this condition automatically see August as green; to them the two are intrinsically linked. People with synesthesia (called synesthetes) might have different experiences among one another. A synesthete who sees a green August could get in a heated debate with somebody who sees a yellow one. The people reported to have synesthesia are few (around 1 in 10,000) and if you have one form of it, you’re likely to have others as well.

I first learned about synesthesia around a month ago, when I was talking to a friend of mine about how a 6/8 time signature has a different “shape” than a 4/4 time signature. His response was along the lines of: “Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” After a while of asking questions and tapping out beats on a table (boom boom tap, ba doom ba doom tap… “You don’t see that?”) I realized that I was identifying with sounds differently. I did a quick Google search of “Sounds have shapes,” and boom… the vast and interesting topic of synesthesia came to my attention. After 21 years of being alive, I discovered that it’s not ordinary to see shapes when you hear music.

Pharrell is musician with color-sound synesthesia.

Pharrell is musician with color-sound synesthesia.

How does this connect to musicians? Well, synesthetes are known to make metaphorical connections to abstractions, the basis for creativity. In fact, synesthesia is expected to be eight times more common in the artist population. An example of a musician who had synesthesia is Jimi Hendrix, who related harmonies and melodies to colors. He would refer to his classic E7#9 chord as “the purple chord.” Another is Pharrell Williams, who sees music as a moving set of various colors. He describes his hit song “Happy” as “Yellow, red, a little pink, a little rainbowy…”

Something I’ve learned from this topic is that we all have very different perceptions of reality. A song that I love may be a song that you hate and vice versa, and that’s because two people can experience the same piece of art in completely different ways. What’s wonderful about this is that it shows us how every artist has a big contribution to make. No matter what you create, there is somebody out there who will love it and feel that it relates to them in a strong way. So have fun, keep creating and playing!

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If you think you may be a synesthete, you can do an initial test at this site: http://www.synesthete.org.

Music Freedom Day

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

MFDlogo12_26cm-300dpiImagine your favorite artist not being allowed to write or perform music anymore because their political views were controversial. It’s sometimes too easy to take our civil liberties for granted, especially when it comes to every day occurrences like playing or listening to music. Music is such a natural human tendency that it can be hard to imagine a place where it’s not allowed.

On March 3rd, people all over the world celebrated “The Right to Freedom of Artistic and Creative Expression” on what is known as Music Freedom Day. This annual event is gaining attention each year, leading to more and more participating countries! Some “speak” out with the music they play on radio stations, some dedicate concerts to the efforts.

protestAt times in the US, some musicians have been harassed by our government and forced into censorship. This was more common in the 60’s when rock & roll was new and thought of by most as rebellious and taboo. Protest songs by artists like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon have been a strong influence on popular culture, which often involves government opposition. One recent example: public radio stations refused to play the Dixie Chicks after their lead singer criticized President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

While this may seem like a breach of freedom to us, and it is, there are other countries where local musicians have been persecuted and even killed because of their music. Long-standing music traditions have been torn apart by government regimes, and people have been forced to suppress their inherent musicality. Music Freedom Day was created to raise awareness about the censorship still happening in today’s world. Really, it is an opportunity for countries to come together and express their freedom of creativity through song!

Music Freedom Day 2014 in Islamabad.

Music Freedom Day 2014 in Islamabad.

Music may be incorporated differently into every culture, but it is a part of all human life. We should remember to appreciate our right to express ourselves through music because it is such an important part of our lives! All people deserve the freedom to write, play, and listen to any music that they choose, and we should support others who are trying to gain that freedom.

To visit the Music Freedom Day website, click here.