#18: Writing Music On The Road - 30 Day Incentive!
Hello My Friends,
I am on a plane, flying home to NYC right now after a couple weeks of touring with my group as well as Gary Burton’s new quartet. We had a wonderful time and met so many amazing people and saw some beautiful new places. And though I had a blast and loved performing, I am coming home feeling a little empty on the creative front, as though I have been removed for too long from writing music. It’s a really interesting experience because when you’re playing and performing a lot, it can be so satisfying but often I end up feeling like I’m getting better at doing one particular thing, such as playing a specific set of songs, each night, at the expense of developing my overall relationship with music. Sometimes I wonder if this is actually ok, maybe when you are travelling and have to consider a new set of logistics each night and what not, it’s helpful to view the act of performance as a kind of skill set that you tap into as needed, rather than feeling like your well-being is entirely intermeshed with the the quality of last night’s performance. But on the other hand, I feel a longing to compose again and it feels like something that I hope will happen in the future. But why not now? Why can’t I maintain a connection to the musical laboratory through composition and practicing, and allow performances to be what they are? How does one keep exploring composition on a regular basis in the face of a steady performance schedule?
The first issue that comes to mind is: when? When I’m on tour, most of the down time we have is on an airplane (like now) or at the hotel at night after the gig. Occasionally, we’ll have a day off as well. I’ve heard stories of Duke Ellington writing music on the bus as his band would travel from gig to gig. Once they’d arrive, he would rehearse the band on the new material, perform it that night, and then get on the bus and write as they traveled to the next destination. That sounds like the most badass thing I’ve ever heard. Duke, also apparently ate a steak for breakfast every morning, which also stands in the ranks of superhuman behavior, but of the less healthy variety.
I would love to have writing be such an integral part of my days, especially on the road.
From a physical point of view, writing away from the guitar would also be a healthy choice. In recent time, I’ve experienced some fatigue and tendonitis from playing too much without proper rest and balance, So writing away from an instrument is essential, so as to not diminish the resources necessary for performance, but rather to strengthen them.
From a logistics point of view, having a way to share the music with the band as you travel is also essential. I have several friends who write with a small keyboard and laptop, creating music in GarageBand or Logic when they travel, which seems like a great way to hear everything without having an instrument. Another option is Duke’s way, of writing music straight onto paper. This is harder for me because it feels like it’s harder to experiment when writing, because it is as though every written note is finalized, unlike writing on the guitar, where you can explore and try stuff until you find what you’re looking for. But perhaps that’s because I’ve spent more time playing guitar than writing on paper. Is it possible to improvise on manuscript paper? My guess is that with enough experience, it could start to feel like that. From there, if I wanted to hear what something sounds like, I can plug it into Sibelius or Garage Band, or bring it directly to the band. As I write these options, I can see that this latter option, though the hardest at this point for me, seems like it might turn out to be the most productive.
So the next step becomes how to get better. Practice Practice Practice, right? When writing without an instrument, it seems essential to have a sort of feedback loop to see what the music your writing actually sounds like. Also, being as fluid with the actual act of writing music is essential and I know from past studies that copying scores can greatly help to develop this muscle. So what is an incentive I can set in motion over the next few weeks of touring that would help me get better at all this? Something I could do daily?
My dream would be to have a partner in this so that I could write a song per day, and have someone else record it so I could see what translates. Kind of take myself out of the performer role and see what it’s like to only express myself through pencil and paper. How about I’ll play your songs if you play mine?
Maybe copy a score for 15-30 minutes per day and then, immediately after if possible, write a song with just paper and pencil for 30 minutes? To avoid the technical issue of scanning scores, which would be a challenge on the road, what if we send our scores, or copies, in the mail to our partner once a week for a month. So this would mean, every 7 days, you send your partner an envelop filled with your newest compositions and upon receiving them, the partner will record a rough take of your songs, nothing that takes too much time, and then send you a recording via email or SoundCloud. In order to pull this off, it means picking a partner and sharing your mailing address. If there isn’t someone you know of off hand you’d like to have join you, you can post a request for a partner on in the comments section and I’m sure people will we want to collaborate.
I think this could be a really awesome incentive and would love to hear any and all of your ideas! Please let me what you think and in the meantime, let’s shoot for July 1st as the start date.
Here we go….