How NOT To Write Great Music – Part 1

I have been involved in many styles of music as a composer, performer, theorist, musicologist, ethnomusicologist, conductor, guitarist and pianist and lover of music.  I’ve plunged into almost every kind of music from almost every period and continent.  I am not claiming to have expertise or even knowledge in and about so many kinds of music.  I am claiming to be very curious about, attracted to and in love with music from all over this planet.

One of the best things about a being a music theorist, or musicologist, or best word yet – ethnomusicologist – is that we strive to understand how music – the music we experience – came to be.  Ideally, the more one knows about how the music was conceived, created, performed, recorded, disseminated and valued, the more likely it is that we can better enjoy the music, better understand the people who created the music, better understand our own music, culture and identity and, ideally, live better.

How do we create music?  What are the best and worst ways to create music?  Is it possible to answer these questions?  I try to answer them in my own life and will begin a discussion with this post.  So, here goes.  I hope that the end result is laudable.  I know the answer/end point and will concoct this path to get to the end.  The way I’ll approach these particular posts is to examine what NOT to do.  By examining what NOT to do, we might better deduce what TO DO.  (This series of posts, like some of my others, will be ongoing but intermittent.)

The overall title is  —   How NOT To Write Great Music.  But for these first posts, we will change “…Write Great Music,” to the more specific, “…Write A Hit Song.”  The title, therefore, is “How NOT To Write A Hit Song.”  I will outline a series of music compositional steps that might seem foolish, and guaranteed to result in not good music, but were followed in the creation of this music.  And despite the foolish musical suggestions/directions/prescriptions/steps, the result was Great Music, or a Hit Song.

How NOT To Write A Hit Song

1.  make it 7 minutes long

2.  use 5 different singers

3.  make sure that no singing is heard for the first 2 minutes of the song

4.  make sure the bass guitar only plays 3 different pitches (for all 7 minutes)

5.  make sure that the entire bass guitar melody is 6 notes long

6.  make sure that this 6-note bass guitar melody is played once and then repeated 51 times

A few questions for anyone reading this –

Do you think the above six (6) constructs are good advice for a songwriter?  For a composer?  (What’s the difference between a songwriter and a composer?)

Could you write a great piece of music following these six (6) stipulations?
Do you know of anyone who has set out to write a song, or musical composition, in such a foolish manner?


From the above prescription, can you name the famous popular song that fits the 6 points above?  The next post will present more information and more clues.  I will post the answer soon, if you don’t post it first.

I hope to hear from you.

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