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Some Thoughts On Songwriting: Reflections and Insights

As I sit down to write this blog post, I'm taking stock of my latest collection of soon-to-be-published songs, on my 15th album (Available July 12th this year). I am very excited to share these songs with you. I am so happy to report that I love this album. And though I know I will always be growing, because life is growth, I can appreciate just how far I have come in my artistic journey. Additionally, having wasted no time at all, I’m already knee-deep into the creation of my 16th album to be recorded this coming May. 

At 48, I have been recording albums for 24 years, with countless songs across various genres penned, and a strong focus on jazz, I have been developing my skills as a songwriter for many years. 

My formal education in music at The New School laid the groundwork for a career built on both intuition and technique—a balance I continue to refine with each passing day. Songwriting, for me, often begins with an idea filtering through my aesthetic lens, compelling me to capture it in any form possible. Other times, it's a deliberate act of sitting down to unravel what I wish to convey through my music.

I've always approached songwriting with rapidity, likening myself to a jackrabbit, darting swiftly through the creative process. My husband affectionately dubs me a “genesis creative”—an architect of ideas, crafting from the void rather than iterating on existing concepts. This approach has been a constant since my collegiate days, though in looking deeper, one could argue that I have been unofficially creating songs about what I see and feel since childhood. From serenades to pets and even to meals, I was always singing and making up little songs. My former teacher at The New School, Arnie Lawrence used to say “Sing about what you know” and I think I have always done that instinctively. 

Whether you begin with a melody, a lyric, or an instrumental, the path that feels right to you is the path worth following. As Thelonius Monk said “A genius is the one who is most like himself” Be true to yourself. As an artist, authenticity is an important part of quality.

For me, understanding the core message of a song is crucial to its development. This clarity guides the creative process, allowing me to weave narratives and emotions seamlessly into music. If I know what I am trying to say, rather than just poetically musing, I will communicate it with greater eloquence and clarity. 

Central to my songwriting and the emphasis on communication, I like to write in a way that is natural to my communication style.— How do I speak? In real life? In conversation? This often involves employing imagery and metaphors, akin to conversational speech, to imbue my songs with depth and reliability. 

Musically, starting with the bassline is a favored approach of mine, as it lays the foundational rhythm and harmony, setting the stage for the melody and lyrics to be layered. Once we know what the bassline is we have a pretty good sense of the song’s identity. The melody and lyrics do the rest of the identity. With those three crucial pieces of information, building out the rest of the parts will have a clear direction. 

Sometimes, if in collaboration with arrangers, when it occurs, I will send them only a skeletal sketch with enough information to spell out the musical story, and harmony, but not too much to muddy the creative waters —a bassline, melody, and lyrics sufficient for them to embellish with their unique chordal colorations and interpretations. The process varies; sometimes I take on the arrangement entirely, incorporating additional elements like horn lines as needed. I think it depends on how the music is presented in me. If it is open, I leave space for interpretation. If there are clear voices, I sketch them out.

A particularly useful technique is envisioning the song's conclusion. Knowing where I'm headed allows me to chart a course through the musical landscape, connecting thematic and melodic dots along the way.

I write with my ear more than my mind. My ear is wiser than my mind is clever when it comes to harmony. Sometimes I will pepper in something clever that I thought of when I decide that the music needs variation or a bit of cleverness, but for the most part, I create by ear.

I write daily, and my dedication to consistency is born from a belief in the power of practice. It's through repeated effort that one hones their craft, transforming routine into a conduit for improvement and ease within the creative process. We want skills to reach fluency where they feel natural and flow with ease, the only way to achieve that is with practice.

To those aspiring to venture into songwriting, my advice is simple: write with regularity, regardless of inclination as the Nike commercial says "Just Do It." It's through this discipline that you'll find your voice, refine your skills, and eventually, share your unique melodies with the world.

I look forward to the music you'll bring to life, adding your voice to the ever-expanding tapestry of song.

While I cannot show you my forthcoming album yet, Stay tuned! Singles will come before the big release!

Until then here is Playfully, 2023 ...


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