Songwriting Series: #3

Several weeks into the semester, my MUSI3370 course, otherwise known as songwriting, we were tasked to compose lyrics to our own original song. Previous projects required us to either rewrite lyrics to an already existing chord progression, or recompose a chord structure to old lyrics. With full creative liberties, we were allowed to write and compose about anything we so desired, and my project, took a strange turn during it’s development.

If this song were to be categorized, it’d probably be a ballad, from the looks of lyrics, though I will admit, that the style and mood I was aiming for was totally not in that area. I would even go as far to say that it’s a lamenting ballad; though there is no death, it’s a song questioning one’s own purpose in life, or expressing confusion and agony over not being able to understand oneself to a reasonable level. My exposure, outside of this class, to popular music in English has been fairly limited, and I’ve never been a lyrics person (most of my music has no lyrics or lyrics in a foreign language that I don’t understand). Thus, it probably goes without saying that my perception of what kind of song this is might be a bit inaccurate.

As I mentioned before, I had no intention of building a moody, somewhat slow-paced song; I was hoping to end up with a heartily felt song with a quickstep mood. Ideally, I wanted to be able to sing the song while I walk to class, with a light strut in my step. Though the majority of the piece ends up being a bit downtrodden and not entirely happy, that shouldn’t stop the song from having a slightly upbeat style.

That probably even reveals that the penultimate goal of the song is to realize that the right thing to do is move forward. In terms of design, the song is about not remaining static. The gradual of different and similar instruments towards the end creates a thicker, supportive atmosphere for which the vocalist can sing stronger and more confidently. There are moments, such as the musical interlude, where the musical intensity skyrockets, reminiscent of the creative and inspirational bursts we carry within us. The two main instruments in this piece are the harp and piano (with strings serving both a lyrical and supportive purpose); the harp’s resonance and sensitive timbre make the song more friendly, while the piano’s percussion-like keys give its intention and drive. Short responses, trills, and flourishes by the piano and harp add charm, wit, and youth. Additionally, the piano’s and harp’s ability to easily and naturally play arpeggios allow the piece to have momentary sweeps in sound and range, offering another dimension and dynamic to the composition. The ending of the piece swells in great climax, inviting all the instruments to reenter in one final exclamation of purpose, and resolves with not a battle or victory call, but more of an inner satisfaction and settling of previous troubles.

I attempted to maintain an ABCA verse and bridge rhyming scheme, as well as an AA or BB chorus scheme. I’m not sure if the chorus is too short, it probably is, but I wanted the chorus to be a progressively changing arrival of a repeated action, reflecting a gradual morphing as the song continues. In order for this to work, I felt it should be used sparsely, maybe even only twice. In terms of syllables per line, I planned on mirroring line length between lines that rhyme. I never did consider how syllables would influence or fit into the song in context to singing a line and phrase, but I suppose we’ll work on that as we go along.

The words are quite personal, but not to the degree that I’m embarrassed to discuss it. It’s always been a challenge for me (and still is) to discover what I should be doing in life. I used this song as a form of dialogue for myself, and no one in particular. I attempted to draw images with words that envision space and weight. Perhaps I mention everything from the perspective myself too often, and that doesn’t allow listeners to implant their own experiences into my song, but according to some people I showed this too, there was such an issue. They even went as far as to say that the song was really ambiguous, which it is to a degree.

My normal composition style, in retrospect, is composing/improving (to the best of my ability) via a piano keyboard, building upon a certain sequence of chord progressions that sound pretty stable. Using the MIDI input capabilities of a program like Logic Pro, allows me to transpose the chords into a different tonal key and obtain various tone colors. Schubert once described the key of E minor as a ‘maiden with a lily upon her breast’ (lulz) and Rachmaninov found D major a golden brown colour. Though I’m not a synesthete myself, and pretty much am unable to really objectively decide which tonal key sounds better, it is easy to notice that keys do sound different. 

After choosing a chord progression and determining the final key, creating a melody begins. There has always been discussion about whether composing a melody prior to chord sequences is a better process compared to chord progression preceding melodies, and that’s an issue I don’t really have an answer to. I’ve tried both methods of madness and have come to the conclusion that both are difficult. I tend to enjoy making up melodies after chords due to the fact that I’m pretty horrible at making melodies, or hearing melodies (I’m decent at instrumenting songs and adding non-essential sprinkles), but good melodies are only as good as their chord support. The two work hand in hand. In reverse, however, songs that bases melodies on chords tend to have…lame melodies, which was something my vocal line for “Finding You” suffered from.

After my failure of a melody was complete, instrumentation was in order. MIDI keyboards and programs provide nearly infinite flexibility in pitch notation and adjustment. Most of my digital instruments require numerous recording takes and the ability to re-tune an incorrect note quickly helps hide any fact that I actually cannot play piano (or any other instrument represented in my scores). This is probably the most fun, but tedious, as one can go bonkers by adding instrumentation. You never really know when you done and a song’s ideal thickness is generally subjective, so it can be easy to pour extra hours into a project that are perhaps unnecessary.

What I find most satisfying after a project like this is listening to a final mix where there are a lot of instruments that respond to one another or the melody line. Unfortunately, there’s no melody that exists for this song currently, as attempts to recompose a new line for my final portfolio project in Songwriting failed miserably (which resulted in writing new songs from scratch), but I find that “Finding You” itself, in its instrumental version naked-ness, sounds pretty good already.

Though I composed lyrics, I decided that I do NOT possess the vocal chords to portray, or even sing, my song correctly. That being said, I am currently working as hard as I can to edit an instrumental version of the lyrics (though finding the appropriate instrument vibe and range is difficult), so what I have currently is a “karaoke” version, if you will.

'Finding You' Lyrics

Finding You (2012)

By Christopher Hsing

Morning has come with some rain
The endless tunnel stretches before me
It’s another day full of pain
How many miles must I see

“Perhaps that’s just fine,” I began to say
For this fake and empty soul that I have drawn
Immovable and unchangeable
The infinite cycle still makes me live on

Heavy chains of unknown origin, bind me to the ground
I yearn for someone that I can believe in
To tell me how to break these bonds that hold me down
To give me power and rid myself of this fake skin

What am I hiding within my very heart?
Am I afraid of life’s discontinuity?
Is there something that I need to change or maybe take apart?
As I stand by my sea of ambiguity

The cruel morning sun slowly climbs the sky
It offers another day, mayhaps another reward
Though I may be lost, and my head unclear
You, by my side, are the thing I can afford

Once I find you, I’ll keep chasing that light
Once I find you, I’ll reach even greater heights
A wish for determination stronger than any wave
Peace of mind, strength of heart, I carry what you gave

Take a step with me to help me leave this lonely past
And those days of failure far far behind
Have I ever noticed where the problem really lies
That it has always been inside within my mind

Let us continue to stride down this beaten path
To the sky beyond the flying birds alone
Endlessly running from the shivering moon
Chasing that morning that’s still unknown

Colors of the seasons glow within our hearts
A magnificent shade of serenity
And though we may go our own ways, you’ll always be my feet
You’ll always be my rock, part of my identity

Once I have found you, I can keep my head steady
Once I have found you, perhaps then I am ready

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