She Believes

Most of my recent musical efforts have involved two songs. I've already written about The Aaaay Song, which is still in progress.

But the other song I've been working on is called She Believes, and it's really been something of an obsession, off and on, for the past year. I came up a piano riff that it starts with, a whirly music-box type of thing that I just never got sick of playing.

The concept for the song came soon after, and... I felt I had to keep it secret, which meant not writing about it on this blog, because the song has a lot to do with a buddy of mine that reads this blog regularly. :) I'll try not to get caught in that trap again, because I really do intend to write about my music more regularly on this blog.

I finally finished the song this last Saturday (at 7:48 pm), so now I can write about it some more. I recorded a few takes at home, and I've got a rough first version of the song that I might soon be able to post here. I'm also going to write more about the making of the song, to make up for the writing I wasn't able to do here over the last few months.

One Line

I'm one line away from what I think is my best song ever.

Song Progress

I seem to finally be in a songwriting phase again. It's nice, even though when I am, jazz seems to fall by the wayside a bit. I guess that's kind of the point, though - I've seen jazz as a way to develop my toolchest all for the purposes of better songwriting.

Over the weekend I had drums and bass at my house to work on some ideas. I got a recording of The Aaaaaay Song with drums and bass and I'm pretty happy with how it's going to sound. A couple things surprised me. One, it wants to go at a faster tempo. But the other one is something I've learned before. You add instruments to any piece of music, and it just starts sounding more approachable. Something about adding more humanity or emotionality or life to it, it just makes things more accessible.

I learned this most intensely back when I was writing a full orchestral score for a few minutes of film score. When the full orchestra came into perform the composition, it was stunning just how much all that music glued together into something that sounded almost simple.

As a result, this song sounds a lot nicer, and a lot more poppy than I first thought. It changes my idea of the lyric concept, and I'm still working on that. I still despise how difficult lyrics are to come by sometimes. I'm halfway tempted to get another lyricist for this song, but... I've never done that before and am not sure I want to start now.

In the meantime, another former song idea of mine latched on to me with a vengeance, and in a way I am even further along with that one than I am with The Aaaaay Song. It's a very wild and weird feeling to have two of my own partially-completed songs constantly playing in my head, competing for my attention. It's a little bit like a death match, except happy and musical... and with no blood or gristle... anyway, one of the two songs is very definitely catchier than the other.

On top of that I woke up today with another song in my head. A protest song about America. I mean, it's actually about loving America, but it's still a protest song and probably wouldn't keep anyone from being offended by it. Whatever. I often hate those songs anyway, so I might just let that one die. We'll see.

The Aaaaaaay Song

Songwriting is so weird. My last two completed songs (Cold and Clown) were basically one-nighters. And I suppose it's possible my next song might be a one-nighter too, since they tend to come out of nowhere. But right now I'm working on one that has just been so slow in coming.

I don't know what other songwriters are like, but I definitely do have some favorite sounds and voicings. The trick is to dress them up so they are just tools, part of a larger original sound. One of my favorite sounds is one that is in Del Amitri's "Driving With The Brakes On", my piano improv Before A Kiss, a few sections of my favorite jazz standards... you get the picture, these things are all over the place.

I was playing with it and came up with something that sound poppy and fresh to my ears. A good indication for me is if I don't get sick of playing something over and over again. It pretty quickly expanded into a four bar phrase that I felt would be perfect for a chorus, and I could play it over and over again.

The problem with coming up with the chorus first is that you never want to get out of it. And this one just had such a strong root feeling that I just felt worried I wouldn't be able to do it justice in the rest of the song. Having the verse in the root would make the chorus more boring than it is. And did I really want to just take it down to the vi and start the verse there? I'd play the chorus pattern and feel happy and then I'd start exploring other material and would just get grumpy.

I was stuck there for months. I brought the material into my Triage rehearsals (my fusion trio with Steve and Steve) just to hear what it sounded like with bass and drums - I love the sound - but I didn't want to make it part of our collective material.

So finally I decided, screw it, even though I liked this being conventional and poppy, I clearly don't have patience with those conventions. So I started fiddling around with weirder chord progressions. I like that quite a lot - the way the chorus moves in the clown song is part of what I love so much about the song. And sometimes it's like painting yourself in a corner just to see if it's possible to gracefully get out.

That opened up possibilities a bit, finally. About two weeks ago I started playing with the idea of the verse being a whole step below the chorus. It's wild - in order for the melody to sound natural and singable, it really has to slam the lydian mode. I finally came up with the complete song form - while it's a conventional song form, it doesn't make functional diatonic sense in one key, the melody and chorus really have to modulate back and forth.

I'm loving it so far and I have the whole form put together, complete with melody. The problem is that unlike some of my other songs, the entire musical idea came together before the lyrics did. Even down to how the syllables are stressed in the lyrics - uh-oh. I guess that answers a common songwriter question, whether we write music or lyrics first. For me it's entirely driven by the song in question. I have a couple of others where the lyrics are all written, but with only a rough idea of the music (been really hard to move forward on those).

So all I know at this point is that the chorus starts with "a bom bom bom, be-yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay". So right now, the damn thing is titled "The Aaaaaaay Song" in my iTunes. I regularly play it on my stereo while driving my truck, and scat along trying to find a lyric concept. I thought I had found a couple of concepts but it's difficult so far. All I really know at this point is that it'll be following a reality-hope-destination (verse-prechorus-chorus) pattern. But the lyric concepts I've had so far are dumb and don't do the music justice. Still working.

Unbond (3/22/07 #2)

3:35 minutes

Sometimes we get pulled apart slowly. We might not notice it at first.


I've always hated scales and arpeggios. Just hated them. I was always a classical music kid - scales were like taking music, and aggressively distilling it down, boiling away everything that was good and true and emotional and affecting about music, and stripping it down to something incredibly annoying. I hated looking at music as something that had annoying elements to it, and scales/arpeggios just shone a big spotlight on them.

I also saw no point. What is the point of being able to play both-handed four-octave Ab-minor arpeggios if none of the pieces in my repertoire have them in their passages? Plus, I had been able to learn particular scale runs when necessary - the G minor scales in Chopin's 1st Ballade. The F# runs in Brahms B-minor rhapsody. I suppose they weren't perfect every time I did them, but they were a heck of a lot better than when I would do them as part of mindless scale exercises. It was the music that motivated me, not some aim of mindless technical proficiency.

And now... it's different. Jazz makes it all different. Now there's a point to practicing these scales. If I reach a confidence point with some altered pentatonic exercise, I can use it. And there are times in my improvising when I know I have a sound in my head - a flourish that I intellectually know how to play, one that depends on some pentatonic or symmetric diminished pattern... and my fingers get tangled.

Damn it.

I've always had good fingers. I've been able to coast on them. But I guess I'm getting to the point where my lack of scale/arpeggio practice is finally starting to limit me.

So, today was the first day I really started pounding scales again, first day in a long time. All the modes in several keys, both hands.

And this time... thinking about the jazz playing I might be able to use them in, it was actually kind of fun.

All Over The Place

A gentleman named "Captain Pat" wrote me a while back asking permission to use one of my piano musings in a project of his. The completed project is available now - an experimental comedy shown on community television in Australia, parts of it shot on location in Bangkok! My music "Old Toy Soldier" is on whenever "The Presenter" is speaking and I'm in the credits at the end. You can also read more about the show.

Online Videos by

Kingdom (3/22/07 #1)

3:43 minutes

The kingdom was mighty. Great gates, wide courtyards, and deadly intrigue... but falling into disrepair.

I've Got You Under My Skin Video

So, yesterday I thought I would start experimenting with this video stuff. I set up my macbook on a stack of piano books on the corner of my piano, recorded the video (and room sound) through my iSight, recorded the audio through my mixer to my M-Audio microtrack, then used iMovie and Garageband to replace the sound with the mic'd version. Didn't pay much attention to dressing up my set or anything (which I might regret), just pressed record and sang into the mic like normal.

This is me singing I've Got You Under My Skin in my living room. Youtube downsampled the audio so it's in mono (and you can't hear the reverb either), but you can get the full-quality source audio if you're subscribed to my standards podcast.

Junkyard Robot (3/17/07 #2)

1:34 minutes

Rusted metal and twisted gears, but still kinda cheery - he limps around the junkyard helping other contraptions to better themselves.

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© 2007 Curt Siffert. Some audio protected with a Creative Commons license.
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