My name is Brian Eichenberger, but you can call me iKE.
My aim with this blog is to explore ideas that make songwriting and music theory concepts accessible to the beginning or intermediate music lover; people who like music and don’t like to be confused.
Thanks to computers, it has never been easier to “make music.” (Thanks, computers!) All you have to do is drop a drum loop and a bass line in GarageBand and start singing along. Still, the fundamental abilities that are needed to actually play music haven’t changed much in the last several hundred years or so: Chords, melodies, rhythm, lyrics… A computer can help with all those things, but it can’t figure them out for you.
The main difference between now and three hundred years ago is this: Back then, if you didn’t know how to play chords, and wanted to write a song with chords in it, then too bad for you, you’d just go get the plague and die. These days, we’re fortunate that we can just copy and paste someone else’s music. Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than the plague, but its still someone else’s music. I’m not talking about Vanilla Ice grabbing a couple notes from Queen and acting like he didn’t. I’m talking about full on taking entirely pre-recorded music, cutting it up a little and pretending it is your own. It happens quite a bit, in different forms.
In that same vein, you could write a novel by simply copying and pasting sentences or paragraphs that other people have written, but it probably wouldn’t be a very good novel. And either way, you still didn’t write it.
It’s much better to actually understand why you like what you like, and then try to use those same qualities to write with your own words; your own voice. If you read a story with a sexy clown murderer in it, and decide you want to have an even sexier clown murderer lawyer in your story, great! Go for it. But first you’d need to learn how to type. If all you can do is copy and paste, you’d be stuck with the original sexy clown murderer. (and who needs that?) If you have some idea how chords work, then you can identify chord progressions that turn you on, and use them in your own songs.
I think it goes without saying that the more musical knowledge you have, the better music you’re able to make. Don’t tell me how all that theory stuff hampers your creativity. You will always have the option to not use a tool, but you simply can’t use a tool you don’t have. (You can always choose NOT to have a sexy clown murderer lawyer in your story. Many of today’s finer stories have gotten along without one.)
I’ve heard way too many songs that get sort of “stuck in a rut,” simply because the writer ran out of options. They simply didn’t have enough “tools” in their tool belt. (I’m switching metaphors now.) So they stand there in front of the house they somehow built using nothing but a hammer and nails . . . with boards sticking out all over the place because they’ve never even heard of a saw. And somehow they take pride in the fact that they didn’t even use a saw! Which is just supposed to make it even more unique! Nope. I’m no Bob Vila, but that house sucks. sorry.
You don’t have to analyze Beethoven symphonies for years and years, either. I’m just talking about having a basic understanding of how music works.
So my aim is to choose some concepts, one by one, and explain them in as simple jargon-free language as possible. Here is a saw. It makes boards get shorter. see? That’s not so difficult. I have a couple of shortcuts that you can use, too. My first project outlines a simple trick so you can learn all 12 major scales in about fifteen minutes or so. Check it out.
…and now for some hot bio-action:
I’ve been a professional musician for 20 some odd years now, primarily as lead singer / guitarist / bass player for The Four Freshmen. I also wrote/co-produced a solo album and wrote/produced a song-a-week for a while before I got distracted by rehabbing an old house in St Paul, MN. (Thus the in-depth insights about what saws do) Sometimes I mix and mangle metaphors, and I’m generally easily distracted, which is probably because I drink too much coffee.
Speaking of coffee, I’ll be right back.