Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Non-Local Nature of Music

The more analytical you become about music the farther you move from art. You move from right brain to left brain. When I write I seldom think about the key, scales, or the proper chords. I just simply write what’s in my mind.” Doug Marks noted as the man who taught more people to play the guitar than anyone else with his Metal Method Instructional tapes.

Music is a big part of most people’s daily lives. This being the case it might be important where music comes from and how musicians get their songs.

In studying the music writing process I have come to see that it is much more a paranormal, non-local, and a right brained activity, than anything even close to being rational or carefully planned..

Many of the greatest songs of all times came in dreams. This is unusual as dreams are usually symbolic and nonsensical. The hundreds of major musicians who have had the dreams experience where they are presented a song report that it is clear and lucid like waking consciousness. Examples of songs that came in dreams include three by Paul McCartney's No Regrets, Yesterday, and Let It Be. McCartney reported that Let It Be came from a visit in a dream from his mother, Mary, who had died from cancer when he was only 14. The incident happened at a rough time in  McCartney's life as he tried to hold the Beatles together. It led to the famous lyrics "Mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom - let it be. McCartney recalled the dream,

“One night during this tense time I had a dream I saw my mum, who'd been dead 10 years or so. And it was so great to see her because that's a wonderful thing about dreams: you actually are reunited with that person for a second; there they are and you appear to both be physically together again. It was so wonderful for me and she was very reassuring. In the dream she said, 'It'll be all right.' I'm not sure if she used the words 'Let it be' but that was the gist of her advice, it was, 'Don't worry too much, it will turn out OK.' It was such a sweet dream I woke up thinking, Oh, it was really great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing the song “Let It Be”. I literally started off 'Mother Mary', which was her name, 'When I find myself in times of trouble', which I certainly found myself in. The song was based on that dream."

One of the key surprises in his study turned up what might become one of the key elements to the process. Consider the following list of highly successful musicians.

Elvis Presley
Bob Dylan
All four of the Beatles
Entire KISS band
Michael Jackson
Barbara Streisand
Jimi Hendrix
Keith Richards – Rolling Stones
Eric Clapton
Jerry Garcia- Grateful Dead
Jimmy Page – Led Zeppelin
Pete Townsend of the Who
Kurt Corbain
Tori Amos
Thom Yorke – RadioHead
BB King
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Phil Collins
Irving Berlin
Famed composer Danny Elfman
Kanye West
Tom Moello guitarist for Rage Against the Machine
Marvin Gaye
Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden
Angus Young from AC/DC
Eddie Van Halen Slash of Guns and Roses
Kurt Vile an Indi legend
Jackie Gleason whose orchestra produced 20 record albums

The key thing that links all these musicians is that none of them could read or write music. The list could be extended to include most Jazz, Blues, Reggae, and Rap and in many of these cases there is no written music for the songs.

This would make the whole process basically a right brain creative effort as opposed to left brain music which could be considered the practice and memorization of other people’s music that makes up much of music lessons

The process of what actually happens is best summed up by how John Lennon described the music writing process,

“When the real music comes to me – the music of the spheres, the music that surpasses understanding – That has nothing to do with me because I am just the channel. The only joy for it to be given to me and to transcribe it, like medium.”

The most popular rock song every composed was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” No one in the band knows where the song came from. Band member Robert Plant described what happened,

“Pagey had written the chords and played it for me. I was holding the paper and pencil, and for some reason I was in a very bad mood. Then all of a sudden my hand was writing our words. I just sat and looked at the words, and then I just about leapt out of my seat.”

Or the process as explained by Michael Jackson.

"It's the most effortless thing in the world because you don't do anything. I hate to say it like that, but it's the truth. The heavens drop it right into your lap, in its totality. The real gems come that way. You can sit at the piano and say, "OK, I'm going to write the greatest song ever written," and nothing. But you can be walking down the street or showering or playing and boom, it hits you in the head. I've written so many like that. I'm playing a pinball machine, and I have to run upstairs and get my little tape recorder and start dictating. I hear everything in its totality, what the strings are going to do, what the bass is going to do, the harpischord, everything. "

Next question..."Is it difficult translating that sound to tape?"

 Michael: "That's what's frustrating. In my head, it's completed, but I have to transplant that to tape. It's like Alfred Hitchcock said, "The movie's finished," but he still has to start directing it. The song is the same. You see it in its entirety and then you execute it."

The moral of the story might be. If you want to your child to be a great music star don’t send him to music lessons.

For those who thing music is a rational process involving random neurons banging into each other, randomly putting together melodies and lyrics to create music they should watch the following 4 year old destroy the theory.

The moral of the story might be that if you want your child to play music send him/her to music lessons where they will use their left brain to practice scales, and read music written by others. If you want your child to be a great musician you would probably be better off giving them a guitar and the entire garage. Then leave them alone.


  1. Grant, as we've discussed, the good songs write themselves. The author just gets between the song and materialization. I can't explain it, but just feel lucky it happens to me sometimes. :)

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