So it’s been a few months (has it really?) since I attempted to teach myself the ukulele, I have progressed to learning about 15 chords, which means there are more songs (I’ve almost got enough for an album, actually)! Normally, I would not be sharing them on here, because I’m probably more critical of myself than anyone else will be, and they’re nowhere near finished. However, I have decided to share one or two, because despite the very rough recordings, I’m extremely proud of them.
After speaking with a dear friend of mine, who is also a musician, I kept thinking of how I got from being just a singer to a (sort of) songwriter. I know I already mentioned that I could never play an instrument to save my life before the uke, so I won’t repeat that part, but the process I have found with my writing has been an interesting one to be sure. I didn’t actually realize I had a process until my friend and I spoke, and then it just occurred to me.
Being someone who opposes routine anything I was surprised at how quickly I came to accept the pseudo routine I’d created for my music making. When one has a routine or process, one is much more likely to continue moving forward and progressing. I think I’m mostly OK with it because it’s not like a normal person’s morning routine. The one where you get up, brush your teeth, shower, get dressed (or get back in PJs), drink your morning beverage, and then look at other people’s social media accounts and think about how little you’ve accomplished in life. Oh wait, sorry, none of that applies to me except the last part and sometimes the PJs… I digress. Don’t worry, I’m getting there!
This routine is more organic and subtle; almost a natural instinct that leads my process. At the same time I find it amusing how the least opportune moments offer the most insightful and inspiring ideas to us. In the past, if I had a tune or melody in my head and some lyrics, I would get the words down but rarely the music. Yes, I know that things like tape recorders and such are easy to use and I could have used them. In fact, I did own one, and by “own one,” I mean I took it from my Mom’s desk drawer to record fake radio shows with my friend. Did I mention how cool I was back then???
Either way, I’ve come a long way from my fake radio fame, and leveled up to the world of Smartphones. Despite that, for some reason, I just never got it in my head to download a mic or voice recording app. (you can feel free to mock me for this, it is completely warranted) Seriously, of all the useful tools I’d downloaded in the past, it never registered that voice recorders existed. It’s comical how this was probably even on my radar, but I just didn’t notice.
Downloading that voice recorder app was the first step to my new songwriting process, and from there I found it much simpler:
- While I’m in the shower, on the road (driving specifically), swimming, or at the gym, a melody or lyrics pop into my head. Thus begins the period of creativity.
- I have no paper or pen, and I’m not near my uke, so as soon as I have a moment I get my phone and open the voice recorder app. (Disclaimer: if you are driving, pull over before looking for the app on your phone, or use Google assistant to open it with your voice while driving. Do not Smartphone and drive, people!)
- I hum or sing the song with lyrics to get the basic sound down so I can come back to it later and keep the melody if I really like it. If I only have lyrics I’ll recite them without music if I can’t come up with a tune to go with them.
- Next step for lyrics only: upon returning home and getting on my computer, I’ll take some time to expand on what I have down and see if I can put together verses and a chorus before adding music.
- Next step for melody only: I break out the uke, warm up, and then play the recording and try to match the melody to the notes in chords I know (since I have a decent selection of basic chords down, this is easier now).
- After I’ve written out full lyrics and have a melody to go with them (sometimes both happen at the same time), I start messing with the song and the feel I’m trying to emulate with the pacing and time signature.
- When the mood and tempo are set, sometimes I can’t figure out all the appropriate chords that sound right with my melody. In this case, I’ll go to my chord chart and try to test out some new ones that might work better.
- Once I have all the chords down, I practice the progressions and speed up as much as I can to make the transitions as smooth as possible before trying to sing at the same time. (this is the most difficult part for me).
- As the song gets clearer and easier to play, I sing softly along through the whole song a few times and focus on my strumming technique. (it varies from harsh and loud, to soft and barely a whisper).
- Mastering that part means I am now ready to record. I always start by opening GarageBand, laying down the uke track first, and hearing the melody in my head while I play to keep the same pacing.
- Last is the voice track, where I plug my headphones in and listen to the acoustic track as I sing along over it to get the full song.
- The completed song then gets saved or tweaked a bit if necessary and I prepare to cringe when listening through it over and over until I accept that others probably won’t notice I was behind with my voice in that one part, or that I sang so loud the MacBook mic got confused and just couldn’t even with the volume.
That being said… I hope you enjoy the examples, and if you don’t, then no worries. Music is a very personal thing for each of us, but if mine speaks to you then I’ve done what I set out to do. If it doesn’t, speak to you then you don’t have to listen. 🙂