Creativity And Expression. Part 2

Here is the second installment of 'Creativity And Expression' article that applies the considering idea to the songwriting.

Ultimate Guitar

I had originally planned on part 2 of this topic to be totally different from what you will read below, but I received a lot of e-mail after people read "Creativity And Expression. Part 1" regarding the last example I wrote about (the story board concept). Many people wanted a more detailed explanation of how the idea can be applied to their (your) songwriting. So here is an exercise for you to do.

For this writing experiment, I strongly suggest to write an instrumental piece of music (song with no words or singing). My reason for this is simple, most writers rely to heavily on the lyrics of the song to express the thoughts, feelings, emotions, story, etc. that is being communicated. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the lyrics telling the story, but I think its a lot more valuable if you can tell the same story with the music alone. Then when you add the lyrics (if you add them at all), the power and impact of the song will be much greater on the listener. So let's focus this experiment only on the music and not on the lyrics. You can always add lyrics later once you are done if you want to.

1. Choose Your Topic. Find a something that you want to express musically. You can choose anything you want such as: a personal event, feeling, thought etc. from your own life, or a story that you heard about or read about, or you can create a fictional story, event, etc. to use. The key is to know exactly what it is that you are going to be expressing before you begin to even think about writing music. What the are the expressive goals? Why have you chosen this topic to express in music?

2. Write It Down. Once you have chosen your topic, write it down on paper in your own words in a few paragraphs. You will be coming back to this written description of your topic over and over again as you are writing the music, so keep this close by you when you are working. Describe (in writing) the events, feelings, thoughts, the people, places or things involved, etc. Remember what your expressive goals are?

3. Divide Into Sections. Divide story/topic into sections. The number of sections will vary depending on many factors that are all based on your story. For most songs, 3-8 sections are typical but more less are possible. The sections of your story/topic will determine the number of musical sections of your song, so think about this carefully. Number each section.

4. The 7 Basic Elements Of Music. Make a list of the 7 basic elements of music. Then think about how each musical element (rhythm, harmony, melody, texture, form, timbre, dynamics,) can best be used to express your expressive goals (your story/topic) into music. Really think about each element, don't just rush through this step. Write down your ideas about each on the same paper that you prepared in step 2.

5. Climax. Think about where the climatic points in your topic/story are. Which section is the main climatic point in? At specifically what point in that section is the climax located (beginning, middle, end. etc.) It may be a good idea for you to compose the climatic point first even if it's the middle or end of the story. If you know where you are going, its going to be a lot easier for you to get there. In most stores, parts before the climax build up to the climax and parts after the climax generally move away from it. In other words, what happens before the climax usually create tension and what happens after the climax usually create resolution of all the built up tension. Of course not all stories or music follow this pattern, but often times it does. Write down your ideas about each on the same paper that you prepared in step 2.

Now that you have all of this down on paper, you are ready to begin writing the actual music for your song/composition. As you are writing the music, go back to your original ideas that you wrote down on paper in steps 2-5. Are you following your original ideas or have you begun to evolve away from them as are writing the music? It's common for me to sometimes get away from my original intentions once I am composing the music and have been working on the piece for a while. Sometimes the result of changing the plans work out to be even better than the original, but sometimes it is a failure and I go back to the original concepts and rework the music to better fit my intentions. For the purpose of learning this way of writing music, I encourage you to stick with your original plans for now no matter what. After you fell more comfortable with writing/expressing yourself in this way then certainly you can evolve out of this compositional style when it best suits your own needs.

Tom Hess is a professional virtuoso guitarist, recording artist, touring musician and teacher. See Tom Hess on the HolyHell world tour in 2006. To find out more, check out the official Tom Hess website.

Copyright 2006 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

45 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is going to help me a lot because my guitar teacher's been telling me to write songs for him. Thanks. You rock.
    Brendan DEwald
    Thanks good article it will really help me bec im allways writing guitar parts but never words but this article helped me to start writing words.
    EZLN libertad
    you cant call it creativity when you know exactly how youre going to do things but yeah its a good place to start
    thefinalcut wrote: I have a feeling Tom Hess doesn't reads these comments, not to let anyone down. if he submitted the article to ug, wouldn't he look at the's like if you posted something in here, wouldn't you look at what people said about your article, tab, etc? just my opinion. this article just pretty much saved my relationship with a girl that i'm dating.....THANK YOU TOM HESS! Usually when people read articles like these, many people agree and a few try argue "You're telling people how to write songs." Truth is, he's just giving an alternative.
    a few typos, but nevertheless a good article. i like the organized way in which mr. hess does things, though it is a little extreme at times... i think it is important to find a good balance between being too organized and being too messy in one's songwriting. good advice though, thank you.
    I disagree. This isn't my method for expressing myself musically ( which is probably the only was i do express myself).I pick up my guitar, and I'm usually in a mood about something, because its what i go to when i feel bad about stuff. Then when i've warmed up and stuff, I start into something i have prreviously written, that fitsa the mood. Then I go off it really quickly and find myself exploring into stuff i had'nt seen before. I never write out my plans, but this time I wrote them down AFTER i had done the songwriting, so I could always get back into the mood i was in, so i can continue. This is just my method, I'm not saying its the right way or anything. Does anyone else do it this way? It's a bit restricting in that you have to have a specific mood for it to work, if you fake a mood, or try and imagine one, it never turns out as good as when i am ACTUALLY hurt, or ACTUALLY happy, instead of picturing myself or others as being happy.
    Good, I liked it. Yes, just sitting down and not planning out a song and it working can be awesome, but it is good to have something planned out in different situations. Most great artists did go to school to master their already great abilities, but they learned to harness and use what they had. Like I like learning other peoples songs just because it exposes me to new chords and types of playing. It helps improve my playing. If I could afford lessons like these, I'd take em. Guess I'll just have to stick to these lil tidbits here on ultimate-guitar
    Awesome. I've been writing music for a while now, but this showed me that I could put alot more thought into how I go about it. Definately something I'll put to use.
    This is a very insightful and nice article. Though guidelines are really a must, at the same time, they're very helpful. Definately above all writing the music comes before the lyrics I agree. I just joined a band and they wrote the lyrics first then spawned riffs for it and I had to write a solo. WASN'T A GOOD IDEA! We had to change very much of the song like the structure from verse chorus bridge solo to verse bridge verse chorus brige verse bridge solo. Very big change and hard to do. Definatly my story is related because this is what happens when you don't follow that easy rule :-/
    "I have a feeling Tom Hess doesn't reads these comments, not to let anyone down." Wrong. I read every single one, I just don't have a lot of free time to reply - I have a lot going on and typcally reply to people via email. I have replied to a few of the other articles I have submitted here. Actually I don't post these myself directly. I write for Ultimate-guitar and submit articles directly to them, they post them for me actually. Although this article was an older one I let them take from my site, but all of the songwriting articles are exclusive to this site when written. And I am working on new articles just for this cool site. Thanks to all of you for your feedback (positive and negative)
    these two articals are an interesting read. There seems to be a fine balance between spontanious writing and planning it out. I know you can't just sit down and force yourself to write a song, you have to feel it. At the same time, the views expressed in this column would make good tools to complete that feeling. I like the writers insight in the process.
    Amazing!!! this was brilliant. i always come up with great riffs and cool, deep melodies and solos. i know what feelings i wanted to express , but never understood how to write them into words. Thanksalot!!!
    but u know wat? lyrics aint a prob for me.. finding a melody that goes with the lyrics and riff.. thts hard for me
    flesh fries
    damn...this helped me alot...good timing girlfriend just left me for another.... this calls for an instrumental!!!
    I liked this column a lot! This way should really help in the songwriting process
    IMO music is all about being creative in a very spontaneous way and to create art out of nothing. to force yourself to make art can't be the right way. Try to make your own music without any guidance. Just play what comes in your mind, write it down and you'll see, its gonna be great It works greatly for my band an me sry for my bad english.
    great article i think more songwriters should think about wat they want to create before they create music. too often hav i seen bands with good musical ideas which hav no relation to the song. Hess is a legend
    Nice, I'm in class right now so I'll try this now in fourth pd. thanks!
    damn...this helped me alot...good timing girlfriend just left me for another.... this calls for an instrumental!!!
    im sorry for u man
    You have great ideas and insight into music. I have enjoyed your articles on guitarnoise before and I have only recently started picking them up on UG. thanks.
    Although spontiniety (sry i have a hard time spelling as you will see) is awesome so is sitting down and writing some ideas down, yes the spontaneous will most of the time sound fresh, and yes sat down and written music may sound dry, but think of it this way, if you write an essay and never re write it, it doesnt sound polished and may not quite get your point a across, but if you go over it and rewrite it is usually better, use mr hess's idea but also in writing a song add a part where you can improv! yay theres my two cents, great article mr hess, but i already use this method
    Hess, you're articles are great. They're clear, helpful, to the point and easy to get through. So I beg you! Write one about the thing I need you're advice on- I sometimes write really great riffs. Like REALLY great riffs that I think are awesome, but when I write lyrics they just don't fit the song. Can you write an article to help me with this please?
    Good follow-up on the first article, there is still many other articles you can write in relation to theses first two so keep on it. And you know a lot about writing music Mr. Guitar-Theory , lol, so I usually fill in the blanks of my methods with yours and they have been ending up pretty good, I'd like to read parts 3, and 4 etc.
    this is really good advice-i must try out this techique, seems a really good idea
    I have a feeling Tom Hess doesn't reads these comments, not to let anyone down. Usually when people read articles like these, many people agree and a few try argue "You're telling people how to write songs." Truth is, he's just giving an alternative.
    personally, i think i find the best songs when i just have my friends come over to play music, and just jam and liek omg da stuff just fits!!1! but ya know thats just how it works out for me...