What music and writing have in common

I confess, I seem to be on a music kick this week as far as writing is concerned, on this (dramatic drum roll), … the 15 minute writer exercise blog. Well that sounds kind of clunky doesn’t it? Well it is only an exercise, re-drafts must be on a separate post,you understand – I am enjoying this daily writing, I must confess, there is little about it that is under duress. Hmm…

In a reversal of how rhythm with words is a fine take on (ahem), “good” writing, and I’m not talking about the bad punning, and birthday card poetry of the previous paragraph here, today I’m interested in a different way that music and writing have something in common. It is about how music and writing interact for me, how they may interact for you, and the symbiotic relationship they have on each other, at least in my head.

Pretty generally speaking and excluding people who are trying to listen for specific instruments, people listen to music such as pop, rock, folk, and similar in two ways. The first way is to listen for the lyrics and enjoy a song that way, the music is a lesser priority. The second way is the opposite, they listen to the music, the melodies, riffs, the rhythms, timbre, and so on. The lyrics are the lesser priority, sometimes even picked up phonetically, so that words might be learnt without the meaning considered. This is more common than you might think. I’ve often done it in the past myself. So, and this is interesting because I like reading and writing, I tend to be the latter. The music comes first for me. Now I didn’t choose it that way, that is just what happens, I usually have to work a bit more to get the lyrics, or read them if provided (yet another downside in downloads, which is aside from the quality issue). Yet I still love quality lyrics, they just are not up front for me. Therein lies what appears on the surface to be the first contradiction, but as you shall see, it is not.

I’m a big music fan and in return, music can provide a big inspiration to me. For example, there are times when I may be sitting round, a bit bored, or maybe a bit tired, but seemingly not on the ball creatively. But then I plug the headphones into the laptop, put them on, and play some tracks (oh iTunes you little devil you). Usually within a minute or two I’m caught up in it. Something has happened. I’m caught up in a riff or melody, maybe synchronised with a beat, or riding the changes in tempo. I’m following the story of the music, the ups and downs and everything else, a particular lyric or phrasing, even the emotion of a vocal performance, perhaps the way award is phrased. There is a something. It gets me flowing. Suddenly I have a tempo, or a realisation on an emotional up or down. It can be a bit fantasy, a bit dream like, if you will, it takes me away from where I was and places me somewhere else. It gives me imagination. Somewhat amazing is the amount of times an idea I had in the back of my mind, flies to the front, without conscious prompting, then suddenly I have four or five ideas around it. Things I can add to, or revisit and edit later. Notes that need to be taken.

Sometimes I use music in a different way. Music listened to over time can be very nostalgic, it will soundtrack certain things in your life. Re-listening to songs can bring back memories, feelings, or often different emotions. It might remind you of a great trip somewhere, a little shared moment, or a horrific breakup that tore up your insides at the time. Listening to a song can take you away from where you are now, and in these instances, practically right back to that other place. To me when this happens, it gives me an emotional depth, or an emotional water well from which to draw from. It gives me the emotional thing, the feeling I want to try and replicate. It tells me how something should be, what I should be striving for when I put it into context. It is a way of realising what is in myself, some might take this as what is in my soul. Whichever way you want to take it, the music shows me what is there, it is merely my task to try and use it for what it is. To translate it from the electrical noise in my brain to the written word on the page.

It occurs to me now that as I like music and have quite a lot of it, that my music library is to some extent, a personal library for me, of me. I’m just using it to access me, (or at least parts of me), a bit like an index.

It ought to be clear from the above that I can also use music as a reboot. It triggers my brain into some kind of action. When I really get it right and choose something I’m (often unconsciously), yearning for, then I literally am taken away. I can be swept away  into a different mental state, I can be somewhere else, I can move up out of here and fly. It sounds a little cringeworthy but that is what it is.

Music also makes me respectful of what it is as a piece, as a work, or a project. It can be small and throwaway, it can be about a theme a heartfelt, wrought, piece of emotion. It could be a story, a diary, an emotional moment of someone’s life. It could be days of hard work, or five minutes of inspiration. It can be genius, it can be terrible. It can be a showcase of talent, it can be three or five guys in tune with each other, feeding off each other. It could be the result of hundreds of hours of practice, or something that just seemed to appear and write itself. It can be an attempt to create something specific, to a theme or story, or just something that seems throwaway, that gives a few minutes of entertainment. It could be made in an expensive studio, or in the singer’s bedroom. It could be all this and more. What is not to respect about this? It is someone creating something. When it works it is (in gestalt terms) “greater than the sum of it’s parts”, it is something alive in our hearts and minds. It is the result of everything that got it there, before it slots in and becomes apart of you. It is that we must respect and admire, for if we wish to write something that engages, we wish to do the same thing. It embodies the idea of what we are trying to achieve as a writer.

With all this in mind we must also consider that music can also be used to add to life’s moments. I’m talking about the little things that make you smile, or make you realise that whatever else is going on, a little moment is all that is needed. My 14 month old son is starting to notice music a little more. He is also is getting steadier on his feet, and combining this with bouncing up and down, or throwing his arms around, or even all three. There have been a few times where a song has come on that has grabbed his attention, he looks at me and does his little dance, so I can do it back to him. He laughs, it’s fun, he’s only 14 months old so it is genuine. It makes me love the little fella a little bit more, and thankful that I’m his dad. It’s one of those moments. It is real it was there. What it has in common with writing, and especially fiction, is producing these moments. The moments people can say, “I understand, I was there as well, I shared in it”.

And that is what music and writing have in common. Music can inspire me, it can take me away to a different place, or return me to an old place. It can show me an emotional moment, or it can create a new one. It makes me respectful of what people can achieve, and the process involved in getting it there. If we wish to write, to communicate with others then a great way to do it is to try and create these similar moments. Moments which take a person away from where they are, show them something new, tweak an emotion, make them think, or respectful of what they, or others have. That is what music and writing have in common for me, and why they cannot be separated. I hope you have something like this that works this way for you.

Lexicon word of the day: Magniloquent.


4 comments on “What music and writing have in common

  1. I feel like fiction is a way of saying what can’t be said directly (in something like a treatise or an essay) and music takes it a step further and intimates what can’t be said with words.

  2. Thanks for directing me to this post – I completely identify. Music is so powerful for me 🙂

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