My five-month-old baby, Aviva keeps me busy every moment. She also keeps me entertained, inspired, awe-struck, and speechless. I am a songwriter, learning who I am all over again now in the light of having become a mother. Still I am no less a songwriter now than I ever was. So I am learning how to write songs all over again, in tiny increments of time, dipping my toes in the stream of inspiration without the luxury of diving in, splashing around and soaking in it. The stream is still there for me and I have developed a new appreciation for every drop of water that I draw from it, every 10-minute-nap-sized sip. Now with 5 months of practice under my belt, I am by no means an expert, but I thought I’d share a bit about what I’ve learned.
- 1.) Much of the songwriting process requires no instrument at all. To start, all you need is an open ear, a soft heart and a way to record your ideas (like old-school pen and paper and/or a recording device like an iPhone). I’m learning to listen in silence to find the tune and to think through what I’m really trying to say. I like to start the day with a journal entry while I nurse the baby to check in and see where my heart wants to go. Often my mood and subject of focus will direct me to work on a particular song. While I’m rocking, nursing, diapering, whatever, I can be thinking, dreaming, humming, imagining. . . (always recording each step because my memory is a little looser than it used to be ; )
- 2.) Singing acapella makes your melody really strong, because you are not burying or masking it with instrumental riffs, chord changes, and musical tricks. When it’s bare you can tell if you really love to sing it. That’s when you know you are on to something great.
- 3.) Babies love to be sung to. Writing songs is a natural daily occurrence for even the least musically-inclined new mom. There is something instinctual about singing to a baby in those private, cuddly-babbly moments, and there are always reasons to sing: good morning songs (yes, even though it’s 6am), bath-time songs, fifth-outfit-change-of-the-day songs, desperate lullabies, etc. Nonsense words work as good as any real ones and you have the most captive and appreciate audience you will ever have. I’m not saying that the songs you sing about stinky-pants are going to become hits, but the songwriting wheels are greased and rolling. Now you just have to get your mind out of goo-goo-ga-ga and remember what your own heart wants to really say. (see #1)
- 4.) Great achievements can be accomplished in small increments. (Just look at all the exercise DVDs marketed to busy moms that boast an enviable body in only 10 minutes a day.) It’s the same principle here, really. Flex those songwriting muscles often, stretch your rhyme legs, keep your vocals loose and light. It’s much easier to give yourself 10 minutes for a free-writing exercise than to wait till you have a few hours alone in a quiet room (which may never happen again in your life). Learning to use those small increments wisely is the part that takes discipline and creativity.
- 5.) Write like it’s your job. Songwriting is often the first thing to be bumped off my to-do list. (If this sounds like you too, I highly recommend the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield) The trick is to keep bringing your mind back to the song throughout the day and not just be distracted by the endless laundry, “urgent” emails and the always-available electronic candy all around (Facebook, television, etc). Do what needs to be done, but keep coming back to the song.
- 6.) Seek out inspiration for a kick-start. As I mentioned in #2, babies love music. So put on some great music and listen deeply while you dance around with the baby. (this is a good way to get you that enviable body mentioned in #4 too) Listen to songwriters who inspire you to write, and who set the bar high, who blow your mind with great lyrics and make your heart ache with their melodies. Challenge yourself to improve your artistry by surrounding yourself with great art.
- 7.) Give baby full and focused attention first so she’s happy, then she will be more likely to let you work for a few minutes here and there because she feels secure and loved. (We like to do mommy and baby yoga together which is a win-win because it puts me in the right head-space to write and makes her feel like I am wrapped around her finger, which I am.)
Songwriter moms and dads, please feel free to add your own tips and discoveries in the comments section!
If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and you’d like to explore the songwriting process with me, sign up for my upcoming class – Mondays in March at Oz’s Music Environment. For info: https://www.facebook.com/events/516746251757894/