Solo albums: Do you write the music out?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by thrash_jazz, Jul 18, 2003.

  1. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Hi guys,

    Just a quick question - when composing solo material, do you write the music out, record it or just remember what it is you did?

    It seems to me to be different from a band situation, in that there are no "reference points" to jog your memory with.

    For a while it seemed like I'd forget every good idea I had, but I tried writing out my ideas on staff paper as they came, and the results were immediately better. I had tried this with chord charts before but I'd always forget the nuances of the rhythm.

    This has worked extremely well for me - much better than recording takes of the stuff. I was just wondering if any solo bassists did this. If so, do you write using the bass and note paper, or just the paper? How would you compare this method to the other ones I mentioned?

    Thanks in advance :)
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Adam,

    a lot depends on the circumstances in which I came up with the piece, and whether I actually want to learn it or not! A lot of times I prefer not to remember it note for note, as having a vague concept around which to make something up is often more interesting for me - so you do get recurring ideas in my gigs, but variations on it. Sometimes I learn whole tunes, and have on occasion written out particular voicings and rhythmic ideas. I don't think I've ever transcribed a whole solo piece, but that's more out of laziness than any dedication to a particular way of doing things... :)

    I think as with most things it's best to mix it up - write some out, jot down the chords for others, record some stuff and try to keep some in your memory - each method helps to develop a different part of your musical makeup!

    take care

  3. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Good question.

    If you only write little bits of a piece here and there (or not at all, just little bits stored up in memory), how does everything come together? How do you get from beginning to end? I'm figuring you improvise around the parts you have written?

    When trying to compose, I've fallen into writing everything out. A piece usually is taken from a phrase or something that I thought up previously. I usually only work on one piece at a time. And I write it out note for note, beginning to end. I don't know. I'm not really liking this method, maybe b/c my compositions come out rather dull that way. When I first started writing my own stuff I didn't write everything down. And then I come back to it and am unable to remember the song. I even recorded a couple songs, even then I couldn't remember them (my ear is still not the greatest lol). So I figured the only way I was going to remember was to write it all down note for note.

    I want to start moving out of this though, and leave some room for improvisation, maybe only writing down/recording "important phrases".
  4. thrash_jazz


    Jan 11, 2002
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    Artist: JAF Basses, Circle K Strings
    Thanks for the input folks!

    Well, the reason why I started doing it was that I'd frequently come up with some interesting stuff, only to forget some little nuance the next time I tried to play it.

    I'm only doing this for the stuff I have that will require concrete parts, for now at least.

    I'd tried recording as well, but for some inexplicable reason writing it out is working much better for me. I think it's because this permits me to compose using my brain, rather than just my ears and hands. Also, when you record it you have to figure it all out again... As well, a recording device is not always handy, whereas paper and pencil is.

    Also it has helped my writing and reading skills to resurface - they had more rust on them than an old Chevette.
  5. I guess that I write out the pieces that I play so that the other guitarists who want to learn it can, but.....

    But the funny thing is, particular songs change over time, sometimes I add in more sections or change certain things. Sometimes, with the better foresight that time can give a musician, I put in "better" chords or voice-leading. I know a song that I wrote out 4 years ago...the "up to date" version is kind of different...but also more enhanced. I don't know if I'd actually want to write that all out again by hand. I don't know, maybe it's because I'm constantly learning new concepts to fiddle around with all the time.

    I hope that I don't turn out like the famous catherdral in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia (Michael Manring knows about this one). They've been building it for so long that no one knows if it'll actually be finished. And that's the problem I guess with notating some of the stuff that I come up with. Five or so years down the track and I'm still adding bits to an old piece.

    Steve (or anyone else), how do you know when to "stop" when it comes to a writing a piece. I don't want to have three or four incarnations of the same song.

  6. sorry for the typos...

  7. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    I guess any piece of music has two states - evolving and fixed. For me, the only fixed version is when it's been recorded and released, but that doesn't mean that it won't keep evolving as well - there can be two versions of a tune! :)

    I guess I'd never feel the need to make definitive pronouncements on anything I'd written - I'm sure that sort of thing is a much bigger deal if you're publishing a score to be played by other people, but if you're performing and recording your own work, it's all up for grabs. Most of the time, my compositions are only sketches anyway that are fleshed out in any setting improvisationally in relation to the room, the selection of gear I have available at the time and the audience. So tunes are changing all the time.

    Even if I've written it out at some point, there's still room for growth.

    I also go through periods of different focus - fretted/fretless, processed/un processed, loadsa loops/one loop - each of these decisions will affect how a particular tune comes out on a gig...


  8. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I like to write out my compositions as it gives me another way of trying to clarify what it is I'm attempting to express. By writing it out I'm able to involve different perceptive skills and see the work from a new angle. However, I seldom have time to make complete transcriptions of solo pieces, so I'll often just write out a little shorthand version of a section here and there. I do rely on making little recordings for reference, though. I always want the sound of the music to be the most important thing – I don't want to be swayed by something that looks good on paper if it doesn't sound good to me too!

    I did do a complete transcription book of my record Thonk. Although it was a fun project, doing the transcriptions took almost as long as making the record! Made me think maybe I should write simpler music!

    Regarding the question of knowing when a piece is finished – I think it's the question itself that is the important thing. In my opinion, Art is all about asking yourself these kinds of questions in order to understand more fully the meanings you hope to explore.