Chris Padilla/Blog / Notes

Writing Music is Just Problem Solving

Writing music is actually just problem solving.

There are folks on both sides of the left and right brain spectrum as far as music making goes. Free form jazz is on the right brain side. Schoenberg's 12 tone school is on the left side.

Most of it is actually somewhere in the middle, though.

The ideas may come from inspiration or from influence. It starts with "I want to write a melody in a Medieval Style." But then, the next statement is "Let me figure out how to do that!"

And it goes on from there:

  • Let me listen to references.
  • Let me score study a few of them.
  • Let me spend 15 minutes sounding bad in a musical mode until I find a melody I like,
  • Let me find an instrument that matches the sound in my head.
  • Let me try adding this other instrument. Woops! That doesn't fit. Let me try another
  • I want to transition key centers to the subdominant. How can I do that AND make my listeners feel a sense of bewilderment and magic as I do that.

The fun part is it starts pretty broad and loose, but then gets very technical through the project.

For me, the hardest part of writing is getting started. Blank canvas syndrome. Once a piece is in motion, though, then it's just solving particular musical and emotional challenges along the way.

From there, the tune is taking shape, you're getting more limitations, those limitations bread further creativity, and eventually you stop because adding any more takes away from the spirit of the piece. Time to go on to the next problem - writing another one.

In my mind, this doesn't cheapen the spiritual nature of music making or the mystique of writing music. It's both. When stuck trying to pull a melody out of the materials, eventually there's something that comes out of nowhere to fill in the gap. That's still a part of it too.

I think it's helpful to dispel the belief that it's talent or a gift to do the whole music writing thing, though. Much of it is a lot more on the ground and just working in the dirt than it's given credit, like any creative art.

(Also worth saying, in my experience, the process of writing music is WILDY SIMILAR to writing software.)