which comes first, the music or the lyrics?

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photo by Tara M Waysok

Musicians have their own way of composing music and writing lyrics. I don’t have a specific method. When I have something to express, usually anger or frustration, the song follows. Since I had my little boy, I haven’t written as much music because I’ve been focusing on my time with him. But recently, some feelings about events in my past culminated…and I wrote a song about it.

One thing that remains the same: the lyrics are fueled by emotion. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I hold a lot of anger and sadness in, so I end up releasing it all into my music. The words are basic. Sometimes general but so powerful and heartfelt at the same time.  Here’s an example.

Lyrics from Part of Myself

“Trying to find peace in anger/Trying to find the good in the bad/Trying to find a reason for living/But I’m still looking for that.”

The lyrics are motivated by the extremes in my life, so they are simple but intense. I compose the music on guitar. As a self-taught guitarist, I write the music the same way that I write my lyrics—I write what feels right. My new song is still a work in progress. I’ll post it once it’s completed.

I play finger style acoustic guitar so the melodies and rhythm work well with my lyrical style. Sometimes I hear something in my head that hasn’t been written before and I need to express it on my guitar. I pick up the guitar and play a few chords or notes until I find the sound I’m looking for. Or I get out my cheat sheet of chord names and play a few different ones until I find a few that work.

If the lyrics are written already, then I’ll pull out the scrap sheet of paper they are on and start singing.  I say a prayer to the music gods that the rhythm and chords will find themselves because I don’t have any formal music training. I play until it sounds right. Or until I throw my guitar across the room because it doesn’t sound right!

When I first started playing guitar, I wrote songs by adding chords that I didn’t know so I’d be forced to learn them. If I can get up the nerve, I’d like to start composing in different guitar tunings. I’m comfortable in standard tuning so it will be a major step for me.

I’m 31 tomorrow. I thought I’d be a lot further along in my music career by now. Being a writer, and a musician, and a hair model, while raising a two year old, takes a lot of time and devotion. I’m slightly disappointed when I can’t focus on all of my goals but not discouraged. Everything happens for a reason and no matter where I am in my life, I always find a way to include music in it.

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