INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)

Can Music Soothe the Savage Writer?

MUSIC-FRAMEWhat music (if any) do you listen to while you’re writing? I listen to a lot of different kinds of music to get inspired, depending on the project or character I’m working on, but once I’m rolling…

Sometimes I like silence. Sometimes I like public background noise (a cafe or library). But sometimes the music feels like it’s propelling the words, enhancing the flow – and nothing works as well for me as Bach’s English Suites No. 4, 5 & 6 (performed by Glenn Gould please!). Here’s why:

1) No vocals – I can’t write and hear lyrics at the same time, even if they’re in German.

2) Structure – I don’t really know much about music, but I know when a theme or motif is being varied or re-framed. I know when a piece is shifting from a major to a minor key. And I know when someone sticks a landing – and these pieces do it in a variety of ways, all of them satisfying. Sometimes they thunder to a close and sometimes there’s a little coda (or whatever you call it) at the end that recaps the theme or opening idea. I don’t exactly understand the structure, but I can feel it – much the same way readers don’t have to consciously identify a theme, motif or structural device in a book or script to appreciate it. If you do spot it, great. If you don’t, you still feel the coherence and unity.

3) Timelessness – Bach is obviously of his time, but there are also a lot of elements that seem really modern too. And in this music I feel a sense of primal propulsion, like Bach – and Gould – have plugged into a flow that exists before, and continues long after, the music per se. Something beyond time and space. That’s what I, and many writers, strive for in our writing. We should be so lucky to have people reading our work in 400 years!

Stream it here.

7 comments on “Can Music Soothe the Savage Writer?

  1. Amanda M
    June 5, 2015

    1) I have certain albums that just work for me and that I know so well, I just don’t hear words anymore. I think rock/pop albums must all have similar beats-per-minute. They are:

    Pop Rock:
    –Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks/Beatin’ The Heat
    –Chris Isaak/San Francisco Days
    –Gladys Knight & the Pips/Best Of

    Music for Productivity by Archangelos Chamber Ensemble (I also like their other Music For… CDs, but this is my fav.)

    2) I’ve become a big fan of Binaural Beats – tracks that must be listened to via headphones to help trick your brain into different brainwave states. My favorite creator of these tracks is Kelly Howell; I like the High Focus on.

    3) Highly recommend website/service: They keep adding channels and features. Their tracks include coffee-shop BG, aggressive drum-bass for ADD, Alpha Chill, Spa etc.

  2. Jeanne O'Connor
    June 5, 2015

    For someone who says he doesn’t know much about music, you seem to be awfully perceptive about it, Greg! I can almost forgive you for not wanting to hear vocals! Just kidding, I find vocals to be totally distracting, as you might imagine. RE: Bach — endlessly satisfying, and indeed the music is very directional, and sometimes astonishingly modern-sounding, at least to my ears. His sense of harmony still informs jazz — and inspires excellent writers, evidently!

    • gregorymilleris
      June 5, 2015

      Spoken like a singer! I also love JSB’s way of leaving things unresolved, then ultimately resolving them. I guess that’s the western classical music game in general, but JSB makes it so plain yet elegant at the same time.

  3. johnschwartzauthor
    June 18, 2015

    For my Enchanting the Swan, which will be published by end of this summer, I listened to many different melodies. Of course, The Swan by Camille St. Saëns was the main melody, played by various well-known quintets and quartets. But there were also Jazz players like Evans and Amal that shaped the novel. Errol Garner with his unparalleled Avalon was a major model for John van Dorn celebrating losing his virginity on his Steinway grand (yes, men can lose their virginity too) in “Some Women I Have Known”

  4. johnschwartzauthor
    June 18, 2015

    Yes it does! For my Enchanting the Swan to be published by end of this summer, The Swan by Camille St. Saëns was its major title song. For the Jazz pieces Evans and Amal were major contributors. In Some Women I Have Known, John van Dorn plays Errol Garner’s version of Avalon after losing his virginity (yes, man can lose their virginity too) –

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This entry was posted on June 5, 2015 by in Creative Process, Productivity and tagged , .
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