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Learning songs and humiliation

Musical Terms

Whenever there’s a musical term I think you might not know, I’ll have a definition. It’ll be like learning a new language step-by-step. You’ll feel smarter and it’ll be easy. Here’s one now.



You know when you hear “it’s in the key of C,” or “it’s in the key of G”? It means that that note (the C or the G in these two cases) is the most important note in the key. There are seven notes in any key, but one of them is more important than the others.

So all you need to know for now is that a key is a collection of 7 notes, with one note being more important than the others. Songs are usually in one key.


How I learned to write songs

The first thing I tried to do when I started writing songs was write a chord progression. I knew that a chord progression was a sequence of chords, and I knew that songs were in keys. But I didn’t know what a key was. I knew the word, thought I was hip, didn’t know what it meant.

Rather than embarrass myself by faking it (“Oh, yeah, like, the key of C is different than the key of G because it, like, has a different expression to it.”), I got a theory book. The theory book hurt. It was…I don’t know…it was bad. Most of them seem that way, as if whoever wrote them doesn’t have a clue who they’re writing for (i.e. someone  that has no clue).

I asked a friend that was taking band in school (not cool) and he explained it to me. Sort of. He didn’t really know either. But somehow I got the idea of how many notes and chords are in a key. I got the idea that there are lots of keys, and that there are things called sharps and flats. And then my head started hurting.


Sharing is good

After a while, I felt more comfortable with the theory stuff. I could sort of play, and I sort of knew how music was put together, but doing it by myself alone in my bedroom was getting old. But what else was I going to do? Play for other people? How about dying instead?

The only way that I got on stage for the first time was by being forced to by the music school I was going to at the time. Well, not really forced. It was more like they placed a weight of expectation on my back.

“Look”, they said, “everyone else is doing it. What’s your problem?” I think they said that to all the kids.

So there I was 12 years old, on stage for the first time.

And it went really badly.


Humiliation is bad

I was in a band with three other kids, and all of us were terrified. We just stood there on stage, staring at each other as if we were lost in the woods with a psychopath stalking us. Then someone counted to four (the drummer) and we stumbled into “Crocodile Rock.” Elton John from the 70s. A hit.

Nobody sang, but I was supposed to play the melody. I did this quite well for about five notes. Then I forgot the rest. The other kids kept doggedly playing and throwing deer-in-the-headlights looks my way.  I alternated between staring at my guitar – confused – and looking beseechingly at the other kids. I thought maybe they could help. I was wrong.

Then we had to play another song, soaked in humiliation.

If that second song hadn’t gone better, there’s no way I’d be a working musician now.

So it’s possible to make a career as a musician without the proper personality (which can be developed) and with crushing failure.

Take heart.




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