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-   -   Neil Young On Songwriting - "Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song". (https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=271802)

Steve Berger 11-08-2012 02:54 PM

Neil Young On Songwriting - "Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song".
 
Not sure the best sub-forum for this, so mods please move if needed.

I ran across this print interview with Neil Young in (of all places) the Costco Connection.

Neil is asked how he approaches songwriting and I found his comments to be not only most interesting, but the comments that resonated the most with me of any I have ever read on this subject. Although I suspect Neil is speaking of how we writes his songs that typically have lyrics, I believe they certainly apply as much to composing instrumental guitar songs

Anyway, here it is - Enjoy:

The Costco Connection: How do you approach songwriting?

Neil Young: "When I write a song, it starts with a feeling. I can hear something in my head or feel it in my heart. It may be I just picked up the guitar and mindlessly started playing. That's the way a lot of songs begin. When you do that, you are not thinking. Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song. So you just start playing and something new comes out. Where does it come from? Who cares? Just keep it and go with it.

That's what I do. I never judge it. I believe it. It came as a gift when I picked up my musical instrument and it came through me playing with the instrument. The chords and melody just appeared. Now is not the time for interrogation or analysis. Now is the time to get to know the song, not change it before you even know it. It is like a wild animal, a living thing. Be careful not to scare it away. That's my method, or one of my methods at least."

Feste 11-08-2012 03:02 PM

Nice!
Thanks for sharing Steve.

Chris_M 11-08-2012 04:54 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYwK6VhGTOw

Amazing interview
Watch 16:25 for Neil on lyrics/songwriting and how it really doesn't matter.

NO THINKING! DON'T THINK, WORST THING YOU CAN DO!

Bikewer 11-08-2012 06:32 PM

There are essentially two schools of thought regarding songwriting. I've written a lot of songs, and maybe a couple of them were decent...
All mine came in a rush, "out of the air", much as Young describes. Rarely spend more than a few minutes writing down the lyric. Indeed, if it takes longer than that, chances are it won't "come".

The other school is the "songsmith" method. Merle Travis, in an old Guitar Player interview, said he really admired the "Tin Pan Alley" type of songwriters who could knock out a tune on demand on whatever subject was presented.

Some guys recommend coming up with a good "hook" and building the song around that.
Some say "work backwards". Come up with a good strong ending and work the thing back from there...
Whatever works, I suppose; all have been successful.

I read an interview with Guy Clark, who is a plodder. He takes months or even years to perfect a song... Keeps little scraps of lines or ideas in a big folder and goes through them constantly to see if anything clicks..

jseth 11-08-2012 07:41 PM

Songwriting is such a personal endeavor... I've been writing songs since I was around 13 years old, so... 48 years now (jeez, that seems like such a LONG TIME!)...

Sometimes songs just "show up"; I've had a number of them that have appeared, full blown, when I first woke up in the morning... just wrote them down as fast as I could write! Other songs just want to take their time, or be a bit coy, like they'll show me a little bit, but then just freeze or run away and hide...

I have pieces that have been "in progress" for a good number of years, whether lyric ideas, melody or a set of changes/groove that speaks to me... I figure that they'll eventually be ready to be written, so long as I remember them... but I don't believe in "forcing" a song, either. Certainly, I can do that. I can just write a song and finish it, work out a rhyme that fits, whether it's what I want the song to be, or what the SONG wants to be... something gets lost when I do it that way...

I've read too many interviews and books about songwriting to ascribe to any theory that says there's only one way to do it... or two ways or whatever...

When it comes down to it, you just write them, anyway that you can, any way that works for you, that produces a result that you're pleased with...

One thing I would suggest to any writer: DON'T THROW ANY SONG AWAY!!! I used to do that, all the time... I'd finish a piece (or get close) and think that it wasn't up to my own standards... so I'd toss it, or just walk away from it. Be gentle with yourself instead of being your own strongest critic...

By the way, I have found that it is FAR EASIER to write a song FOR someone else, than for me... even the suggestion of 'write a song about_____" is a whole lot simpler than staring a blank piece of paper and dong the "okay, what do I want to write about? What do I want to say?"...

As much as I love a whole lot of Neil Young's music, I wouldn't suggest following ANYONE'S advice to the extent of eschewing your own "way"...

Although the "don't think about it" comment is a darn good one!

play on...................................>

John Seth Sherman

Glennwillow 11-08-2012 08:45 PM

"Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song"

I can understand where Neil Young is coming from on this, knowing his music. Sometimes I have written songs this way, but in the last 25 years, my approach has been much more like the songsmith that Bikewer describes as "coming up with a good "hook" and building the song around that." For me, coming up with interesting music has never been hard. For me, coming up with an interesting subject, something that is actually worth the time and that has meaning for someone else, and then is expressed well in an appealing way and form -- that, to me, is hard. It's real work, in fact. Music, at least for me and the way my mind works, is the easy part.

I agree with jseth that "...I wouldn't suggest following ANYONE'S advice to the extent of eschewing your own "way"... " Everybody seems to do it differently, even people who actually make money at it.

- Glenn

billgennaro 11-10-2012 12:04 AM

i agree with Glenn - coming up with a subject, especially one that isn't about a woman, is the hard part. its always a struggle for me.

bill

TNTaylor414 11-10-2012 03:22 AM

Good interview with Darrell Scott on songwriting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9_9gpJJjmI

Bronzeback 11-10-2012 06:07 AM

Neil is the Master... Many of my songs I'll build a basic idea, roll a recorder and improvise lyrics, then go back and memorize later. Yea thinking is an imagination killer.

llew 11-10-2012 07:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jseth (Post 3236215)
Songwriting is such a personal endeavor... I've been writing songs since I was around 13 years old, so... 48 years now (jeez, that seems like such a LONG TIME!)...

Sometimes songs just "show up"; I've had a number of them that have appeared, full blown, when I first woke up in the morning... just wrote them down as fast as I could write! Other songs just want to take their time, or be a bit coy, like they'll show me a little bit, but then just freeze or run away and hide...

I have pieces that have been "in progress" for a good number of years, whether lyric ideas, melody or a set of changes/groove that speaks to me... I figure that they'll eventually be ready to be written, so long as I remember them... but I don't believe in "forcing" a song, either. Certainly, I can do that. I can just write a song and finish it, work out a rhyme that fits, whether it's what I want the song to be, or what the SONG wants to be... something gets lost when I do it that way...

I've read too many interviews and books about songwriting to ascribe to any theory that says there's only one way to do it... or two ways or whatever...

When it comes down to it, you just write them, anyway that you can, any way that works for you, that produces a result that you're pleased with...

One thing I would suggest to any writer: DON'T THROW ANY SONG AWAY!!! I used to do that, all the time... I'd finish a piece (or get close) and think that it wasn't up to my own standards... so I'd toss it, or just walk away from it. Be gentle with yourself instead of being your own strongest critic...

By the way, I have found that it is FAR EASIER to write a song FOR someone else, than for me... even the suggestion of 'write a song about_____" is a whole lot simpler than staring a blank piece of paper and dong the "okay, what do I want to write about? What do I want to say?"...

As much as I love a whole lot of Neil Young's music, I wouldn't suggest following ANYONE'S advice to the extent of eschewing your own "way"...

Although the "don't think about it" comment is a darn good one!

play on...................................>

John Seth Sherman


I have melodies/music but no lyrics? I have bits and pieces of songs floating around in my head. Some started with an ending. Some started with a hook. Some of it is just playing a progression that I begin to recognize as a possibility for a song. Some has been in the works for years? It makes no sense whatsoever to me? I'm not what I would call a "real" songwriter. I have friends who are very good at it. Something has to move me, inspire me to write and when that happens it usually comes quickly and if I'm not in a place where I can at least make some notes I'll lose it. And later when I try to reconstruct from memory it never comes together as it did in that moment of epiphany? I'm beginning to think it's a gift that you're overly blessed with or that maybe you have it in you and you just have to work at it...I really don't know. Just wish I was better at it.

mashup 11-10-2012 08:04 AM

Brilliant! Thanks for this.

cokezero 11-10-2012 09:55 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by llew (Post 3237397)
I have melodies/music but no lyrics? I have bits and pieces of songs floating around in my head. Some started with an ending. Some started with a hook. Some of it is just playing a progression that I begin to recognize as a possibility for a song. Some has been in the works for years? It makes no sense whatsoever to me? I'm not what I would call a "real" songwriter. I have friends who are very good at it. Something has to move me, inspire me to write and when that happens it usually comes quickly and if I'm not in a place where I can at least make some notes I'll lose it. And later when I try to reconstruct from memory it never comes together as it did in that moment of epiphany? I'm beginning to think it's a gift that you're overly blessed with or that maybe you have it in you and you just have to work at it...I really don't know. Just wish I was better at it.

I'm the opposite. I have SO MANY lyrics that I have written but not many melodies/music. Many say I should first get melodies down, but I can't seem to get it. So many thoughts that I write down, just can't seem to get good hooks down.

korby 11-10-2012 10:52 AM

Kind of the Jonathan Livingston Seagull approach . I use that also , I am so I can .

Glennwillow 11-10-2012 11:17 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TNTaylor414 (Post 3237293)
Good interview with Darrell Scott on songwriting.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9_9gpJJjmI

Thanks for that! That was REALLY interesting and well produced!

- Glenn

mymartind35 11-10-2012 12:32 PM

The subject isn't the hard part. I do like Guy Clark does. I put ideas in a pad and when I feel like writing, I reference those. I have a lot of lyrical hooks. I've never thought of starting at the end and working back. I have a 12 channel studio at home that I put my musical hooks in. Sometimes I don't make it fast enough to get them recorded. Great food for thought, though. We wrote over 100 songs in the 80's. I wrote the music and my best friend wrote the lyrics. He broke up with "the girl" and all the songs turned into tearjerkers. I've just started going through all that also.

LGOJerry 11-10-2012 03:56 PM

I think everyone probably begins with the spontaniety of Neil's method, but in reality, once you have the first few lyrics down, you need to go back over them and refine them so they make sense.

There are far too many nonsensical songs out there, some with fine melodies, but still incomplete and poorly constructed. The usual problem is that the writer didn't bother to refine the lyrics.

alnico5 11-10-2012 05:48 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by billgennaro (Post 3237273)
i agree with Glenn - coming up with a subject, especially one that isn't about a woman, is the hard part. its always a struggle for me.

bill

John Fogarty never wrote about women much (Sweet Hitchhiker maybe). He is unique.

Glennwillow 11-10-2012 06:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by alnico5 (Post 3237950)
John Fogarty never wrote about women much (Sweet Hitchhiker maybe). He is unique.

John Fogerty is a good example of a good songwriter.

- Glenn

Bern 11-10-2012 10:03 PM

I guess, Neil has never thought about writing a song about 'thinking'.:)

MBE 11-11-2012 09:34 AM

That approach works for some people, in some styles.

All my best stuff has come out in a whirlwind of "where did that come from?" so I can understand his perspective.

I find it hard, however, to imagine a prog-rock song coming out without much thinking involved. There are only so many key changes and time signature changes that could happen spontaneously ;)

Glennwillow 11-11-2012 09:53 AM

I think inspiration can be one of those things that comes into a person's head, and yet we really don't understand how it happens. For this reason, there's a tendency to think that "not thinking" too much allows inspiration in. My own experience is that a great deal of thinking often leads to inspiration. But you have to know how to work your brain to allow it to happen. It cannot be forced, but you have to be open to it when it comes and then be willing to jump on that inspiration right then and there and turn it into something real.

In my everyday life as a mechanical design engineer over the last 42 years, I have been confronted with many problems that needed to be solved, and I spent a great deal of time thinking and trying on ideas and then twisting and inverting those ideas to try to come up with really good, cost-effective answers. Many times those ideas came to fruition in the form of inspiration after weeks or months or even years of thinking, often when waking in the night at 3 AM with the idea right there for me to grab hold of and use the next day at work.

- Glenn


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