What was it Bear Grylls used to say? When climbing as a lad his dad would tell him, "you never know how steep a climb is until you literally rub noses with the face of it."
So it is with music, and specifically, creating music from scratch.
Say you are fortunate enough to buy, or are given a new guitar, for your birthday. You take a class and learn all of the "folk" chords — the ones you play down low on the neck. Next, you start looking up favorite songs online for transcribed "tablature," which is a type of music notation specifically geared for the guitar.
Maybe you get so good you can play 10 John Mayer songs on command when you're out partying or sitting by the campfire. But then what? What if you want to write your own music — how do you do that?
I grew up in a musical family, and this question always perplexed me. My composer father couldn't ever satisfactorily answer the question. But I've since discovered that the reason for his reticence was that the answer is different for every person, and different for every genre of music.
He composes music for choir and orchestra, usually an Soprano-Alto-Tenor-Bass (SATB) setup. It describes the four general groupings of types of voices that will come together to form the cohesive full-choir sound.
For him, maybe he starts with a set of lyrics, like he did a couple years ago when composing his "song cycle" based on 11th-century text. He took the feel and emotion of the words and used them as inspiration for a few themes.
But back then I didn't want to write music for a 200-voice ensemble. I remember going to many live concerts and studying. I'd read any artist interview I could, specifically looking for input on the bands' composition methods. It was a serious revelation when I came across an interview with Pete Yorn, and he addressed the issue directly.
While admitting his own perplexity on the topic, he did come through with a clear answer: he starts most of his songs with the beat. Yorn is a multi-instrumentalist, and on his early records (at least), you're listening to him play every single instrument.
When you're the bass player and you're also the drummer, which ideas do you start with? For him, since he had an early background in drumming, it was the beat that would drive the rest of the music.
But listen to Yorn a bit and you'll notice his chord changes are a touch more interesting than the next crooner. So chords, melody and thematic changes wholly separate from the beat were somehow dreamed up. Clearly we're not getting the whole story with his answer.
The magic of music creation is that so much of one's personality goes into the effort, worries about others copying a style or losing out on exposure kind of fall away.
How do you start creating your own music? Learn the basics. Learn what others have done. Create a palette of sounds, lines and tricks. Then, let your personality guide how you use the "colors" in your palette.
So far that's the best answer I've found. Good luck!
Read more Taylor: coloradodaily.com/columnists.