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August 17, 2006

I See Your Beauty


What a victorious day it has been; not only have I cleared out my two-hundred-and-eighty personal emails, I've also written the score for I See Your Beauty. It's a song which I need to play on the guitar so that I can lead a Sufi circle dance. The problem: I can't play the guitar, and until just now I didn't know the song.

I asked my friend Charley what the chords for the song are; he emailed them to me from his phone. He wrote the lyrics and interspersed them with chord names between the words, like this: I see your (F) beau (G) ty so (C) clear. He also told me that it was a waltz.

I found out how to finger the necessary chords: Am, C, Dm, F, and G from the web and I tried to play it. Even though I can sing the melody from memory, I just didn't understand how to play the chords and sing along. There also seemed to be some missing chords: what should I play as I sing, "I see your"?

I had a piano lesson yesterday and I asked my teacher, "So when will I be able to write my own songs?"

She seemed very enthusiastic in her reply, "You can do that now, just fiddle around on the piano until you find something you like and then write the notes onto some blank ledger paper. You have some of that don't you?"

"No I don't, but I can get some. What about getting it in the right key and all that, and making sure it's all correct?" I asked.

"You don't have to worry about that; just make it sound right, and then write it down. I can then take a look at it and check it. When someone sits down to write music they don't think, what key is this going to be in? What they write just happens to be in a particular key."

I See Your Beauty isn't my own song, but it was a great start at writing music. I decided to figure out the bars and the melody and so on. I started playing around on the piano trying to find the melody.

At one point, before I found it, I thought that perhaps I was singing totally out of pitch and that what I had thought was the melody had been completely wrong. I was playing what I believed to be the piano versions of the chords with my left hand and I was trying to see how that could relate to the melody. It was very confusing because the chord would sometimes move down the piano when I thought the melody should be going up.

Suddenly, I found the melody and played the first few bars. Then I started to see how the melody relates to the chords. The chords don't move up and down the piano the same as the melody, but they do carry the sense of anticipation and of completion: the emotions. The way the chords move, though different from the melody, complement it perfectly. I could also see that the melody picks out notes from the chords in the higher octaves, or to look at it another way, the chords surround and fill-in the melody in the lower octaves.

Then I decided to work out the rhythm. I knew that a waltz has three beats to the bar: rum-tum-tum, rum-tum-tum, but I didn't know how that related to the notes. I couldn't count one, two, three, one, two, three as I played the notes because I didn't know which notes related to which beat. I knew that I had to start somewhere, so I decided to call each syllable at the beginning of the first line one part: I (1) see (2) your (3). I played the melody with my right hand, using the rhythm which I knew from memory, and wrote down numbers on a piece of paper with my left hand — this is an advantage of being left-handed: I (1) see (2) your (3) beau (4, 5, 6) ty (7, 8) so (9) clear (10, 11, 12). Thus, I had the first line of the song broken into twelve equal parts. I knew that I could represent that in four bars with three parts per bar, in two bars with six parts per bar, or in one bar with twelve parts per bar. Four bars would give me crotchets (1 beat), minims (2 beats) and dotted minims (3 beats) and this seemed simple enough; so that's what I did.

I then figured out the rest of the song using these same techniques and started writing out the score neatly. Luckily, the song is in the key of C major, so no black notes were required in the chords. I also learned that minor chords on the guitar form on the piano with the named note as the lowest note in the chord; so taking Am as an example, the notes are A, C, E going from left-to-right on the keyboard. I then found Dm and it all sounded great.

I even drew the guitar tabs, a diagram showing how to finger the chords, at the bottom of the page, and wrote which guitar chords to play along the top of the score. I found that I needed to start the song by strumming C and in the bars where Charley had not defined the chords, I needed to continue strumming the same chord as the previous bar. I tried playing the song on my guitar, three strums per bar, and it sounded much better.

Even though this is a relatively minor accomplishment, I do feel very excited about it. There were many times when I could have given up and stopped; but I kept going with it and took it to completion; it was a very enjoyable process. I've attached a photo of the score to the online version of this article.

If I'm trying to learn a new piece of music, I usually can't play it correctly at full speed, and if I try to I end up making lots of mistakes. If I slow down and play the whole piece at a much lower tempo I can play it correctly though slowly. I've noticed that it's like this with relationships. Relationships can be made to work, if you take them slowly. If a relationship is not working, then just slow down and go through the motions more carefully; this is how you learn.

Also, as with learning a piece of music, notice the places where you keep making mistakes, and rather than playing the whole piece from beginning to end again and again, tripping up on the same part, isolate that part and pay time and particular attention to it.

I've also noticed the learning anything works best when a little effort and attention is applied regularly. Practice works when it's regular and fun. Relationships can become deeper and longer-lasting when they are practiced regularly, but only to the extent that they are fun. If boredom or tension set in then perhaps it's time to take a break.

Try learning something tricky; learn to juggle or ride a unicycle or play an instrument. Notice how you become frustrated, how you want to give up, how you get angry at yourself, or at the instrument. Notice how you want it to be perfect straight away. Learning something tricky is a great way of learning to be patient, forgiving, accepting, and persevering. All of these positive traits will benefit you in your relationships.

The reason to practice anything is the joy that comes when it flows automatically. A little careful practice is a small price to pay for the enjoyment of doing something well effortlessly.

"I love this piece ... How wonderful to hear how you found the song one piece at a time, looking at it in sections, testing it out, I really love your discussion of that process for you makes me think more about my own learning and creative processes. And your joy in that accomplishment. I also like your thought about relationships ..." — Deborah

"Another inspiring article, and spot on about relationships." — Kelly


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