Trust the Sound
Rob Schiffmann

Where do lyrics come from in an improvisational context? This is a question with many answers. We can approach our lyrics from an intellectual and ‘creative’ place. If we lean in that direction, it tends to be that we are not necessarily coming from a purely improvisational instinct but rather, we are essentially writing very quickly. Like so much in improvisation, our job is to put ourselves in a place where we are following something and truly discovering what our output is AS it is coming out. 

To get there, I tend to lean on the purity of sound and the simplicity of rhyme. For example, when I am writing a song, I tend to start with a chord progression on the guitar or piano and after my hands are comfortable playing that progression on repeat, I begin to sing along. However, what I sing tends to start mostly as pure sound. Some loose consonants and vowels coalesce to create something that sounds like words but, for the most part, is not ACTUALLY words. It is similar to when you are listening to a song that your only know a LITTLE bit but are attempting to sing along. You make sounds that are ALMOST words. 

As my ALMOST words come out, I begin to accept and repeat them until I understand what words they ALMOST are. I then accept those words with out concern for their meaning or my perception of whether or not they are making sense. Eventually I end up with a first line. I then sing that first line over and over and attempt to move to a second line. The second line will be similarly created but with the extra added benefit of being guided by how my ear is hearing the need to rhyme. When I accept my rhyme word, it then infuses the words around it with meaning.

For example, if I was writing a love song and my sounds turned into a first line of words that were “I am the paint on a wall”, I would then do my best to NOT be concerned with the thought of “what the heck does paint on a wall have to do with love’ but rather to accept those words and then accept a rhyme word. Let’s choose ‘wall’ as the word I want to rhyme with for this example. If the word I choose for that rhyme is “fall”, I will fit in the rest of the words to end up with something that feels consistent with that image. Maybe it will end up as “I am the paint on a wall, you are the brush that will fall”. The poetry begins to form and the meaning begins to peak through and suddenly the unintentional becomes the intentional and the perfect way to illustrate my feelings.

Of course, the final piece to this puzzle is that you must be in a connected emotional place as you are doing this work. You must ‘feel the love’, as it were and that is where the music comes in. The music will make you FEEL something and the sounds will turn into words that ultimately reflect that feeling.

It’s all about trust: trust in sound, trust in rhyme, trust in feeling and trust in taking your time.

And look at that…I just rhymed!!! See? It all works out.