On Music Poetics


We live by patterns.
There is also a balance to our patterns.
When you are working in cubicle and you hear Hotel California for the umpteenth time this week (face palm), you have WAY over done an unhealthy pattern of lousy listenership skills.
Life is WAY TOO DANG SHORT to keep listening to those same chart toppers over and over. It’s making our modern society even more psychotic.

Break away, be the music disruptor at your work, go ahead and get sneaky and dial the local tunes to great indie, or underground alternative, jazz or classical, but for God’s sake, kill the mindless corporate playlist. It is based on algorithms of the massses.

You are not the masses.

Neither were the songwriters who put those songs out and got lucky.
Here’s how to monley wrench the office music. Lower the volume gradually so it doesn’t attract attention. Dial in a good station – indie, jazz, classical or your choice station. Don’t mention anything about it. Nonchalantly slink back to your cubicle. Just take a fresh breath – without the worry of hearing Don’t Stop Believing. At least for a while until someone there your Dunder Mifflin Corp starts missing Always Something There To Remind Me, and you have to return to ear buds.  *sigh*

So. Do you have any idea (you probably do, cause your reading this) how many AMAZING alternative bands are churning out every kind of mind-blowing music? And that can be anything from beautiful ingenious sweet to powerful what-have-you.
Okay – And so, with that, YOU are a creative musical person!

Some people have tons of experience and can clearly tap into all their memories, dreams and ideas, (really?) and have notebooks and music notes and ideas in their electronic devices and simply write one brilliant song after another.
This is rather rare actually. Some working bands have good creative outputs, but many of us, still trying to keep a roof above, gas in the car, and something to eat occasionally, have to work hard for those precious creative musical products.
Ahhh…. it’s so easy for a music listener to diss the hard work of some stranger who’s gritty track is streaming on SoundCloud or somewhere. And that’s okay.
Everyone is growing and experiencing and at different points of acceptance.
Advice?    Yup.
Stretch out and listen to some difficult music sometimes. Ask teachers for advice on what’s the coolest thing Beethoven of Bach did (?) (And not the hit parade, that’s for the office cubicle, but the deep stuff). Try Brandeburg Concerto #5 by Bach. Serious! ~see below ~
And – here comes the poetics angle for creating your sound as an original stage act.
Please note, I am NOT talking about being the next ABBA, although I suppose you could the lesson to *whatever*.
Layers of Poetics.
With in a song and a melody. Poetic reflections in theme. melodic movement within the structure of a song.
Now you are heading onto the stage to perform a series of musical experiential MOMENTS that will really give a memory to your listeners. You listeners will want to become “participators”. They will be drawn like a magnet to your poetics. Stay balanced progress through your show with good strong beats and when it’s time for the thoughtful number, it doesn’t need to be too long, don’t lose the feel. Bring back a poetically fitting number that moves and inspires. Create these moments in your set. Imagine and design a musical set of songs. Re-develop songs you’ve done to fit in you poetic motif. (Look up “motif” – sort of like “theme”)
Try to control your stress and let it develop organically as possible. It doesn’t have to become pretentious (unless that’s the aim) but it will have to deliver something that, well, rocks.\
Keep in mind, the broad meaning of ‘music poetics’. 


Phrasing Chops: 7 Reasons Why

7 Reasons You Need to Improve Your Phrasing Chops

My apologies on the buzzfeed style title hook but it’s true and it’s probably more than seven reasons.

First let’s make sure we’re an the same page as to what I mean about phrasing.
Generally it may be thought of as a “musicianship” skill.

Let’s imagine a performing musician, orchestral, even rock, certainly jazz, or any kind of vocalist – the approach to delivering phrases of music that will be taken-in by the listener. (2.) When you command the listener’s attention musically, the listener feels like something more than a listener, they become a participator in the musical experience. The music comes alive.

The music comes alive.

What is the point of music then, if it doesn’t deliver the goods? Even RAP has a (3.) compound phrasing and delivery angle that gets fans excited.


Orchestra and Jazz pros know to get the “room” eating out of their hands. Delicious phrases of melodic communication transcends the paper charts and written scores. Even players sitting in their sections are employing phrasing skills whether playing exact lines from classical composers or interpretive charts from the jazz world. (4.)

What exactly is it? This thing called “Phrasing”. It’s (5.) so so SO closely related to breathing. It is nearly augmented reality for the listener. The next Four (or so) measures of melody are like when your talking, explaining an important idea, and you must breath, talk for a handful of words, comma, breath and continue.

If you are forced to digest a long long run-on sentence where several concepts are brought up and you don’t have a chance to let it soak in before more concepts come at you and the lack of pauses is getting to be too much but it won’t stop and the presentation just becomes unbearable. Like that sentence. No phrasing and it sucks.

If your playing classical and have to play whats written before you, yes your sensitivities must be refined. You still control the dynamics. Even with forte and pianissimo right there on the page, (6.) the classical music interprets the real sound that reaches the listeners ears. Yeah, it’s a responsibility.

The Composer/songwriter. Thanks for reading all the way to this point (7.) I talking now about the rock writer especially.

The song.

As a songwriter, the creation stage can allow the sense of phrasing to be placed to make a great tune. Phrases in melody and progression (of chords and harmony – arrangement) can make your musical creation strong. Very strong. Even if your tune has a sparse or dense arrangement, the breath of the song, is one aspect of this special kind of communication, yes kids, that we call “Music”.

The Creative Muscle

“It’s like a muscle.”

The creative muscle. It doesn’t matter if your a painter, a writer, a chef, whatever – we should all know and appreciate this fact that we must DO the art in order to grow and improve.

That being said – I am one who thinks that SONGWRITING is about the coolest and most difficult challenge.
As Brian Eno put it once – “Songwriting is the toughest nut to crack”.

Eno went on to discuss how it’s not terribly hard to come up with a rhythmic groove. Like a loop with great percussion and maybe a bass line in it – that goes with.

Locking down a melody is another quest to build a muscle for. AND THEN if you can get a good melody to lock in with a satisfying grove you may have something special. (Paraphrased from an Eno discussion)

THE THING IS… issues with getting ones life in order and find the mind and the moment in the right space to get started in the rarefied pursuit of songwriting.

Sometimes all the prep work is missing something. I will note this down so you don’t feel like it’s just you – but maybe you got all your chores caught up, paid the bills, and are at peace with your loved ones – NOW? can I hang out in my nice little studio and write – my God glorious songwriting? – DO not be surprised if this when no ideas come or weak ones, or just nothing that feels like something worthy.

It’s an illusion.


This is caused by having too high of expectations for a result.

This is where the creative and trained muscle needs to flex. The thing is – there is a first, second, third, forth, fifth etc times of making these attempts. Turn on a drum beat or tap a tempo of what you are envisioning for your future song.

Try picking just 2 or 3 notes from your keyboard or guitar that you hum up a little mini melody idea. Don’t stop, Keep trying the ideas your assembling.

What you probably should NOT do is listen to music or have a TV going, or be hearing noise in the background – BUT –
here is an interesting phenomenon:

Have a song idea pop into your head while doing a mundane task. Maybe something as simple a walking could do it. I have had many a creative insight while alone cleaning up the kitchen.

To dispel the jinx, I’ll bet that if one were to clean up the kitchen with INTENT of having a inspiring idea for a song that – it would not work. *sigh*

Back in the day – I mean back back – when cassette tapes were in common use, I saved tons of ideas on my portable tape recorder. Now I use my smartphone with a wave recorder app, and this seems to catch those ideas.

Now at least capture those unexpected musical insights on a wave recorder app on my smartphone. So maybe that is pure gold – but it’s not the instant gratification as music as it is the muscle. Keep working that creative muscle and will start to become a habit. Take that last sentence to heart and I really highlight the idea here.


What Do You Want To Know…?

What Do You Want To Know About Songwriting?

… ummmmmmmm… yeah, like where to start?

DO I START on piano, guitar, with a drum beat?

Okay – In My Opinion…

You ought to keep in mind that an actual SONG will need a melody. Where traditionally, you sing the lyrics. But a melody nonetheless.

Absolutely use a drum beat and a guitar or keyboard, but don’t worry about the chord progression so much at first. You can probably hear an instrumental hook if you feel you want one – later.

Take a handful of scale notes and emulate singing a melody as though the filler syllables were really a melody. Do you like to play in certain key? Does a certain key “sing” easily for you? Is it comfortable for your voice?

Let me pause here for a sec. Just in case your saying “You lost me, what exactly is a “Key” to sing in.

I’m serious – sign up for my lessons AND dig around in nelsjenstadmusic.com and learn what you can about the “pallet of musical choices” your “keys” – no- not the piano keys, I mean the scales and all that that infers. Sets of scale based chords.

Okay lets go on, you now know what the “keys” are and let’s say you picked the Key of G Major. You may like the first 5 scale steps to play a single note along with yourself as you sing something like “Da d’ da da  daaa da da” and you like that. Okay great, this is like the first line of a poem. Here you can employ some “poetics” and repeat the like same line again or vary it a bit if you need to give it a question/answer feel. Use this idea of the “poetics” of the melody notes.

I should repeat that last sentence about 120,000 times so it will sink in. Use this idea of the “poetics” of the melody notes!!  Real songwriting here, the chords will belong to your same key as you scale notes used in your melody. Now that you have your melody started work the chords with it.

Why So Few Like These?

Why are there so few composers like Bach, Beethoven, and why aren’t there more bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, and ELP?

The super show music creators do not concern themselves with being competitive.

Creating material and working up performances is very consuming and just having all the elements in place is a monumental task.

Now the above list is a rare example of some of the very top. But the question remains, why aren’t there more like them?

In popular realms, there are plenty of groups to pay tribute to so many groups, Okay, no problem… but MUCH less of bands being recognized for being the new underground creators.

Just a thought, all this is considerably more difficult if were talking about classical music, isn’t it? Orchestras simply perform the great works, but nobody does it as a “tribute”. Why?

Think it through. The fast moving world of popular, even popular underground music barely takes a breath to get the next event on the books. It’s crowds and ticket sales and money makes the world the go ’round.

Classic music performance has a surprisingly strong following but could certainly be more if popular didn’t suck all the oxygen out of the music space {meta}.

Okay, there is a kind of ZEN lesson here for the composer, but SO MANY ignore it for the bright lights. BUT – the message is to compose the future. Write music that will be profound and will stand the test of time. Not just to shoot for a good weekend  when the streaming album comes out. Since were probably doomed to give our digital music away for virtually free, we creators will continue to be filtered out of existence. Stand up for your creative rights to you emotional labor of creative music.

On Teaching Music (Pt. One)

So easy to listen to.

You can listen to any music, understand the musicality – whether it suits your taste or not.

You can hear expect-ability, genre (classic, popular, moody space rock, R&B etc.)

so easy to pick a flavor or pass on it, isn’t it?

As a music educator, I have instructed many many beginners over the years and I can feel the expectancy and stress of how challenging it is to demand of yourself to play even a simple bit of music.

“There must be some way to conceive of this pushing the right buttons right in time with the beat machine.” (Add) “That I can do it – and sound like the music I usually listen to.”

Oh boy, if it’s that bad, the music beginner is going to need, first, an explainer on the idea of muscle memory, motor neurons, and conditioning.

There are many teachers who “audition” students before they be accepted. Usually this would be for school orchestras and bands. Music store ‘private’ or ‘one-to-one’ lessons normally will accept the early learner and try to work with the person.

ANY training before a person walks in to a music teacher will help. There is always the so called university of YouTube – where you might find some well targeted advice for starting off, but an inherent danger is having to search dozens of videos to find something that may work for you. The value of a real live teacher is the ability to assess just what the student needs to work on at every step of the way.



What is it, to write a song?

What is it, to write a song?
Here, here’s a pencil and piece a paper. Write a song.
Hmmm… nothing? … Thinking?
OK, Writing by anatomy…
There will be sections of 16 measures of 4/4 time (let’s say).
This will will be section ( A )
Do we go for cool guitar chords?

I repeat right here “Do we go for nice sounding guitar chords” here?
Hey wait! I’m NOT saying “yes, lets try some guitar chords.”

But to be realistic, let’s get more basic about things for minute.
Let’s say you’re planning songs for a band, maybe a indie alternative  band that’s a bit punkish with energy.

Ok , then. We we taking a minute to look at the situation. “Nice” folky chords are not the sound for our band. Maybe we need to think about a beat. We better think about the kind of song you need to write.
(But to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with writing whatever you write and not doing it “for” something.)
Ok, but in this instance, lets say, as our idea, to write a (your choice of style) rock song.
And I gotta stop again right here and ask, what comes first?
Okay here’s an important idea, what is it you remember about a song that you’ve heard before?
Can you sing some of the lyrics?
Okay the songwriting muscle one really needs to develop is to create the “focus of the song”. Let me explain.
You have something to say in your band, in your lyrics.
Now, this next concept is something of note – (no pun intended) but consider this,
As Brian Eno said “Most people think the song is about the lyrics.”
SO! I’ll ask again, what is the focus of the song? Not to disregard the lyrics…but how does one “focus” the idea of the song?
Okay, okay. If you have an idea of the sort of music you want to make, kind of like: do you want paint autumn landscapes, or draw super hero comics? Your music speaks in larger ways, and the lyrics will fit in, and here it is… the part of a song that you remember, that you sing along with, that has a mood in itself – we are talking about the melody.
I can pretty much tell most of you, dear music creators, that this is something that takes some focused thought.
What have you ever really thought about the idea of “Melody”?
Think about the poetics of melody.
The relationship to the key you are in, the placement and the sound adding the chords to support the melody.
Here is the danger, and it messes with guitarists and singer songwriters quite a bit.  (Oh! Understatement!!) We tend to start playing chords first and hope to find (sing) something to fit the chords.  Okay, go ahead and try it this wrong way and then, with a clean slate, try starting the process again by coming up with a line of notes (not chords), a melodic, short repeatable “phrase” like a word phrase that can be sung, try following these suggestions as an experiment for starters.
Stay positive, and keep this general thought in mind: Write memorable melodies and add the chords (harmony, accompaniment) to support the melody.