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Feeling a thought

January 11, 2010

“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” – E.Y. Harburg

Thank you Emily Ford for sending me this quote. I love it. Edgar (Yip) Harburg was one of the original great American lyricist, and he understood something about songs that I hope the rest of us never forget. Among all the art forms out there, a song, that amazing combination of words and music, has the unique ability to help us… well… feel a thought. And that uniqueness carries with it the power to help us consider our lives and stories from new and different perspectives. And that sort of consideration can lead to a life-changing experience. That’s why great songwriting still matters, and I believe will always matter, whatever becomes of the music biz.

Learning to be a great songwriter is the trench work of any music career. It’s no wonder then why great songs are so few and far between. Most people aren’t willing to do the long, arduous, frustrating, disciplined job of doing what’s required.

I hope if you feel any nudge to start writing songs, that you follow that nudge with as much heart as you can give it. And if you’re already writing, that you recommit to doing it with more energy and vision than you ever have.

Maybe for a season, you give yourself space to not worry about radio, hits, critics, or comparison. And if you can create that space for yourself, fill it with a fearless prayer to unite words and melody in a way that gives the rest of us an opportunity to feel what’s on your mind.

Here are some books on writing that have helped inspire me, and many others I’ve worked with over the years.

Walking On Water – Madeline L’Engle
If You Want To Write – Brenda Euland
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
The Craft Of Lyric Writing – Sheila Davis

And here’s a very small list of a few songs that have helped me to feel a thought…

The Beggar Who Gives Alms – Jason Germain
Every Season – Nichole Nordeman
Still Fighting It – Ben Folds
Show The Way – David Wilcox

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2010 9:37 PM

    I found myself quoting this quote at church this evening! It’s something I’ve always known but have never known how to put into words. I think I’m going to steal it for my own blog, just because it’s the essence of what music should be: words and melody joining to convey an emotion.

    Thanks John!

  2. January 13, 2010 1:38 AM

    Thanks for this… I’m enjoying some space but was starting to feel guilty about it! Hope all’s well my friend. S.

  3. Branden Camp permalink
    January 27, 2010 8:14 AM

    Good stuff!

  4. John Mays permalink
    February 11, 2010 9:42 PM

    Hey guys-

    Sorry for the the slow response on this, but thanks for the encouraging feedback. We’re hoping that this blog can be a help to developing artists and writers out there, so spread the word if you think it would be helpful to anyone.


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