Tommaso Zillio

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turn stories into songs

Think of your favourite movie. Take your time, really think here.


Ok. At this point, you are most likely thinking about Back to the Future 2.

(No? What is wrong with you? You don't need that kind of negativity in your life!)

Now, how would you imagine Back to the Future 2 would sound as a song?

Maybe it would have an adventurous, enthusiastic sound to it? How would the music follow the plot points of the movie? What would the ending sound like?

These are all things that you can think about to inspire more creative, more emotional songs.

Or in other words: one of the best ways to write music that connects with people, is to have the music tell some type of story.

This will result in songs that are more cohesive, engaging, and interesting to listen to. And you can totally use the themes and plot of existing stories/movies/novels as a great way to sharpen your focus when writing music and keep you committed to a central theme.

But how exactly do you turn a story into music?

How do you go from the story to the actual notes/chords/rhythms in the music?

That is what nobody explains. So once again, I have to be the first to do it :)

Watch the video below, and I’ll walk you through exactly how you can do this, so you can start writing better music.

If you want to get better at turning the emotions of a story into music, it helps to increase your palette when it comes to chords. The more you know about chords, the wider of an 'emotional colour palette' you'll have at your disposal. If you want to increase your knowledge of chords and harmony, check out my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course.

Video Transcription

Hello internet, so nice to see you! One popular idea to write a song is to think of a story, and then translate the story into music. So you can have in mind, a love story or an adventure story, or any other story you can imagine. And then you simply tell the story in music. That's a great idea. That's I actually recommend you guys try that.

It's great. It's fantastic. There is only one little tiny, teensy little problem. Have you noticed our everybody who recommends that? Never actually tells you? How exactly in practice to translate a story into music?

How do you go exactly from what's happening in the story, to chords and melodies, and rhythmic elements and notes and everything else you need to have in a song? How do you do that? Well, that's exactly what a student asked me. And this is what I told him. He's going, going good. So once again.

Let's talk about soloing, and especially creativity. When I go, I want to express something in my solos. My mind immediately goes to stories and pictures. But translating that to the actual music is hard for me.

I see. So what kind of solution do you want? Do you want something else to think about? What do you want to learn to translate stories to music? I would prefer the second way. Translate stories to music, right? Okay. So let's pick a story or something like that. Okay. So you guys know that all stories start with the same three words or four words, right?

Exposition conflict and other specific words.

Anybody? Once upon a time. Okay, good. Think of the concept of Once Upon a Time. Shoot. Okay. What do we associate with once upon a time? It's, it's not a request here.

Okay. It's it's distant. happened long ago. Yeah. It could happen to every one of us.

Probably, yes. Great. To an unsuspecting family. Like that. Okay. It's sighs it's like, it's like the curtains opening. Right. Okay. And it takes you away in time and space and in situations from where you are right now. Right. Okay. In a sense, why, once upon a time, the words are very expected.

But it prepares you for something unexpected. Now preparing you for something unexpected. I know. I know. Okay. It's kind of a contradiction, but that's what it is. Okay. You are ready to be surprised. Right? Yep. Good. That's the concept. Okay. So we need to look at what those things do in the story. And how we can do something similar to this concept in music. Okay, so let's say we're talking about writing a solo, like you were saying, not a song, not a concept album, okay.

But a solo. Okay. And the first chord of the solo, it's E minor. Well, the first chord of the backing track of the solo, it's the minor. Give me the Once Upon a Time. So. Okay. I've prepared you know, I mean, you may look at this and think like, this is stupid, it's just thrown out yet, but it works.

He could have played a completely different thing. It still will work because he has in mind right now, the idea of opening the curtain and taking you away from where you were before, even before there was nothing because he didn't play any song before. You want to start to look at the story. That wasn't my little example.

If you have to go to the to a whole story structure is going to take an hour and a half. But you can go through the whole thing and see what functionally happened in the story. We have the introduction when we meet the protagonist, and then there is an inciting incident situation. Okay. Something that happened. I don't know. Snow White’s father's dies or somebody, okay, your red riding hood has to go and take the food and grandma or whatever it is.

Okay? It doesn't mean it doesn't matter. There must be something there and so you have an inciting incident even in the solo. Okay, or at least you could think about doing that. This is one way of writing a solo not the only way to write a solo is just what he asked me today. Okay, I don't want anybody going home, I think now I have to write a story to write a solo. It comes also with a writing assignment.

No, you can do it in other ways. Most of the stories look pretty much the same thing, whether it's writing food or the matrix, okay? Pretty much we're always go into the same situations and the same function. And okay, you have an introduction, your inciting incident. The protagonist doesn't want to do it, and the protagonist wants to do it because he has to okay, then the world changes, okay, you entered the when you entered the forest, or you take the blue or red pill inevitable, which it is, you take the pill or whatever, okay.

It's always the same beats, okay, same situation, and there is a plot twist, and everything seemed lost, then the protagonist is elimination and everything goes well. Okay. All these kinds of great, you have to start thinking, How do you do that in music? A typical, very typical situation in stories. Okay. It's a more typical situation in movies, but movies, other kinds of stories.

Again, it's the cliffhanger. What's the cliffhanger is when there is an situation with a crisis, okay, somebody, somebody's about to die or something like that, or surprising revelation. And then they let that part of the story there, and then go and do something else, either. It's just like Fade to black. And we wait. Or it's time for our commercial break. Okay? Especially TV, or they just go and see what the other protagonist is doing. And then just leave you there hanging? How do we do that?

Leaning on a tension note and just not resolve it?

Pretty much, pretty much universally but you do it by?

Right, right. It's this, it's the same kind of idea. Right? Right. Now, one thing that could be interesting to do, that's your homework, okay? would be to take any movie in which there is a cliffhanger. Or an origin story when there is a cliffhanger and see how they do it. They fade to black that they go somewhere else?

What is the kind of surprise etc and start thinking can I do the same in music? Okay, so if you want to translate stories in music, you can think about the semantic of the story, which means the contents who is the protagonist, what kind of protagonist duties and set variables? What's the exact situation? All you can think about the grammar? Meaning what does the situation do in the economy of the story?

In one side, when you think about the semantics of the story, you are inside the story, you're thinking about the character, what kind of person it is, etc, etc. You're not thinking about the story, you're thinking about the situation as if it was real. And that's what most people do when they try to translate music story into music.

That's a good approach but quite complex, right? It takes a lot of free association what kind of character is this? How do I express it? How do we express I don't know rather I think who the Music Okay, I don't know something like that before the before the forest.

After the forest, okay, so in this case, I'm concentrating on the character. Instead, I could concentrate on the grammar of the story. Now I'm not looking at the story as if it is real life, I am outside the world of the story and just see how the story it is thought to me is told to me, where do we start?

Where do we end? What happens in between, again, so I translate things in a different way. In this case, Red Riding Hood before entering the forest is just a general expectation pattern, okay.

Red Riding Hood is now riding on the storm, okay. You think okay, it's an expectation pattern and then when she enters the forest, there is still an expectation but then because you have not met the Big Bad Wolf yet. But you had to change the color of the thing. So as we change the color, we think it changed the rhythm or you change the mode or you change, the orchestration, different things.

So at this point, you start thinking functionally about what the story is doing. That seems to work better. Because you're already used to thinking this way about music, like form verse chorus, modality, okay. 10 type of chords and orchestration, texture, timbre, this kind of thing. We already think in this way. So you need to start thinking of the stories in this way.

It makes makes lots of sense. I also like the the example you gave from film, see how which method they use to, to show the the tension or whatever they want to express there. Yeah, that's good idea.

Fantastic. So you have something to work on. Absolutely. Great. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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