How To Keep A Music Journal


Keeping a music journal is an excellent tool for musicians. I talk about some of the benefits of keeping a music journal here, but I never really touched on how to keep a journal and what to journal about. This article will discuss how to keep a music journal while on your musical journey, including what to write about and tips on how to stick to it!


Where To Keep Your Music Journal

The first thing to discuss is where to keep your music journal.

I prefer to keep my music journal on paper. But there are many who journal on their phones or computers. I certainly blog on my computer (who could have guessed?) but I love the freedom of pen to paper. There are absolutely no formatting restrictions other than the size of the page you're writing on, and that makes it both easy and more enjoyable to journal about the expansiveness that is music.

When I do use my phone to take notes or journal, it's usually in point form and about ideas that I'll further pursue later in my written journal, my blog, or in my Digital Audio Workstation.

Alternatively, there's audio and video. There are times when I have a musical idea in my head that I will record into my phone's microphone as a “voice memo.” And yet there are other times when it's a few chords on my guitar that get recorded, either in a voice memo or in a video so that I can see exactly how I played my idea.

So there are 4 basic ways to “journal” about your musical journey:

  • Writing your journal on paper.
  • Typing your journal on a computer or phone.
  • Recording audio.
  • Recording video.

The beauty of all of these journaling methods is that they can all be taken where ever you go so that whenever you have an idea, you can quickly document it. How many of us bring our smartphones with us everywhere we go? That's really all you need to journal with. I much prefer to bring a physical book journal with me. I keep a large one in my bookbag, and a small notepad in my jacket pocket (both hardcover).


What To Write About In Your Music Journal

The next question is what to write about in a music journal

There are so many things to write about in a music journal. It's such an expansive art form that I could write forever on the topic (expect this blog to get huge ;). Some common subjects to write about in a music journal include but are not limited to:

Let's touch on each of these a little bit.

Composition Ideas

I was originally going to call this “Musical Ideas,” but that would be too vague. Composition ideas are any ideas related to writing and composing your music. I most often will write chord progressions down, perhaps accompanied by a melody line, or by notes and scales/modes I'd like to improvise with.

Write rhythms out over space on the page. Include a note on tempo. Journal about orchestration as well, as in which instrument or synth sound you'd like to play which parts. I've handwritten guitar tablature before when I had a great idea on my guitar. And I've seen people carry around blank staff paper as part of their music journal. I'm personally pretty terrible with sheet music, so I mostly stick to writing out chords by their names. Although learning how to sight-read and to write sheet music is a great skill to develop.

Writing these compositional ideas in your journal makes it easier to recall the ideas when it comes time to sit down and actually compose, whether you reference the journal or not. It's another brain connection to your music! I have difficulty remembering melodic lines or chord progressions if I don't write them down or repeat the ideas throughout the day before I get a chance to get them out in my DAW.

This is a perfect example of something you can journal in audio or video form as well!

Production Ideas

For me, these ideas typically come after a piece has been written into my DAW. Production ideas include how to process your sounds, mixing ideas, and even recording ideas.

“Could sending a pad to a bus, and processing that bus with a pitch shifter an octave up and 100% wet reverb add to your sound?” This is an example of what I've written in the past.

I get home and try these things out. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But with so many ideas bouncing around my head, I think it's important I write them down so as to not forget them when it comes time to produce some music.

Do you have any special ideas for mixing certain elements of your track? Write them down!

What about recording ideas and signal paths? These things can get really convoluted quickly, so drawing out a diagram for your routing can be invaluable to experimenting with different hardware and software signal paths!

Taking Notes During Lectures, While Reading, Or In Courses

I cannot stress this enough. I'd even urge you to take notes while reading this article (in your journal, of course)! We live in the information age, and the experts say we're “constantly being bombarded with new information.” I know I can only retain so much. And that the ideas and information I write down have a much better chance of being remembered. Also, if I happen to forget, I know I have it written down somewhere for reference!

I also urge you to keep learning. Whether that's through paid schooling, online courses, free blogs (hint, hint ;), books, or from other musicians. I'm not suggesting that you stop a jam session in order to write down something you've learned. But I am encouraging you to take notes in your own time, when you learn something novel, or even if someone repeats an important piece of information you already know.

On top of writing these notes in a journal, it may be worthwhile to write them either on a whiteboard in your studio space or on a sheet of paper that can be posted to the wall. That way, you will see the notes often and have a better chance at internalizing what information is in them 🙂

Goal Setting

It's important to write down our goals over and over again to help us achieve them. This subconscious “brainwashing” is part of the Law of Attraction. If that's a bit too hippy for you, then consider thinking of it in this way: By writing your goals out every day, you're constantly reminding yourself to pursue those goals. “Out of sight, out of mind,” isn't a great strategy. So by continually re-writing and re-reading your goals in your journal, you'll improve your focus on attaining what you want with your music and life.

This, in my opinion, is the most beneficial part of keeping a journal about music and life in general. As musicians, we have goals for our music so I had to add it to this article. I must also add that it's more effective to write the goal as if it has already been achieved. Or, if it's a process goal, write it as if it is being achieved every day/week, or another set period of time. For example “I compose one piece of music every day.”

My advice for setting goals is that every morning when you wake up, write out all your goals for that day and for your music in general. Pick one goal that is the most important and rewrite it over and over again to fill up an entire page. It may sound crazy, but it has a strange way of working. Every night before going to sleep, review the goals and have them in your thoughts as you fall asleep.

I could write for days on goal setting, but I think I've gotten enough down for the scope of this article.

Reprogram your mind for success!

Music Theory

Write notes about new pieces of theory you learn and especially about theoretical ideas you plan on using in your compositions.

I remember getting really into modal study over the winter holidays one year. I spent a great deal of time writing out the modes with their scale degrees. I'd write them in order based on their parent scale; from darkest to brightest; I'd reverse the intervals of one mode and find which mode it would become. It was a bit obsessive, but “repetition is the father of learning,” and now I know the modes of the Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, and Harmonic Major by heart, among others.

That's just one example. Write about any theory you're interested in. Language is just a way of expressing ideas. The more ways we can express music, the more abstract we can think about it, and that may lead to enhanced creativity for you.

Production Theory

Write about production techniques you learn about or come across naturally when producing your own music. Jot down how certain effects work; about plug-in settings and channel processing; or nifty tricks you learned within you DAW. Have these production tips, tricks, and general information as a reference for later sessions.

Personal Mix Ideas And Improvements To Be Made In Your Mixes

Now, I don't consider myself a great mixer (although technically I am a professional). However, I'm learning and always trying to get better. Part of this is listening back to my mixes on different sound systems. What may sound great in my headphones may sound small on studio monitors, thin in the car, or boomy in earbuds. Listening back on all these systems and taking notes about the mix is a great idea for getting better results.

Take notes while you're listening in as many different scenarios as possible. I like to take a lot of notes, and compare the notes from each listening environment against each other. If there's a common criticism among all environments, I know for a fact that a change has to be made.

Ideas You Like In Other Artists' Music

I don't do this personally since I'd prefer to relax and enjoy my time with others' music. But it is something you could write about in your music journal. We are all influenced by our surroundings, and as musicians, we are certainly influenced by the music we listen to. The next time you sit down for a nice listening session, try writing down things you like or find interesting about what you're hearing. It can be anything, even if you don't quite understand how it is that they're creating that sound. Putting these elements into words may help you achieve similar results in your music.

Lyrics

I have a few journals full of lyrics from past projects, and plenty of word documents as well. Lately, I've been producing instrumental music, but I still write some lyrics down from time to time. Very rarely have I ever sat down and written a full song worth of lyrics at once. Often times it's a few lines one day, a few lines another day, and these days are sometimes months apart.

If you're a lyricist, I would assume you already do this (unless you're Lil Wayne ;), so really, you already have a music journal!

Practice Routines

I like to compare this to a meal plan or workout routine for those of us who are getting in shape.

It's important to practice your chops, whether that's traditionally like an instrument or more modern like learning hotkeys of a DAW or sound design with a certain synthesizer. Often times though, we blur the lines of practice time and production time. Keeping a well-laid-out schedule of specific practices will help you improve your skills as a musician faster than if you had no plan at all!

Successes And Failures In Your Musical Journey

As with all aspects of life, we will have successes and failures in our pursuit of making music we love and sharing that music with the world. Writing out your failures can help relieve stress, while writing out successes may help amplify the good feelings that got you into making music in the first place.

If nothing else, it will provide a story that you can read back on to bring out the sensations you felt when you were involved in certain musical projects or working on certain albums. Of course, listening to the music will bring back stronger memories, I'm sure. But it's always nice to look back on your thoughts written in words.

So the above paragraphs offer some ideas for you to write about in your music journal. The following paragraphs will offer some tips to keep the journal growing while you grow as a musician.


How To Keep Going

Make It A Habit

Making journaling a habit is easier said than done, but once done, it will be an everyday part of your life and you'll start seeing the benefits.

I like to write in the morning whether I have any ideas or not. Fresh out of bed with a cup of coffee can lead to some strange ideas. Perhaps since your body's not fully awake. So I try to do this every morning.

Another important time is right before bed. It's good to review what you had written that day and to jot things down that you learned throughout that day. Check up on your goals and write down what you did and didn't do that day to get you closer to achieving them.

Keep Your Journal With You As You Go About Your Day

This is another way to keep the journal going. If you're able, have your journal with you as you go about your day and write ideas down as they come to you. Many of my songs stem from spontaneous ideas that were scribbled down in a notebook. Oftentimes if I don't write them down, I don't remember them. The ideas leave my thoughts as fast as they came in.

Try carrying your journal around for a week and making regular notes in it. Remember that this can be done on a note-taking app on your phone!


Conclusion

I hope this offers some good ideas to get you started (or keep you going) in your music journal.

If I can get a little artsy on you, your music is like the journal of your life. The music you create tells a story and is deeply influenced by your experience. So, I say, why not take it a step further and build another tie between your life and music with a music journal.

If you have any tips and tricks for writing a journal, I'd love to hear them. So please comment below!

As always, thanks for reading and for your support.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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