by Toby Yellow

I don’t make music by scale, signature or key; I make music by ear. I began writing songs for an Ep in March of this year. Writing verses and choruses, slowly I came up with the seven songs that would later make up Elementary. Although I had put in about twenty hours of work to write these songs and another twenty to edit them, I was forty hours into my first Ep without any actual music. Making music to someone who only listens sounds like a complicated process. I found out that this was not the case when in the summer between grades ten and eleven, I was able to find an instrumental on Youtube, write the lyrics, record a song and release it, all in one night. It was the first time I truly got to share my music. It created an opportunity for me to express myself and tell a story that people didn’t have to read or watch. The night was amazing, but I lacked any self-respect; I hadn’t even really created the song. The song is composed of two parts, the music, and the words. Since I only was responsible for half of that, I never really made a song.

I began getting lessons. I would have my friend teach me things about the piano like how keys, chords, and clefs worked and I would watch videos on Youtube to learn the songs I listened to. Over time my theory knowledge grew, and I was able to help — I already had a friend making the instrumentals for me, but now instead of telling him I didn’t like something, I was able to say why I didn’t like it and even sometimes make a change myself. The lessons I got gave me a foundation, but I quickly realized I wanted to stop learning. This was in no attempt to remain ignorant and stupid to have others do the work, but instead, I was afraid of changing my ears.

 One of my favourite things about music is subjectivity. A chord can sound like angels singing to one person and like nails on a chalkboard to others. Seeing my friends have such fixed ideas on musical concepts scared me. How can you have such a fixed mindset on something so subjective? Someone who knows music can read a piece of sheet music and tell you they don’t like it. They can say that because they may see two notes that ‘don’t work’ next to each other or a chord that ‘doesn’t fit the mood.’ The problem with this is they haven’t heard the music. They know all the rules and regulations through music theory but within an art, who truly has the right to carve in stone any laws or regulations? I want always to be able to listen to a piece of music and decide whether I like it or not as I listen to it. You could have two notes next to each other in one song that sounds horrid and those same two notes a week later can sound amazing.

 I never want to make music knowing I will like it. If I have chords that I always go to or melodies I always sing, my music would never evolve. Evolution takes place because musicians try new things, and if I find a pattern that works, it will exhibit my exploration. Once I had written all the songs to Elementary, I began making the songs. I hated a lot of the songs we made. I liked some songs on one day and then would come back a few days later, listen to it again, and despise it. Opinions change, and once we have rules in our head, it prohibits change. Instead of making music by excluding options, I make music with my ears. 


link to check out Elementary by Toby Yellow