It could be something as sweeping and vague as the wind, or as direct as a leaky faucet dripping dollars down the drain. It could be a personal, meaningful experience you’ve had, or it could be just a generalized “something” that anyone can relate to and appropriate. But when you find it – or, to be more precise, it finds you – it can be the start of something great.
Every single person who writes, has written, and will write music draws forth from a well of ideas, of phrases, melodies, of words and verses, from which they mold their musical creations. Some could work from a never-ending tide of ideas – Mozart had the ability to form his compositions completely in his head before notating them down on a score. Once, so the tale goes, he wrote a minuet on the spot to give to a beggar in Vienna. But for most of us inspiration will come in short bursts, often when we least expect it, often when we’re not even trying to write. John Lennon once spent five hours trying to write something good for the Beatles’ new album, to no avail. As soon as he put his pencil down and went to bed, a whole song, “the whole damn thing,” came to him. That song was “Nowhere Man”.
Since I was a kid I’ve had a very vivid imagination – acting out stories in my head, I could get lost in a fantasy world for hours. Invariably music was involved, a conjuring of orchestral soundtracks and Kiwi Kidsongs to back my imaginations. As I grew older I would try to play themes from memory on the piano, and by the time I was 13, I was starting to write down my own melodies. I didn’t know it then, but my heart was driving me towards a life of music.
To me music is the language of emotion, and I want to move people in some way with my music, just as songs like David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ or the film scores of John Williams move me. My musical inspirations, therefore, often have an emotional connection in some way or another: I’ve written a song about my experiences living with Autism, and an orchestral composition by the shock of seeing how far the Franz Josef glacier has retreated due to climate change, a very personal concern of mine.
I have a manuscript pad full of musical scribbles that I add to everyday, and a separate notebook full of lyrical snatches and chord progressions for my songs. I listen to great classical works and borrow sections to reshape into my own melodies. Sometimes melodies just apparate from thin air, and I have to snatch at them and jot them down before they wisp out of existence. Other times I have to work at them, carving notes out from the aural canvas.
Coming from a classically trained beginning, playing piano since I was 4 and violin since I was 6, I can say that composing and songwriting are related disciplines, two sides of the same coin. Both require the same set of skills – can you craft a melody? Can you shape a harmony? Can you structure them? Composers have often written songs - James Horner turned his theme for Titanic into the smash hit “My Heart Will Go On” – and vice versa for songwriters; Paul McCartney has composed both an opera and a symphonic poem. The two professions go hand in hand – I have been fortunate to arrange strings for some amazing songs for the We Are One concerts and the Lion Foundation Songwriting albums over the past 2 years.
That being said, I think it’s really great that songwriting is now its own separate paper in the NZQA curriculum. Songwriting is a distinctly different form than composing, and it was beneficial for me in my last year of school to focus on songs and compositions separately, and gain as much experience in each discipline. I hope that in the future this will be extended from Level 3 right down to Level 1, affording the next generations of Play It Strangers or composers more chances to write of their sort of music, get the maximum experience at their craft, and get their music out there.
Which brings up another question, one that plagues my mind – will we ever run out of “original” inspiration? After all, there are only 88 notes on the keyboard, 12 notes between each octave – only so many possible combinations of notes, right? Will, someday, every possible melody have already been written? Is this new piece I’ve written an unconscious copy of someone else’s? Originality, finding unique inspiration, is an issue that confronts both songwriters and composers, and not just for the sake of artistic integrity - no one wants to breach copyright and get slapped with a whopping great fine!
My philosophy to combat is that music is really just putting the same notes together in different ways. The ubiquitous I-V-vi-IV progression – how many songs use those same harmonies? (Let It Be, Let It Go, Can You Feel The Love Tonight, Don’t Stop Believin’… just to name a few). Or how about this: two great Queen songs from “A Night at the Opera” – Love Of My Life and Bohemian Rhapsody - share the same I-vi-ii-V chord progression in their verses!
And even art music composers write variations on other’s themes, borrow musical “quotes” from famous pieces or folk tunes, reshape melodies into new ones, or even reorchestrate existing works. The possibilities are almost endless, as long as you make each combination of notes distinctively your own.
To quote John Williams:
“The wonderful thing about music is it never seems to be exhausted. Every little idea germinates another one. Things are constantly transforming themselves in musical terms. So that the few notes we have, 7, 8 or 12 notes, can be morphed into endless variations, and it’s never quite over.”
(Not to mention the new pathways and innovations in sonic arts, hip-hop, rap music, remixes, microtones, and whatever may come in the future, if you’re that way inclined.)
In 2018, I’ve started my Bachelor of Music at the University of Auckland, and I have a whole new well from which new inspiration can flow; peers and lecturers to spur me on in different directions. I have a stack of orchestral pieces in the pipeline, inspired by other composers, by snow, by faraway lands, by intricate storylines.
What’s your inspiration?
– Matthew Beardsworth
Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu / The Correspondence School
University of Auckland
Songwriting is a craft of the imagination and we believe that the creative environment surrounding songwriters should foster, expose and celebrate these songs.
We run songwriting competitions with lyric, Maori language, Peace Song awards and others alongside. And we record at least 40 finalists each year in professional recording studios.
Songwriting, performance, and recording are the three pivots of our music evolution.
NZ Songwriters have their own take on what makes songwriting a vibrant, creative practice - read their fresh perspectives in our Songwriters Speak pageSongwriters Speak
We've designed a poster with all key deadlines and dates for our competitions. Make sure to stick them in your calendar!
Further information about each competitions entry requirements can be found below in our "Competitions" section.
Online entry forms are now available for each competition.
Download the PDF and print it out, stick it up at school and hand it out to friends, get the word out there!
Director/Producer: Mareea Vegas / DOP: Kent Belcher / Art dept: Alex Matthews / Editor: Zac Blair /
Post production: Henry Williamson @ Thievery Studio / Hair: Luci Hare / Makeup: Tiveshni Naidoo / Clothing: Thanks to Lela Jacobs
Special thanks to NZ On Air for their Special Tracks grant which covered the recording and film making.
2018 ENTRY FORM NOW AVAILABLE
The National Secondary School Songwriting Competition is the flagship programme of the Play It Strange Trust.
2018 ENTRY FORM NOW AVAILABLE
This competition seeks songs with the lyrics embodying a focus on Peace. N.B. We are unable to offer the Hiroshima Exchange prizes this year.
2018 ENTRY FORM NOW AVAILABLE
The Winner and all Finalists have been announced.
For all secondary school students in NZ.
The competition is judged based on the originality of the cover you choose to rearrange and sing, written and performed by a kiwi artist.
Supported by a Music Grant from Recorded Music NZ.
2018 ENTRY FORM NOW AVAILABLE
Play It Strange presents a Cover Art competition to celebrate all creatives at New Zealand Secondary Schools.
This competition seeks an Album Artwork for the front cover of the 2018 Play It Strange Lion Foundation Songwriting Competition.
Play It Strange has worked for over 10 years, striving to provide secondary students with a platform they can use to pursue their musical adventures. We've held concerts, workshops and competitions, all with the intentions to provide the right environment from which students can gain confidence, self-belief and an impetus for a career path they would like to follow.Read More
Patrons, Strange Friend Stars and our Strange Friends are a crucial and valuable community that support us.
We would love you to come on board.
All donations are tax deductible.
If you are interested in becoming a Platinum Patron or Strange Friends Star or indeed support Play It Strange in any way please give us a call, we would love to catch up and talk.
University of Waikato summer paper ‘Introduction To SONGWRITING’ has just finished.
Students have finalised the tracking of their two songs and the results are very cool.
I Know This To Be True was conceived and assembled by Geoff Blackwell of PQ Blackwell, and Ric Salizzo. It is a book about truth, beauty and wisdom. "Sixty New Zealanders in the middle of interesting lives talk about what really matters, truth and beauty, and the things they hold dear to their hearts."
Royalties from the book sales will be forwarded to PLAY IT STRANGE to further their website and school programmes.
I Know This To Be True is an incredible collection of New Zealanders discussing what it is that is important to them. PQ Blackwell have generously donated all profits from book sales to Play It Strange. We cannot thank them enough for their support of Play It Strange, and we are so grateful to be part of such a rich, inspiring project.
The book is available for purchase from any good book store in New Zealand and online. Go and get one and enjoy!
Play It Strange songwriters that have had their songs recorded for the annual CD are making cool inroads out into the world. Their career paths were fuelled from their time at school during which they sent their songs into our competitions and triumphed.
Here we have a selection of those who hit the ground running when they left school. With songwriting, performance and recording experience they were capable and poised for action.
CUSTOMERS: Those philanthropic institutions, individuals, grants bodies and funding agencies. We applaud their generosity in supporting us and their focus on the benefits we bring to the society around us.
CLIENTS: The songwriters and performers that bring their imaginative craft and performing skills to bear and we are all rewarded. From the secondary school songwriting competitions to the recording sessions for the top 40 songs.