Funk music meets Classical music. Sounds bizarre, but those were the two genres that I fell in love with as a little kid.
Classical music was always playing in our home because of my parent’s love for it. I still remember the thrill of attending my first live concert with a full orchestra performing.
When my mom signed me up for my first piano lessons, my reaction was unexpected by everyone: I hated it because of the pressure to perform during recitals. Turned out that I’m an introvert. But I’m thankful that my parents made me do it. Playing the piano turned out to be a great introduction to string instruments and getting more comfortable performing to a live audience. My piano teacher also deserves a lot of credit since she was unbelievably patient with me. After three years, I could play reasonably well and, more importantly, sight-read music.
What does any of this have to do with funk and R&B music?
Or, more importantly, radio playing Bootsy Collins and Prince music. Whether it was Parliament-Funkadelic or a Prince song, the groove of the rhythm section always caught my attention first.
I remember the first time I heard Bernie Worrell’s bass synth line with Bootsy backing him on drums on Flashlight. Magic.
I have ongoing gratitude to my elementary, middle school, and high school music teachers. They needed a ‘cello player for all of our school productions for full and chamber orchestras, and I wanted to learn to play bass guitar. So they went out of their way to help me learn bass after hours, and I played ‘cello in all of their performances.
My elementary school teacher was proficient in many instruments and was a touring musician with a variety of bands during the summers, including Elton John. He not only taught me how to play ‘cello, but he also taught me how to get paying gigs:
- Practice every day
- Show up early
- Be sober
Once he was satisfied that I had embraced all three of his rules, he connected me with gigs throughout the state. Fortunately, my mom loves music and also loves to drive, so convincing her to transport me to these gigs at schools and churches turned out to be easy.
Playing ‘cello was my first introduction to paying gigs. There was always a seemingly infinite number of singers and violinists available, but not many people who wanted to play ‘cello.
Upright bass became my next paying series of gigs in middle school. Same reason for success as my ongoing ‘cello gigs: follow the three rules and play the instrument that wasn’t popular. It all worked for me because I loved and continue to love bass.
Writing Funk Music
After being recruited into my friend’s string quartet playing ‘cello, I made my first attempt at writing music. He wrote half the music that we performed for the quartet and taught me his process and the fundamentals of what I now know as writing a good hook.
While the classical music he wrote was excellent, the same wasn’t true for my first attempts at funk and R&B songs. Later I learned that I wasn’t spending enough time writing the melody and lyric hooks. Turns out that writing melody and lyrics was and remains more challenging for me. Initially, that was frustrating, but I learned to love the challenge.
In college, I learned that people actually write together–who knew? This led me to form a new funk band with artists who were good at playing their instruments and also good writers. A year later, we received our first US award for best funk song. More importantly, we could tell which songs worked well based on the audience’s reaction to our live performances. Right after each show, we’d grab our setlist and the terrible quality video that we shot and write many notes next to each song. Some songs worked well immediately, some were re-written, and some were discarded.
That ongoing feedback process helped us recognize that we’d need to either write ten songs to get one good song or spend a lot more time crafting each song. We called the combined one-out-of-ten and live performance process our Motown Process since Berry Gordy had refined it for Motown during the 1960s.
But there’s also the school of thought that says: spend five years writing a few great songs instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
Today I use a hybrid approach to writing music by spending more time crafting each song and focusing on twenty songs to get to a final ten.
Back to my Music Roots
It’s been a few years since I’ve written and released a funk or R&B song. But one of my New Years’ resolutions is to release ten of them this year. At this point, I’ve recorded the demo groove, am working on the melody, and I’m on my third draft of the lyrics for the first song. Songs two through twenty are less formed, but I’m on my way.
The other exciting part of this project is releasing all the music in Dolby Atmos and high definition audio in addition to standard stereo.
Photography credits |
Tom Libertiny (Minimalism Roots)
Mwesigwa Joel (School)
Marius Masalar (Music)