Árni Karlsson

jazz from the cold north

How To Use Evernote For Composing Music


Keeping your ideas all in one place is essential for effective music composition. Ideas come and go too quickly for us to be able to remember them all. One thing that authors use for idea capturing is to have a notebook ready at all times to write down ideas, dreams, quotes, ads that inspire and whatever that triggers them. This becomes a habit and a constant inspiration for writing. There is a way to do this with melodies by writing down notes in a Moleskine notebook with musical staves for example. This is great to do if your only way to make music is the old way of writing it down and you have thorough training doing that. For most of us though, this is not the case and our music has to be recorded for us to be able to remember vividly how we imagined it. If we do not record it a lot of the original inspiration gets lost on the way and we do not get the intricacies of the sound that we are after, or the reflection of the voice, bends and special effects, timing etc. What comes in handy is to have a recorder. I heard a story from the amazing pianist/composer Larry Goldings, that he used to have a tape recorder on his piano at all times and when he was improvising at home and found a nice melody, chord pattern, or even an idea for a whole song, he would hit record and record it. When it then came a time to make an album he would just listen to his tapes and find plenty of high quality prescreened ideas to work from. I have made this story work for me but with a small and yet significant technological twist. 

There is an incredible app called Evernote that has gathered over 100 million users by now. In it you can store, tag, and organize, and write notes that will then become available on all the devices you own. I use it to gather musical notes the same way Larry Goldings used his tape recorder. I even take pictures into the same note as the one I record into, pictures of inspirational items, and even the score that I have written with the musical idea that I am recording to capture the essence, tempo, and phrasings that can easily get lost in translation. This way, all my ideas get captured in one place and I can find them whenever I need to work on new songs for my records. It also gives me a sense of how many ideas I get for songs and less of a fear of running out of ideas. 

Being under stress of producing ideas is the worst state to get good ideas. It is better to relax with a non-alcoholic beverage by the instrument and explore the instrument. I liken it to rest in the peripheral vision rather than focus, and just let things come to you. It you do not get any good ideas right away, that is normal. Just play and be open to what comes your way. Some of it is crap, some is cliché, and some might be original and need some refinement. When you have something that appeals to you, even though it needs some more work, just hit record in Evernote and capture it. You can always work on it more later. Then keep working in this peripheral space of listening to what comes to you through your instrument. Making this a steady practice has become one of my biggest assets in music making because I never run out of ideas for songs, and the practice itself is a sort of meditation at the same time. 

Tagging is one of the most useful features in Evernote. After having gotten a lot of ideas into your notes then you can open the app and listen to them all while tagging them according to emotion (sad, fun, playful, driven etc.), time written (feb, 2015), tempo (fast, medium, slow, or tempo marking 100, 80, 130) and any other meaningful tags that you might think of depending on what kind of music you are making. Then you can also tag each note in Evernote according to the project that it belongs to if you are composing for different setting and projects. I have used tagging as long as I have used Evernote and it makes a real difference when I search for things perhaps after years of not working on them.

Almost all songs on my last record, Hold, were a result of this method of idea capturing in Evernote. What I enjoy the most is the stress free component of this method because it keeps the act of idea generation/capturing separate from the completely different work of development of a song. This makes the whole process much more enjoyable and effective because you don´t need to be under stress while generating ideas while you keep all your ideas and developments in the same place.