Every chord has a root note.
It’s the foundation around which many other notes can align.
In any song, you have an array of interesting melodic and harmonic options. But, for the song to work, you must play in reaction to the root notes.
The root note leads. You follow.
I love the idea that music is a beautiful tension created by notes co-existing in time and space.
It’s not unlike our everyday lives. Our communities. Or our culture.
And not unlike the literary life either.
Stories have root notes too—themes and characters around which the story aligns.
I don’t believe in living a balanced life. Balance is about stasis. But our lives are dynamic. And full of tensions.
I prefer a life of harmony over one of balance.
Harmony describes a collection of notes co-existing in tension with a root note.
That makes sense to me.
Relationships are a portfolio of positive and negative tensions.
Our personalities are a portfolio of tensions: introversion vs. extroversion, thinking vs. feeling, etc.
Earning a living is a collection of tensions.
Even art exists in tension with its history. With its culture. With its subjects. So do artists.
Have you identified the root notes in your creative work?
Have you chosen them or have they chosen you?
It’s easy to get distracted by initial ideas. Or ideologies. Or form. Or traditions. Or genre. Or even audience.
Musicians serve one thing: songs. That’s the root note of their creative life.
Writers serve one thing: stories. That’s the root note of their creative life.
Everything else is packaging, performance and merchandising.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on June 7, 2012.