Composing music in a dream.


Credit: Stacy Martian,

I’m not at all musically inclined.  I’ve never even played an instrument.  I can barely sing.   I’m always in complete awe of people who can just sit down and come up with the music for a new song and then set lyrics to it (or write the lyrics first and then hear music for them inside their heads).  It’s an ability that seems so mysterious and out of reach to me, almost bordering on the supernatural.   I always marvel, how do they do that?

But a few times in my life, I’ve actually been able to compose music in my head — well, maybe.  It happened to me again last night.   Very occasionally, I have a dream in which I hear a song and then I wake up and realize I’ve never heard that song before.   I dreamt I was riding in a car and a pop-rock song came on the radio and I turned it up, saying “Oh, I like that song.”   The song itself was unremarkable and sounded like a lot of other pop-rock songs, but was very catchy, with a sort of ’60s vibe to it.  I can’t remember much else, except the chorus contained the words, “mister, mister.”

Google is a godsend for checking lyrics online.   I typed in “mister, mister” which was all I could remember, and while there is a group called “Mr. Mister,” there doesn’t appear to be any song that has those words in the lyrics.  So I concluded that what I heard in my dream  must have been an original song, at least lyric-wise.  Maybe the melody was someone else’s and I had heard it a long time ago or something and just can’t consciously remember it.  Unfortunately, there’s no way to check a melody on Google the way you can check lyrics.   I don’t consciously remember ever hearing a song with that particular melody though, even it was so similar to a lot of other pop-rock songs (like I said, the style of the song was pretty cookie-cutter).   No wonder so many musicians get sued for copying someone else’s melody.   They probably didn’t really steal it at all, but unconsciously used someone else’s, thinking it was their own.   It’s completely understandable why that happens so often.   How would you go about checking something like that?

The few times I’ve “composed” songs in my dreams, I’ve always really liked the song.  A couple of times the songs have been absolutely amazing.   I’ve always wished I knew how to write music or play an instrument, so I could wake up and immediately pick out the chords on a guitar or tap it out on a piano, and then write down the music for it.

I imagine this is how some musicians come up with the music for a song.  I think it’s largely a function of the unconscious (all creative pursuits are), and probably comes in the form of dreams a lot.   Other musicians say they think of the lyrics first, and then a melody for them just sort of comes to them.   That would also be the workings of the unconscious.  I think it’s such an awesome thing to be able to do that.

The fact I have these dreams at all makes me wonder if I have some latent musical talent that I just never developed or knew I had.  Or maybe they happen to everyone and it’s nothing all that special.


12 thoughts on “Composing music in a dream.

  1. One morning in a hippy commune, I woke in my sleeping bag under trees and stars, I heard “Mother Superior jumped the gu-u-un. Mother Superior jumped the gun.” And a cannon went off and fireworks. I forgot where I had heard that before and thought I made it up.

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  2. Lots of composers and singer-songwiters describe experiences like that, not in all their creations, but often what they consider their best, the ones that just seem to write themselves. When it comes to songs, I wonder whether the words or the tune come first. Lyrics are poetry and i suspect that the rhythm of the poem sets the pattern for the music. I have no discernible musical talent either. My childhood piano teacher gave up in despair. I hope the song comes back and you can remember more of it.

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  3. I have those dreams sometimes. And I often wish you could Google melodies, too, with songs I want to identify but can’t remember lyrics to. Maybe someday soon they’ll figure that out. I’ve also based many stories on dreams.

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    • I’ve heard that’s the way it usually works for most musicians. It’s easier to access the left (logical, verbal) part of the brain first, then let the creativity from the right side flow from there!


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