Ask Dominic

This is where you have the chance to ask Dominic a question. Please contact Dominic under contact@dominicmiller.com. Please understand that Dominic has a busy schedule and although he would love to answer all of your questions, he can only manage a few per month.

Question:

As a young musician It is hard to write down what I hear in my head to paper. What should I do in making this transition, and by the way I'm a trumpet player but I was wondering if you might something to what I'm facing with. - from Manny

Answer:

The best thing for you to do is learn basic music theory, preferably from a teacher, if not a book. This will enable you to understand the basic laws of harmony and give you tips as to how to use music as a language. It's like learning French. If you want to speak it you have to take the time to learn it.

Question:

I was just wondering how do you start when writing a song i.e. how did you write Shape Of My Heart. - from Carlo

Answer:

I don't consciously start writing. I play and if i come upon an idea and if I recognise it as being something worthwhile I work on it until it starts turning into something.

Question:

Do you have to get into a specific mindset or mood in order to compose music or do riffs and things just come to you. My son is starting to develop his composing skills and any advice from you would be most appreciated. - From Nancy

Answer:

I like to get into a kind of meditative state while composing. The hardest (and most rewarding) part is realizing when you've found something worth pursuing. Usually it's something unique about the relationship or contrast between two chords, much the same way an painter might stumble upon a unique combination of colours. The trick is then to elaborate on this and make it the focal point (or hook as we say). This might mean working backwards and leading up to this point. It's also hard to control or remember all the ideas that flow as a result. It's kind of like a tidal wave of inspiration. My philosophy on composition is that a good idea is only as good as what you do with it. It must have form which is where theory comes into it. Musical ideas are like mathematical problems. They need to be solved. The difference between maths and music though is in the emotion (some mathematicians might disagree). Finally, it's always a bit of a come down once it is 'solved'. But a good day at the office.

Question:

I have noticed that some of your songs have an inherently sad feel to them. For instance, it seems that Lullaby to an Anxious Child (instrumental version) fills me with the deepest sadness without a word being spoken. When you sit down to compose a sad song, are there any rules you follow or is it merely trial and error in playing chords against one another until you discover some that blend together to create a sad feel? - from Brian

Answer:

I never intend to make my tunes sad, but people say they are. (People also say I look sad when sometimes I am deliriously happy). What I try to do is make music that provokes thought and emotion. Using dark chords against each other helps me with this process. I like to have simple melodies with not so simple chords so that when the listener hums a tune to themselves it can be quite pleasant. But when the listener hears the record it feels different and they don't know why. Being a composer is a bit like being an illusionist or magician. You are creating pictures in peoples' minds and then surprising them. That's what Bach does for me which is why he continues to be my number one influence.

Question:

When Sting gives you the 'Okay, break's over' call, and it is time to make a new record, how are his new songs presented to you? Are they rough sketches, or fairly complete when you hear them for the first time? - from Michael

Answer:

The songs are presented to me in varying degrees of structure. Sting allows me to express myself with his songs. We share similar tastes so my parts usually work. Sometimes he has different suggestions which I am always open to.

Question:

heard one of your songs called Partido Alto in an internet radio channel. (www.swissgroove.ch) I would like to know about the origin of the melody. I heard the melody around 1983 but nobody knows who the performer was. - from Zoltan

Answer:

This melody was written by the keyboard player from the 80's Brazilian band Azymuth. I think it was made famous by Flora Purin. I have always wanted to pay tribute to this band and I am glad I found the right tune to do it.

Question:

Have you ever thought about writing lyrics and singing your own songs? - from Xaloc

Answer:

I have tried writing lyrics to my music but I realise I don't have a talent with words. I can say what I mean better with notes.

Question:

I'm probably wrong but, does the guitar riff from Dead Man's Rope borrow from your accompaniment in Fields of Gold at all? I'm thinking of the part where you're playing that repeating 3-note figure over 'see the west wind move...' They seem similar somehow but I'm not sure if they're connected? - from Graham

Answer:

I don't see a similarity in these parts apart from them being arpeggiated. 'Dead Man's Rope' has more in common with 'Ghost Story' (from 'Brand New Day').

Question:

I've always admired the way you comp when you play with Sting. The way you voice your chords and the way the notes are played really bring even more life to the songs. What is your approach to chord voicings, and arranging your part in a song? - from Jonathan

Answer:

I love chords and what they can do to a song or piece of music. They are like adjectives or colours. My approach is to use chords to brighten or darken the tone of the music. If there is a bass player I stay away from roots and stay more with triads. I am always finding new chords.