In my second year of college I started an independent study course with an associate professor to learn music composition. I’d had years of study, and I figured I knew just about everything there was to know about the theory of music by that point. I regularly spent hours in the practice room catacombs writing through-composed rock operas that would one day fill arenas of people all singing along. I didn’t really need composition lessons, but I figured, what the hell, I’m good at this. I’ll get an assignment day one, turn it around in an hour and spend the rest of the week writing my own stuff. Easy A.
On day one, I showed up and the professor asked me to play some of my music, so he could understand where I was in my development as a composer. I played a handful of my latest hits. These were pieces that all of my friends loved. One was raucous and loud, with a catchy melody and wild bluesy piano riffs. One was sweet and quiet, and guaranteed to make every girl’s mother cry. Some were upbeat and fun, and some were boisterous and stirring. I chose these pieces to show off my range of styles and emotions.
The professor was very complimentary. It clearly wasn’t the kind of music he wrote or listened to, but he could appreciate my passion and recognized that I had talent. He thought about it for a moment and said, “Okay, here’s your assignment for the week, I want you to write a melody.”
“Great, yep. Any particular style? Time signature? Key?”
“Nope, I don’t care about any of that. But I want it to be a single stand-alone melody of at least 32 bars.”
“Cool, uh huh. Got it. Can do.”
“Using only two intervals.”
I swear someone in the other room pulled a needle across a record at that very moment.