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Excel, Rap, Music Education and Cole Mize - Oz du Soleil

cole mizeI was up at 1am today surfing YouTube and came across a How To Rap channel by ColeMizeStudios. Some of what I saw made me shout out loud because Cole Mize (pictured on the right) is a reminder that EVERYTHING IS DATA! Everything. Cole Mize brilliantly takes music and lyrics into data management and analysis mode. The result is a keen focus on being musical before everything else; before focusing on words, message, etc.

The first time I shouted was around 7:37 of this Structured Lyrics video when Cole Mize shows his “bar sheets.”

Here’s a screenshot from the video:

Structuring Lyrics What does that look like? Excel, of course.

It also looks like the method I describe in other blogposts to explain how I’ve used Excel to help me understand and memorize song structure and chord progressions. (Excel for Musicians, and  Music and Songwriting) Below is the image I used from Excel for Musicians:

I Shiver Image

In Cole Mize’s Structuring Lyrics video he’s explaining how he uses his bar sheets to create lyrics with visual cues for:

  1. How the the words in the lyrics hang together, and
  2. How the lyrics fit in the song structure.

The bold font represents the first beat of every measure in the song.
The yellow highlights help visualize where the rhymes are.

The beautiful part is that his method provides visuals for what he calls “anchor points” to keep the lyrics tied to the music. This solves a big problem in how music is learned and taught.

Typically musicians study their instruments alone. We take private instructions with a teacher who teaches our instrument. In my case, I’d bring my bass, sit with one other person who also played bass, and that person would teach me the bass line to a song I wanted to learn.

What was missing for a long time was direct explanation of “anchor points” where the bass line was attached to the song. I ruined a lot of songs–in public–by playing something super cool with no anchor to the underlying drum pattern. One time I was with my bandleader, listening to a recording of a show we’d done. My part was terrible, but I had no language for what was wrong other than “terrible.” That left me with no guidance on how to improve.

Looking back, the problem was that I was only focused on the chord changes and song structure. Being anchored in the song’s groove was never a concern. What Cole Mize does with rappers is constant reinforcement that:

  • Songs have structure: intro, hook, verse, pre-verse, outro
  • Music has structure: 4-count, 8-count, 16-count

and THOSE are what the rapper, the singer, the bassist … everyone in a band has to anchor to in order for the totality of a song to come across as coherent, listenable and danceable.

Go over and check out how Cole Mize breaks things down and puts it all back together. Over at his blog, he’s got a post on How to Memorize Lyrics. The method, in my eyes, is more ways of managing, dis-aggregating, aggregating and summarizing data. Ultimately, he provides structure and removes the fear of just plain memorization of a 3-minute song starting at the first word.


That’s something I heard a lot as a young musician. Some musicians insisted that studying music wrecks creativity and teaches the “right way” to play which leads to stiff, soulless music. Analysis would compromise their feel. However, what I found is that analysis provides a language and a way to re-create experiments and accidents that we want to later make deliberate use of. Analysis and study provide a way to communicate with each other. This isn’t about squashing creativity, it’s about having better control over what a musician wants to convey.

That happens by breaking our world down into components and seeing the bits as data that can be organized, rearranged, visualized, repeated, analyzed, etc. Without that, all we have is rote memorization, unnecessary mistakes, sloppy communication and meaningless statements like, “less is more.”

Excel happens to be my tool for analysis, and Cole Mize is the teacher I wish I had when I started playing bass.

My Word to Cole Mize

Brother, I really appreciate what you’re doing over there. You’re grounding young rappers (and experienced rappers who are struggling) in what it is to be musical … right from the beginning!