Creating your own music is surely one of the greatest forms of artistic expression. Whether improvising or writing and arranging, it’s a wonderful experience which is highly rewarding when you get it right.
It can be baffling when your creativity deserts you however, leaving unfinished work and frustration. Let’s look at ways to bring those musical insights back to the table.
Improve your mood
Scientific studies have shown positive moods are best for creativity. When in a positive mindset, the brain is able to generate more creative insights. When unhappy, the brain goes into a more analytical tried and tested safety mode. It’s therefore important you’re in the most positive state possible to tease out your creative side.
Getting the basics right, eating well, exercising, getting the correct amount of sleep and lowering stress levels will all work together to help boost mood levels.
On top of this, you can look into meditation, mindfulness and practising gratitude to further increase your mood and relaxation.
Get into new music
Learning and creativity are intrinsically linked.Article by coe.int
Broadening your horizons by learning new music allows your mind to make new connections, giving you welcome insights when developing new ideas. You may be surprised how much you enjoy these adventures once you get into it.
Find some music you enjoy that’s outside your usual remit. Embrace new genres that you may have an interest in but have never explored. Don’t just listen to the music but if you can, learn to play it as well.
Learn a new instrument
Building further on the theme of learning, why not take up a new instrument?
Learning a new instrument forces you to approach music in a different way, allowing you to break new ground whilst reaping the creative benefits of learning in general. The knowledge learnt on all the instruments you play can help your brain generate new insights.
You don’t have to become super proficient with new instruments to increase your creative output.
Piano and guitar offer versatility as you can play chords as well as melodies.
Work on multiple projects
In his TEDX talk, Tim Harford explains how studies on highly creative and successful scientists reveal they often work on multiple projects simultaneously, switching between them as the mood takes or situation demands.
Having multiple projects running concurrently often gives rise to moments of inspiration as working on related but different areas can really trigger the creative process. He calls this process slow multitasking.
This got me thinking. If slow multitasking is so beneficial to scientists, could it be useful for us musicians?
If you’re concentrating solely on developing (or improvising over) one piece of music, your thoughts are revolving entirely around just that. I would think it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Working on multiple projects sporadically, just like the mentioned scientists, is surely a better solution.
A moment of inspiration might not be relevant to the music you’re working on at the time, but could be perfect for another project. This constant jumping between projects will keep shifting your perspective, giving you new ways of developing your music.
In addition, getting stuck on one project is less of a problem. You can drop it for a few days, concentrate on other work and come back to it feeling refreshed.
Break out your normal patterns and routines
Openness to experience—the drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds—is the single strongest and most consistent personality trait that predicts creative achievement.Article by greatergood.berkeley.edu
It’s easy to fall into routines that feel good and safe. To maximise creativity though, we need to take a bold step into the unknown from time to time. This doesn’t mean doing something super adventurous or dangerous, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s not musically related.
New activities allow the brain to learn. As noted above, learning and creativity are interconnected. It’s thought new experiences give the brain the opportunity to connect knowledge and information in ways that are not immediately obvious, creating fresh ideas.
Learn a new cooking recipe, read a new book or take up a new sport or hobby to expose yourself to new experiences.
Take a break
You may have experienced something like this:
You’ve been working on a problem. This could be any type of problem but it’s something quite difficult to solve. You get tired so have a break.
Instead of relaxing, you do something that’s not very taxing but keeps you busy. Something like mowing the lawn or making a cup of tea. Then, you have an unexpected eureka moment, whereby you get an insight or even a complete solution to the problem you’ve been struggling with.
Why does this happen? It seems we can prepare the mind by consciously trying to solve the problem. Then when we zone out, our brain can give us insights.
Scientists have studied this phenomenon. They call the break from the problem (the time you stop trying to solve it and do something easier) the incubation period. It seems the subconscious has been working on your problem without you knowing it but only reveals its conclusions when your conscious mind is less fired up.
Strangely though, if you completely relax after trying to solve a problem, the eureka moments are less common. You have to stop problem solving and do something less taxing rather than nothing at all.
I know this works for music because it’s happened to me. On one occasion, I spent about an hour trying to compose something interesting. I didn’t get anywhere so decided to play a game on my PC. I had to pause the game and go back to the guitar to transpose the music that had come into my head seemingly out of nowhere.
Once it was recorded, I was really satisfied with the result.
Set yourself up for creativity
Work out the conditions that boost your creativity. Morning people will usually be more creative in the early hours. If you’re happiest in the evenings, that will be a good time to try your creative skills.
Are you at your best after exercise or a nap? Do weekends suit you better? Does spending a few hours in nature help get your creative juices flowing? Does it help to have a relaxing bath?
Figure out what works best. Learning how to access and nurture the creativity that’s already part of you is sometimes all that’s needed.
Embrace solitude and daydreaming
Anxiety-free time spent in solitude may allow for, and foster, creative thinking and workArticle by greatergood.berkeley.edu
Scientists have started to recognise the importance of solitude and daydreaming as part of the creative process.
Solitude is thought to help by giving us relaxing time and space to reflect inwardly. This doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself from society in order to create inspiring music, but spending some time alone now and again should be helpful.
Daydreaming is also thought to facilitate creativity. In a world that pushes us to be ever more productive, daydreaming is sometimes seen as a negative trait. Studies however, are starting to show the opposite. Down time is essential and a little daydreaming can help bring us fresh ideas.
Collaborate with other musicians
Many artists collaborate when writing music. Having someone else to bounce ideas off can be invaluable. Even people that love similar music will think differently when going about creating new music. These differences can set you up brilliantly for combining and progressing your ideas and directions.
Record and playback
Listening to yourself is not only a great tool to use when practising, it’s also very useful when composing or improvising. When you listen back to a recording of yourself, you’ll often hear interesting little nuances you didn’t notice whilst playing. These can often be worked into new ideas or directions.
If you’re like me and tend to forget your ideas, record yourself and listen back whilst doing other things. Whilst listening you may get some additional inspiration you can experiment with.
Don’t set the bar too high for yourself. Nobody can sit down and write great music every time they try. It’s perfectly normal to struggle and partly why it’s so rewarding when you do manage to create an exciting new song or piece.
Let’s be honest, creating new music is challenging. If it was easy, there’d be great new music for us to enjoy every single day produced by people everywhere. I bet the music you listen to is usually years, decades or even centuries old.
If you’re finding it hard, spend a little time exploring new ideas and then give yourself a break, allowing your mind to digest them. Come back to it when you feel refreshed and ready to have another go.
I used to think a few lucky people were born with the creative ability to write music or improvise. It seems though, a picture is emerging that shows creative people share characteristics that help them nurture these abilities.
Often when a study applies one of these same characteristics to participants, they are able to significantly increase their own creative output.
If we can all learn from this to boost our own creativity, who knows how far we can go.