Music composition can feel extremely open-ended…almost too open-ended. In this article, I’ll share some tips that have helped me with creativity in my music, when it comes to composition and songwriting.
Clear Your Mind
Think back to high school or college. Do you remember how hard it was to write an essay when your mind wasn’t clear? Exactly. You might have been thinking about the football game tonight, or when the next episode of your favorite show was coming on.
When it comes to music, I recommend giving in. Go to that game, get that cup of coffee. Free up that cognitive space all those things you want to do (instead of music) are taking up. Then, you can begin.
In fact, I had to get myself out of the house to even write this article! Creativity won’t come unless your mind is clear. Much like the Google Doc will stay empty until you have all your needs met, the guitar or piano won’t sing until your mind is ready, and you have a clean slate.
Try making a habit of doing something relaxing and fun before you write. This could be as simple as taking a short trip to the art museum, library, or even making a cup of green tea.
Not only does getting out of the house or doing something calming help set your brain up for creative mode: It may also help you find inspiration along the way.
Did the guy at Ollie’s say something funny to you? Did you see a great sunset? There you go, there’s a nugget of inspiration that is up for the taking! But one more thing before you start…
Photo by Duncan Kidd
Set Parameters Before You Begin
Let’s circle back to something I said at the beginning. Creativity and music is so hard to put together because it is extremely open-ended. There are too many options. So set parameters before you begin. You can do this in a couple of ways. You can choose the theme, the key center, and or mode, the instrumentation, or even, the drumbeat. Limit yourself.
Less is more, especially when you are first getting started. I’ve found that to be true even now that I have my music degree. My pieces turn out better when I start out thinking about limits. For example, don’t ever start with an orchestral score, start with a string quartet, and expand on it later.
If you are a new songwriter or composer, the more parameters you set before you begin, the easier it will be. It sounds counterintuitive, but it really helps. Another great practice is to set a timer for an hour and limit the time you will be composing in that sense. Timing yourself gives more impetus to your project as a whole.
Start on an instrument, not a Manuscript Paper
Photo by Andy Ancon (Unsplash)
Manuscript paper or notation programs can look really daunting. There are so many staves to fill out or way too many stacked chords. That’s why I recommend starting on an instrument, and not the page. Play your heart out, and let it be rough, and just let messy, raw sound exist in the air. Keep going, with no expectations.
Regularly picking out an instrument is one of the best ways to guarantee creative success, and fend away writers’ block.
Lyric tip: Similarly, if you are struggling with lyric-writing, don’t begin in a Google doc. There is something about being able to scribble things, doodle things, and sketch that makes the words fall out of your head. Every musician that I have talked to has said they experience something similar, once they try it.
Don’t: Edit as You Go
Photo by Nick Morrison
Editing as you write is a great way to give yourself writer’s block. Creatives have two main modes (or at least, I have two main modes): Creating mode and editing mode.
Editing mode feels very different than creating mode. If you keep toggling back and forth, you’ll never get anything done. Let creating mode be messy, and editing mode be clean.
Take Inspiration From Other Art Forms
Photo by Jr Kopa (Unsplash)
I recently had someone message me on Etsy saying that they took inspiration from my Fantasy shop, LittleEccentricities. This blew my mind- I never would have imagined someone would look to small shops on Etsy to help write their novel. But then I got to think, I take inspiration from other art forms too.
An excellent exercise in music is to find a piece of art (like a digital painting, or even a movie) and write a song that represents it or has elements of it woven in. Try and capture whatever it is, as a sound.
Lower the Stakes/ Try a Free DAW with New Effects
Photo by Techivation (Unsplash)
I love my big snazzy DAW, Reason Studios. That being said, starting a brand new song sketch on Reason is one of the fastest ways to get myself stuck. If you want to be a successful composer, lower the stakes. Once again, I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. But bear with me here.
Cheap or free music-making apps play like games, almost. I love starting out in Garageband, where I can sing into my headphone mic, and pop on really fun effects like the robot or chipmunk voice. But it’s not just playing around. If you don’t lower the stakes enough so that you can pump out some content, you’ll never finish a song.
Start on a cheap program or just a piece of paper. Once the ideas start flowing, upgrade to your ‘big DAW’ like Logic or Reason.
Finding out how to be creative yet productive in music is no easy task. But if you clear your mind, set some limits, and lower the stakes, something great is bound to fall out onto the page. Let us know what works for you in the comments below- I’d love to hear what methods you’re using to get creative!
About the Author: Aleah Fitzwater is a classical flutist, music educator, and music blogger.
You can find more of her work at https://scan-score.com/en/scanscore-blog/ where she teaches musicians how to digitize sheet music.
You can also find her on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/aleahflute and on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9gePxR2OWB_gE2HuzelNGg .