Ten ways to be a more creative musician in 2020

Read our list of ten creativity tips to show you how to be a more creative musician this year...

ten-ways-to-be-more-creative

There are many reasons we can feel as though we’re lacking in creativity. We could be stressed, time-poor, putting too much pressure on ourselves or simply spending too much time alone. Often it’s because we’re far too comfortable in our comfort zones and hesitant to try something new.

If you’re feeling as though you’re in the creative doldrums, don’t despair. There are plenty of things you can try to refill your creative tank. Read our list of ten creativity tips to show you how to be a more creative musician this year.

1. Listen to music you wouldn’t normally listen to.

We all have our favourites, but if that’s all you have on your playlist, you’re unlikely to try something new. Putting aside prejudices about a particular genre of music and just listening to it openly and honestly can really boost your creativity and generate new and better ideas you can apply to your own music.

Drawing influence from other genres – even the ones that don’t usually float your boat – is really useful, allowing you to tap into new emotions and ideas. The chord progression might be different, or the musical phrasing, or the beat. See what you notice and really think deeply about it. If you’ve been tying yourself in knots trying to work out how to be a more creative musician, simply try exposing yourself to a new sound without judgment. It’s sure to make a meaningful difference.

2. Switch instruments.

Following on from point number 1 – when you find yourself wondering for the twentieth time how to be creative in music, take a tip from some musical legends and mix things up by switching instruments.

If you normally write on a keyboard, why not try a guitar or the drums? The old live instrument-switch is familiar territory for bands like Korn, Metallica and Green Day. And in the course of their careers, Paul McCartney made the switch from guitar to bass, Joey Ramone from drums to vocals and Dave Grohl from drums to guitar and vocals – and just look how that all turned out! Your change needn’t be a permanent one – it may just be for a few hours – but it’s a tried and true tactic to lift you from your rut and get you thinking about your music in new ways. At the core of it, once again, it’s about moving out of your comfort zone, but it also serves to interrupt your own clichés. 

By using different instruments and sounds to generate ideas, you force yourself into a different mindset, a mindset where you have to adapt,” writes Sam Matla of New Zealand’s EDMProd. 

If you normally write melodies with a supersaw sound and switch to a piano, then you’re likely to work differently.”

3. Get visually inspired.

Billie Eilish, Kanye West, Lorde, Pharrell Williams, Aphex Twin, St. Vincent – what do all these artists have in common? They all certainly know how to be creative in music, but they also all have music-to-colour synaesthesia or, put simply, the ability to ‘see’ music. Only about four per cent of the population has this condition, of which there are numerous varieties, but a high percentage of these people are creative artists.

Eilish has commented on her synaesthesia: “I think visually first with everything I do, and also I have synesthesia, so everything that I make I’m already thinking of what colour it is, and what texture it is, and what day of the week it is, and what number it is, and what shape.” Billie’s brother, Finneas O’Connell, has it too, “so we think about everything this way”, she says.

paul_mccartney.jpg

While naturally thinking like this can be an advantage, prompting yourself to do so as a creative exercise is also possible. There’s a definite link between audio and visuals, so why not sit down and work out the connection you interpret. If you had to give a particular sound a colour or shape, what would it be? Can you describe it? Paint it? Get to know it somehow?

Alternatively, you could consider some visual prompts that may get your creative juices flowing. Perhaps you feel moved by photos of the ocean, or images of a bleak dystopian cityscape may be more in keeping with what you’re working on. In writing about how to be a more creative musician, journalist Andrew ‘The Real Musician’ Muller suggests using a projector to display a particular visual, saying he found it “evoked emotion and distracted us from our inhibitions”. He recommends you “choose a visual element that sounds fun to you” and try it out by spending “20-30 minutes noodling around on your instrument or voice in your new, surreal environment”. Why not give it a go?

4. Don’t take it all too seriously.

If you’re still wondering how to be creative in music, odds are it’s really not happening naturally for you. As with any creative exercise, music can cease to be fun when you’re forcing it. And if you’re not enjoying it, what’s the point? Too much pressure to create something award-winning or that no one’s ever heard before is highly likely to rob you of time, frustrate your originality and put the brakes on your likelihood to experiment – all important cornerstones of creativity.

When you’re feeling desperate to create the next big thing, think about how you can take the pressure down a notch and reconnect with the reason you’re doing what you’re doing. What is it you

most enjoy about making music? As Elbow’s Guy Garvey succinctly puts it: “If it's all getting too intense, remember it’s only a song.”

5. Jam with friends.

One of the best creativity tips to recharge your creative battery is to collaborate. The benefits of a new perspective are immense and there’s nothing like working with someone else to get you out of a rut – or indeed your own head – and back on a creative path.

The Bee Gees’ Maurice Gibb once said: “It’s hard to write a song alone. It’s only by jamming that you can get a song together.” And this rings true for so many. Even if you’re not asking your fellow musicians how to be a more creative musician, or requesting their input into your piece, the simple act of being in the moment, listening to other artists, focusing on them – their styles and quirks, rhythms and patterns – and tuning into something outside yourself, can generate new possibilities and help you take new risks. Even just watching others perform can get those ideas bubbling away. As noted in The Guardian: 

By studying musicians and asking them when inspiration struck them, researchers found that breakthrough moments often happened when players were humming to themselves or tapping out rhythms on the table or imagining dance moves inspired by the music.”

6. Take a break.

When things just aren’t happening for you, there’s nothing else for it – it’s time to take a break. Whether it’s a walk, a nap, a gym visit or a spot of meditation, time out from what you’re working on forces something of a creative reboot, freeing up room for new ideas.

Soprano Kate Royal advises of the importance of getting some perspective: “I always thought I had to have music every second of every day, or I wouldn't survive. The truth is that when I step back from it and learn to enjoy the more mundane aspects of life, I appreciate my music so much more.”

Bjork, the last person anyone could accuse of lacking creativity, agrees: “I always advise my friends: just go for a walk for an hour and come back and see how you feel then.”

Taking some time out can have the additional benefit of giving much-needed distance when you’ve lived and breathed a project for too long. Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage certainly finds this, saying: “If you get overexcited by an idea, take a break and come back to it later. It is all about developing a cold eye with which to look over your own work.”

7. Learn music theory.

If you’re unfamiliar with music theory, it doesn’t mean you can’t be creative, of course. But it does mean you might be lacking some pretty helpful tools to pull out of your arsenal when you need to boost your creativity.

“Knowing music theory allows you to better translate ideas from your mind into reality, and it also expands your ability to come up with great ideas in the first place,” writes Sam Matla. “For instance, if you don’t know anything about modulation, you probably aren’t going to think of using it in your song. Likewise, if you don’t know what a deceptive cadence is, you’re only ever going to use it by accident.” A famous quote by Pablo Picasso goes:

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

In the same way, an understanding of grammar and sentence structure improves one’s writing, knowledge of scales and chords – and those that work together best – allows you the confidence to deviate from these standard principles when you’re experimenting.

8. Avoid editing.

Letting the creative process unfold naturally without self-editing is far more likely to lead to musical innovation. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of fine-tuning as you go – especially with computer-based composition and recording – but if you really want to jumpstart your creativity, separating these processes is a good way to begin. Don’t allow the editor into the same room as your inner artist. Stifling your ingenuity with your inner critic has an undermining effect on your music. It can also slow you right down.

Guillemots’ Fyfe Dangerfield has spoken of the importance of the editing process – but notes this should only take place once all the ideas are out your head: “We all have that small voice that tells us we’re rubbish, and we need to learn when to silence it… when it comes to recording or mixing, you do need to be your own critic and editor. It’s a bit like having children: you don't interfere with the birth, but as your child grows up, you don't let it run wild.”

The bottom line? Relax and just create. You can make it better later.

9. Book into a masterclass.

Still wondering how to be creative in music? It can help to attend a music masterclass. If you’re desperate to get your groove back or keen to take things to the next level, the benefits of participating in a masterclass can be profound.

Depending on the class, you’ll likely be able to watch and listen to the master’s insights on interpreting particular creative music or processes, or jot down a whole lot of technical tips and how-tos.

Additionally, you’ll gain exposure to a wider group of musical professionals, increase your confidence as a performer and have the invaluable opportunity to receive – and accept – criticism in front of your peers; something that goes a long way towards improving yourself as an artist. Who knows? That breakthrough or lightbulb moment may even arrive before the class is over.

10. Record everything

Ideas are fleeting things. If you dare not give them your full attention, then bang… they’re gone. If you’re feeling low on ideas, perhaps the issue is you’re not tuning in to them sufficiently. So why not take a leaf out of Chris Martin’s book and record everything. Don’t wait for what you feel is the best idea; just get it all down.

Jay-Z has claimed he keeps his rhymes in his head to build up his memory ‘muscle’, but for us mere mortals, writing things down is the far safer option. Guy Garvey certainly does. He’s commented: “Just start scribbling. The first draft is never your last draft. Nothing you write is by accident.”

jay-z.jpg

One of the best creativity tips around, writing everything down not only ensures you can identify the best ideas when you later separate the wheat from the chaff, but the process itself amounts to something of a mental download, which ensures greater brain space and enhanced clarity to really boost your creativity.

If you do adopt this new habit of recording or writing everything down, it’s a good idea to prepare by carrying a notebook, a voice recorder, or both. Alternatively, you could always further channel the Coldplay frontman and jot ideas on your hands or even your piano. Or perhaps scrawl it on a napkin like David Bowie did when bringing the concept of Ziggy Stardust to life. Regardless… however you do it, do it thoroughly.

Ready for more creativity tips and saying goodbye to creative blocks for good? Kickstart your inspiration in a more focussed, supported way, and begin establishing yourself as a creative music professional with ICMP’s BA Creative Musicianship degree.

Say goodbye to creative blocks for good

Finding your creative voice and expressing it in the most powerful way possible might seem challenging, but ICMP has been training creative legends like Ed O’Brien (Radiohead), virtuosic songwriter Jon Gomm, and YouTube superstar Rob Chapman for over 30 years. Our expert mentors will help you discover your artistic and professional identity, and back it up with all the performance, production, business and entrepreneurial skills you need to succeed. You’ll also be free to use our writing and rehearsal rooms, recording studios, and tech suites while benefiting from masterclasses, exclusive events, and an amazing network of collaborators and contacts.

Call our friendly Admissions Team on 020 7328 0222 or email enquiries@icmp.ac.uk to start your career in music today.

Creative Musicianship Degree
by ICMP staff writer
April 2, 2018
Back to Blog Home