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One struggle that I find to be incredibly difficult, is when you feel particularly inspired, but you simply don’t know how to write music that really reflects the way you are feeling.
Maybe I sit down with my guitar, or at the piano, and it just seems that I’m trying hard, and meticulously going through how to play music for each individual note and rhythm that I’m playing.
And after writing some riff for 25 minutes, that I’ve examined in every possible way, I put it into context with a band, and it just…
…loses it’s zeal.
The music I wrote seems dead, and lifeless. It’s not something that you would get famous on, nonetheless be proud of.
So how is it that there are days like the one I just described, where you try so hard and get no where, but then you can wake up some mornings and it just seems like the creativity flows out of you, like you just took a course on how to write music?
You just put your fingers onto the guitar, or your mouth on that saxophone, and every single thing you write is superb. You know exactly how to write music that is pleasing to the ear.
In fact, it comes so easily that you aren’t really even sure if it’s very good. It couldn’t be good if you wrote it so easily, right?
(Later in this article I am going to teach you how you can train your brain to write music like this all of the time!)
I definitely find myself falsely discounting music that I write in this space, thinking “I hardly had to even try to come up with that awesome chord progression, so it must not be very good”. I question whether I really do know how to write music.
I listen to incredibly complex arrangements like what Sufjan Stevens writes, or Beethoven, and you think “Well they put countless hours and days, and understood the theory behind all of those orchestral arrangements. “
I really don’t know how to write music that way, so I think “If I don’t do the same, then my music can’t be any good!”
I’m going to let you in on an awesome little secret. Learning how to write music is simply learning how to let creative energy flow out of you!
This involves getting rid of negative energy too!
So how to you tap into that positive energy?
How do you force yourself to be in a mindset where your subconscious can bubble out into your fingers, and you can hammer out chord progressions, arrangements, and riffs that make you proud every time?
These are the things we are going to explore here.
First realize that you can’t actually force yourself to be creative. It isn’t a “Mind-over-matter” thing, or a matter of being “Disciplined” enough. In fact, if you force yourself to be creative, you are actually stopping yourself from being creative.
It’s like trying to speed up the flow of a water hose by putting your finger over 3/4 of the nozzle; it might seem to be moving faster and more intense at that time, but in reality there is much less water coming out (It just has more pressure).
You cannot make yourself be more creative in such a “Brute force” manner.
In reality, being able to tap into this energy has to do with being honest with yourself, and being in tune with yourself and your emotions.
You have to coax this creative energy out of your system, like waving some food in front of a dog trapped in sewer pipe; you have to seduce him into coming to you.
You can do this by placing yourself in an environment that stimulates creativity, rather than suppresses it.
If you are trying to write music in a hostile household, where you know everyone around you is simply annoyed that you play guitar anytime after 7pm, you will probably find yourself struggling to write creatively.
If the band you are playing in is constantly critical of everything you write, you are going to be much more distracted by the thought “What if they don’t like this?”, so you won’t be able to focus on letting your personality be reflected in the music.
You literally can forget how to write music by putting yourself in that type of environment.
As of 2013, I live in a hotel with 25 other roommates. Many of us are musicians. Not only am I in a place where music is welcomed, but I often get musical help from them.
This breeds creativity for me, and I often find that it’s hard for me not to know how to write music that inspires me.
Learn How To Write Music And Seduce Your Creativity To OVERFLOW Into Your Music (Instead Of Trying To Force It Out, Like Drawing Blood From A Stone)
Get Rid of Distractions – The Creativity Killer
Getting rid of distractions is a key part of learning how to write music creatively!
Put your damn cell phone in another room so you aren’t constantly hoping some cute guy or girl is going to reply to your invitation to ask them out.
If you have hostile relationships with the creative forces you are working with (Other people in your band) then you certainly are going to be suppressed.
Freely writing genuine music that translates from your mind (your ultimate goal) is the opposite of musical suppression, so you need to remove aspects of your life that suppress you in order to write music that accurately reflects you.
This doesn’t mean that you need to remove limitations on your music though. For example, you might create the limitation that your song needs to be written in a certain key, in a 7/8 Time signature, with a shuffle-style drum beat. That is a limitation, but it actually helps you to be more creative.
For example, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez tried to write a song that was under 1 minute long. Now he didn’t actually accomplish that goal, but he did end up writing the Grammy Award Winning “Wax Simulacra” because of it.
Who Are You Gonna Let Interfere With Your Creativity?
For goodness sake, stop thinking about what your friends and family will think of the music you write.
My parents listen to freaking 80’s rock, so do you really think they are going to fully appreciate the experimental electronic music that I write? Maybe they’ll like it, but you simply need to accept that not everyone is going to like your music.
If you music is happy, then hipsters will say it’s childish. If it sounds dark, people will say your music is pretentious. If it’s heavy and death metal, legalistic Christians will accuse you of being demonic (these have all happened to me!).
Accept that if you are going to be a musician, that means you are actively expressing your musical opinion, and you are expressing that opinion in the strongest way; by creating music based on it; this is a much stronger implementation of an opinion than any music critic review ever could be.
So you can expect that people will hate you for it. Because if your music disagrees with what they think in any way, that means that their opinion on music is now invalidated. And no one likes feeling invalidated.
In order to protect themselves, they now need to make you wrong. They need to say that this strong opinion that you have is wrong, and the easiest way to do that is to say that your music sucks. Because if they can invalidate your music, then they will be validated and they can continue living life uninterrupted.
Although some people aren’t quite as simple as just saying “Your music sucks”, but layer themselves in justifications and rationalizations about what is technically wrong with the music.
If you write awesome music, people that you personally know might criticize it simply because they are jealous that they couldn’t write something as good.
And there you are, feeling bad because someone else felt emasculated as a result of your music being so good.
Doesn’t really make any sense for you to feel bad about their negativity, does it?
That’s why it’s so incredibly important for you not to listen to what other people are saying…
…because there are about 6 million different motives they might have for criticizing your band, and about 5,999,930 of those reasons have nothing to do with the music whatsoever, but have to do with protecting their own ego’s.
So get rid of all those distractions in your mind, and get ready to experience a world of openness, creativity, serenity, and oneness with your music.
Oh, and I suppose I should mention that you should pay attention when someone says something good about your music. That builds you up! And that type of positive energy will help increase the flow of creative energy.
Negative energy only puts a cork in your creative spout, so get rid of it! It is not how to write music that rules!
Unless you’re super angry about something and you need to write it out into lyrics (I know Maynard James Keenan wrote amazing lyrics in this mindset, see Aenema), but other than that, only pay attention to positive things, and eliminate your distractions.
Discover How Training Your Brain’s Automatic Filter Can Force You To Write A Masterpiece Every Time
When you first start learning how to write music, most things that you write are really not…all that excellent.
And it’s not because you are a terrible musician or anything, or that you don’t have potential; it’s all a matter of experience.
As you get more comfortable with your arrangements, you find that writing becomes easier and easier.
I was reminded of this when I started writing electronic music. Now I’ve been writing music for years, and have had great success in arranging complex, progressive pieces.
But when I had to switch my tools into something as…logistical as electronic music, I found that I felt like a beginner again. I was using tools I had never used before!
I was having trouble with simple arrangements, and making changes was discouraging.
In fact, sometimes I wouldn’t even make a change because I knew it would be difficult to change using this new interface.
Make A Goal Of Perfection
After a while, I found that it gets easier and easier to work with the arrangements.
As I get more and more comfortable with the tools, I find that I have much more control over what I’m writing and the sounds that I’m making.
How can you gain more control over what you write?
You have to go through a single song over and over and over, making tiny little changes everywhere (And this goes for all music, not just electronic music).
As you meticulously work on the songs, you find that you are more and more proud of what you wrote.
The key here is that you have to decide on perfection. You have to decide that you are going to make this 1 single song the best damn song you have written so far.
The reason that I say you should only work on 1 song, is because when you are working 2, 5, or more songs at a time, you can become distracted. You won’t work through frustrations, because you will just jump to another song.
In the end you are more likely to end up with 10 “okay” songs, rather than 1 “amazing” one (and once you train your mind to write amazing songs, you’ll have 100 amazing ones!)
When you decide on perfection, it brings your mind into a heightened state of criticism, and makes you work really, really hard.
You have to work your freaking butt off to make just this single song sound great. And then these discouraging thoughts come into your mind:
“Am I going to have to work this bloody hard with every song? This is such a struggle!”
But don’t listen to them! Because you are training your brain to automatically filter out things that sound bad.
When you are writing your first few songs, your brain isn’t trained yet. So you have to manually go in, and start training it to only like things that sound really good.
This happens by being meticulous, and striving for perfection.
But there’s a light side to this (Other than just creating amazing music).
Build The Habit – It Gets Easier!
After your first song or two, you find that writing music becomes much easier.
In fact, it can get to a point where it seems like second nature to you. You can hardly even believe that the music could be good if it’s this easy to write.
But yet it is still really good. It’s amazing music!
Congratulations, you’ve just matured as a musician!
This is what is necessary to become the musician you’ve always dreamed of: constant trimming and expansion to find perfection within your music.
It takes hard work, but in the end you become more mature, and you can write great songs in hours (that might have been impossible, or taken months to write before).
So what happens when you become that “mature” musician?…
Keep Raising Your Standards, And Your Brain Will Keep Filtering Out The Garbage!
…You raise your standards of perfection again! You experiment and try something new!
If you just settle in to this “new you”, then you will soon become dissatisfied with what you are writing. You have to continually move forward!
It requires a constant attention and discipline to keep growing, otherwise you start moving backwards, and you (and your fans) start to become dissatisfied with your work.
Keep moving forward, keep challenging yourself, and when you come up with a cool experimental idea to put into practice, do it!
Discover Why Suppression Stops The Flow Of Creativity (And How Communication Can Fix That!)
One struggle that I have found to become really common when learning how to write music in a band, is that when things get bad between the members, the music usually suffers.
You can try and keep your relational feelings separate from the music itself, but I think it’s important to take into account every piece of your environment while writing, as it will dramatically change the material that you write.
So ‘ignoring it’ isn’t really an option if you want to maximize your creativity.
No Suppressed Feelings
Holding any resentment towards other band mates can really put a stop on your ability to freely let creativity flow from each member.
When you take the time to communicate issues that you have with other members (And give them opportunities to communicate with you), then you create an environment where people are validated, and it makes them (and you) feel comfortable putting your idea’s out there.
And remember, when you are writing music you are putting your idea’s out there.
If people don’t have a chance to validate their idea’s, or they have unresolved issue’s with other members (think about how many arguments you can have about money!), then there is going to be a degree of suppression there.
You’ll find that you start getting in dumb, silly arguments about generally inconsequential stuff.
Bottom line? If your idea’s are suppressed, you can bet that your creativity will follow suit! Communicate where you are having issue’s with your band mates, even if it’s really difficult (and yes, it really IS difficult).
The biggest fear that’s going to come with sharing is: “What if they reject my idea’s, or get upset?” Trust me, this is a common fear.
Just approach it in a respectful manner. If you are working with responsible adults, they should be able to work through some conflict without throwing their phone across the room (hopefully).
And if they can’t deal with simple conflicts well, then you bet they aren’t responsible enough to deal with the type of success that you are actually trying to reach.
Understanding Each Others’ Goals
Are you guys just a jam band? Or are you trying to explore specific concepts that mean something to you?
I know it had caused a great deal of confusion at one point for me, because my goal and direction in writing music was to let my subconscious overflow into the music freely. It was about taking my imperfect and limited consciousness, and letting the “unknown” side of me shine.
Of course, no one else in the band was on the same page as me, and this caused a fair amount of confusion for them, as they felt fairly directionless (although I knew I had one all along!)
So share with your band mates what your goal is in music, and why you are playing music in the first place.
It’s a difficult thing, I know, but it’s worth it. Set some time aside in a band practice to talk about it with your fellow musicians.
It gives them the opportunity to learn more about you, and gives them chances to actually respect and work together in reaching your musical goals.
As usual, this is going to allow more creativity to flow from you in jam sessions (because you write better with musicians that you know better).
When you know where everyone stands, you can contour your style to meet their expectations, without sacrificing your own goals; this allows for more collaboration in your music, and allows the collective subconscious of the group to shine through.
Write To Impress
When you effectively talk with your band mates and find out what they want to achieve, then you will naturally start writing things you know will impress them.
This gets you out of your comfort zone, and creates a limitation (your band mates music tastes) that you are able to freely explore and enjoy.
I don’t recommend you write to just impress your fans, but your band mates are people that you respect.
Heck, the whole reason that you are playing with them is so you can write something different than you would normally write on your own.
So don’t think you are selling out or anything like that by contouring what you write for your band mates. As long as you are still happy with what you are writing, it’s still a good thing and is not selling out.
Now if you are incredibly unhappy with what you are writing, you’ve got a problem there.
That means you are being suppressed, and you’ll likely need to communicate to your members what you are looking to achieve better in the writing process.
This communication is what removes your suppression!
Keep in mind that you can expect to make compromises here and there, that’s just part of the process. It’s when you really start to become unhappy with the music that there is a problem.
Encouragement Is Thy Name
Once you hit the first 3 points, you are going to start to find that you’ll receive more and more encouragement from your band mates.
Make it a point to have everyone encouraging each other, rather than bringing each other down.
If you have someone in your band who is constantly critical and cynical about what is being written, you can bet that someone is going to be suppressed.
Be vocal and open about the positive things that you think! If the drummer writes an awesome fill, grin at him wildly with thumbs up (or however else you would express your glee!) rather than just thinking about it.
And make a point to your band mates that they can be more vocal with what they like. That type of communication can help everyone in the band contribute to a brighter, more creative musical future!
I think that’s a goal we can all agree is a good one.
Learn 6 Ways To Recover From Depressing Musical Discouragement
There comes about 136 times in every musician’s life where you can forget how to write music and become incredibly discouraged.
Maybe a few of these things apply to you:
- You think your music sucks
- Someone you know becomes successful (while you still haven’t made your dreams come true)
- You can’t seem to figure out how to write music freely and expressively.
- The idea of music just becomes dull to you, or you don’t enjoy playing as much
- You feel like you’ve plateaued and aren’t growing or discovering new things anymore.
No matter which of those apply to you (and there are a bunch of other ways you might be feeling that I just didn’t address), these are some really important ways I’ve learned (based on my experience with personal musical discouragement) to help you get out of it.
Understand That Discouragement Happens To Every Musician
Seriously, did you think that I just made up that above list?
No way! I’ve personally experienced all of those things, and I know tons of other musicians who have as well!
This is not a rare occurrence! In fact, it’s one of those things that every single musician goes through.
Trent Reznor experienced it, Charlie Looker did, Maynard James Keenan did.
Everyone that you know who is famous or successful in music (and many people you don’t know) has been discouraged musically hundreds of times.
A lot of the time you don’t even realize that you feel discouraged! You just know that the idea of music doesn’t excite you in ways that it used to.
So the first step to recovering from that is to realize that:
- You will recover from that feeling, given some time, positive thought, and struggle on your part (there’s nothing wrong with struggling)
- This feeling does not invalidate you as a musician (or songwriter) whatsoever. It is normal, accept it.
After you’ve accepted that this is normal, lets try a few of the following things bring back your passion for music, and encourage yourself!
Experience The Live Performance Of A Band That Really Inspires You (At Their Concert, Or Their Live DVD)
I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve gone to a concert, and it deeply inspired me to become a better performer.
Just the feeling of inadequacy in certain cases (or the opposite feeling of “I’m just as good as that!”) is enough to make you work harder and get excited about playing music again.
There’s something about that magic in the air when you attend a live performance that is really special. It gets you much more excited than most albums can.
It’s a combination of being surrounded by like-minded people (who LOVE music), seeing some of your inspirational heroes in person, as well as the adrenaline that runs through you brain that just makes things pop again.
How often does adrenaline run through you with your current musical routine? Be honest!
If there are no nearby concerts, then just put on a live DVD. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blasted the Colors Live DVD through my surround sound at full volume to pump myself up.
You might find that this one thing will turn your discouragement around completely! It could be just what you needed to get excited again!
Just remember, go for the live concert, it’s the best way to get excited, and the best way to support bands that you love. If there are no concerts around, you can use the Live DVD as a backup!
Force Yourself To Listen To New Music (Use Your Network Of Friends!)
Have you ever considered, after 7 years of playing rock and roll, that maybe, just maybe your brain might be sick of all that damn rock?
As a musician, you should consistently be listening to new artists (or artists that are new to you) that will expand the way you think of music.
A lot of music that is new to you might be difficult to listen to at first, but if you can get recommendations on good music that is outside of what you would normally listen to, it can really help get you back into the groove-of-growth!
It helps to prevent monotony and keeps everything from turning gray!
Learn A Cover (Of Something New!)
Learning covers can really help you to expand yourself musically.
If you try to play in new styles that you aren’t used to, it forces you to learn previously-unknown techniques that you didn’t know about before, and just keeps your growth regular.
Remember, it’s the expansion of your skills and musical ability that prevents discouragement. Discouragement is created through the frustration of being stagnant, so you need to get rid of that stagnancy!
It’s important to remember that you need to pick a cover that is somewhat within your reach.
If you pick something that is way out of your league and above your skill level then you will probably feel even more discouraged then before!
And something too easy simply won’t inspire you.
Pick something that makes you say “Man, if I knew that, I would be pretty happy”, then go for it! Practice it every day until you get it perfect.
Sometimes you just need to make some noise!
Stop focusing on being coherent, and stop focusing on sounding “good”. Just grab an instrument or effect, and start playing it in ways you’ve never heard before.
Forget any sort of structure that you might want. The purpose of this is not to write a song. You are simply trying to expand your boundaries, and grow a pair of balls.
Seriously, so many artists are afraid of trying something new because of what people might think; like the kid in class who is afraid people will make fun of him if he is interested in Philosophy while all his classmates are still learning multiplication.
The truth is, people crave something different. Besides, people are going to make fun of you no matter what you do.
Playing it safe doesn’t make you exempt from being made fun of! If you write good music, bad musicians with bad taste will make fun of you. If you write bad music, people with good musical taste will make fun of you.
So stop worrying about it, accept that people will hate you (Many will love you as well!), and experiment with some bloody noises!
Some of the best music I’ve written started out with non-cohesive pieces of experimental garbage; they just kind of morphed into something amazing.
Trust that your mind will be able to pick out the parts of your experiment that are usable. And if you come away from your session with nothing new; don’t worry about it.
You expanded yourself, and that’s what’s important.
Notice My Subtext?
Did you notice that none of this had to do with writing new music?
When you are discouraged, you often write music you aren’t impressed with, making yourself even MORE discouraged.
Mind you, you’ll have to start writing some music at some point. But just take a break and allow your subconscious mind to build up some new idea’s for you to use the next time you decide to write music.
If you keep trying to write (Even though your creativity has run dry), you’ll just continue being discouraged.
Sometimes you just need to accept that it’s a phase, and allow yourself to be organically inspired by something that happens in your life.
My last tip is to put your heart into it!
Don’t expect to get any results if you aren’t genuinely trying each idea to it’s full capacity! The life of a successful musician is a difficult one, for this reason exactly; lack of engagement.
So prepare yourself for the challenge!
You might also like to check out my article How to Stay Motivated to Write a Solo.