In the classical music realm, there is a notion that composers at some point reach an age of maturity regarding their compositional abilities and style. It’s a bit of an odd term in the sense that it implies that the music they wrote up to that point might be “immature.” But there is a validity to the concept of being a “mature composer”, and it’s best not to overly scrutinize the use of the word.
It can take many years, perhaps a few decades, before a classical composer shows their best work. Most composers are considered to be writing at the top of their game somewhere in their 40s. But obviously that would depend on when they started and how much they’ve written.
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Of course, some composers will write their most influential music music later in life, so even if there is a tailing off of their musical output, we should not rush to the conclusion that a composer must necessarily fade into the background of their art. Beethoven wrote his “Große Fuge” string quartet near the end of his life, and it has since been viewed as one of his greatest compositions.
But what about songwriters? There are many who are still writing in their 70s and beyond. Are they able to write their greatest songs at that stage?
There does seem to be the notion that pop music (and all its related sub-genres) are about and for the young. To put it more succinctly, it might be a bit weird, misplaced, or even cringing to hear a 70-year-old singing about their love life. And love life and the social scene does seem to be a preoccupation with popular songwriters, no matter which era you look at.
But putting aside the question of what songwriters are (or should be) writing about, what about simple, basic creativity? As we less likely to write our best stuff when we enter midlife?
Aging and Creativity
Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, through an article for Scientific American magazine, addresses this question, and he makes the following points:
- “[Creative output] first increases in our mid-20s, climaxes around our late 30s or early 40s, and then undergoes a slow decline as we age.”
- “A person’s single best work tends to appear at roughly the same age as their output peaks.”
- “[One’s] expected creative productivity at 80 will still be about half of what it was at that high point.
You’ll notice that his summation of studies on creativity doesn’t address the aspect of quality. If you’re an aging songwriter, it doesn’t necessarily follow that your songwriting caliber must take a hit.
And just as with Beethoven, it is indeed possible to write your best music late in life.
Just as our bodies might take a bit of extra work to get them in shape when we’re in our 60s, say, than for those in their 20s, it might simply take a bit of extra attention to be sure that you’re writing and creating music of the same or better quality than when you were in your first decade as a songwriter.
Making Aging a Non-Issue
With that in mind, here are some tips that you might consider for staying resilient and productive as you age:
- Stay in constant touch with other songwriters, both young and old. This keeps ideas fresh, and your musical soul encouraged.
- Perform whenever and wherever you can. There’s nothing like feeling relevant!
- Challenge yourself to expand beyond your genre of choice. If you like country, try writing a folk song, or a string quartet, or a rock tune. Don’t get locked in to the point that you don’t feel creative anymore.
- Seek out new musical partnerships. As you age, you might find that collaborating with a younger songwriter will give you a fresh and new perspective on what you could be doing as a songwriter.
- Keep your performing chops strong. Take guitar, singing or piano lessons. The better you become as a performer, the more it will stimulate your creative powers and make you a better songwriter.
- Always perform a mix of old and new songs for your audiences. That’s your way of letting the world know that you’re still creating new music.
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