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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you will know that I write quite a bit about the rather opposite musical characteristics of predictability and innovation. And you will know that I happen to believe that some of the greatest music we hear in the popular music genres is, for the most part, based on predictable, traditional approaches to composition.
Innovative music, however – music that raises the eyebrows or startles us – plays a very important role in the songwriting world. That music is usually responsible for inspiring great songwriters and pushing them in new directions.
To be innovative means to be able to write something new. Of course, all music, unless it’s plagiarized, is new, so isn’t it true that all new music is innovative?
While the obvious answer to that question is yes, we’re talking about not just writing new music when we talk about innovation; we’re talking about writing music that goes in a new direction. A new song by a singer songwriter on the Billboard Hot 100 won’t necessarily raise our eyebrows. Indeed, the fact that it’s on the Billboard Hot 100 likely means it doesn’t, at least not too much.
But if you want to be truly innovative, you need to bolster your imagination, and stimulate your sense of creativity. So how do you do that? What can you do that will help you write songs that takes music in a new direction?
Here are four activities that apply directly to music that will help you become a more creative musician:
- Attend public concerts. You need to experience live music, music that hasn’t been “adjusted” by producers or recording engineers. The more you listen to live music, the more you learn, and the more you can apply to your own music.
- Listen to music from a different genre. If you do country folk, it’s time to start listening to classical, or jazz, or pop, or anything else for which the approach is radically different. Every time you encounter music from a genre that’s not your go-to style, your own palette of chords, melodic shapes, lyrical choices and instrumentation gets bigger. This one tip alone will begin to pull your music in a completely unique direction.
- Build songwriting partnerships. Don’t be afraid to partner up with someone else to write your songs. Their unique approach will always take your own music to a new level. That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to write music on your own, but collaborations are wonderful ways to create unique music.
- Switch instruments. If you always compose using a guitar, your music is going to get a detrimental “sameness” that becomes very predictable to listeners. So switch to an instrument you don’t often play (even if it’s one you aren’t very good with) to develop chords and melodies. You’ll surprise yourself with how different your music sounds when you write it on a different instrument.
In addition to those four suggestions, try the following non-songwriting activities as ways of allowing you to think creatively, ways that can eventually improve your sense of imagination and creativity with regard to songwriting:
- Visit art galleries regularly. See how visual artists and sculptors display their sense of creativity.
- Take art lessons. Learn how to express yourself in a new and exciting way.
- Take up carpentry. Carpentry requires you to bring together your creative mind with your ability to follow a set of instructions. Building something with your hands and tools is very rewarding, and you’ll discover why so many musicians love to do it.
- Watch modern dance. Like viewing art and sculpture, it’s a chance to see creativity in an entirely different format. Type “modern dance” into YouTube, and watch how dancers and choreographers translate the music they hear into physical movement.
Practically anything you do that involves making artistic decisions has the potential to improve your songwriting. All of those experiences get added to the well of knowledge within your creative mind. The deeper the well, the more unique your own creative endeavours become.
Be curious, be diligent, and constantly look for ways to open your mind and accept innovation.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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