Where do musical ideas come from? I like to think of ideas as coming from a well, or a pool, within our imagination, and every time we write, we dip into that pool to find our ideas.
But if that metaphor works, we still need to ask: where does the water in that pool come from?
The most likely source for musical ideas — the “water in the pool” — is the music that has surrounded us our entire lives. From the time we’re born, music is around us. At first, it’s music that our parents and siblings listen to, along with the music we hear in our daily lives: background music for television shows, music on the radio, and so on.
Eventually you develop your own tastes, likes and dislikes, and the pool keeps deepening. Every time we hear something, we are, in a sense, adding to that pool of music that we then draw on when we create our own music.
You can take that analogy quite far, and it still works: if you don’t feel that your songs are creative or unique enough, the pool of ideas is likely too shallow.
So the obvious solution to that is to put more water in the pool by broadening our listening habits. Listen to more genres, more songwriters, more good bands, more good singers. And you’ll be deepening the pool and adding water with every experience.
But there’s even more you can be doing:
- Branch out into different art forms. Listening to music is only one way to expand your musical imagination. If you then turn your attention to other forms of creative art, such as dancing, painting, poetry, sculpture, and so on, your musical mind can and will take those experiences as metaphors for what you might do musically. It really does work.
- Do carpentry or other forms of craft work. Designing simple furniture (bookshelves, tables, lamps, etc.) gives you an opportunity to add your own artistic flair in a way that’s almost completely different from songwriting, but still requiring your imagination and the need to make artistic decisions. The pool deepens!
- Help other songwriters. Sometimes the best way to improve your skills and deepen the pool of ideas is to help other up and coming songwriters. You get to help others solve problems, and in so doing, you may actually wind up helping yourself. You hear possibilities as revealed in someone else’s songs, and your imagination gets to work.
- Produce someone else’s album. When you produce, you get to craft someone else’s musical efforts. It allows you to be objective in the sense that it isn’t your own song that you’re working on.
Creativity is your ability to put musical ideas together in a way that makes a good song. But if the pool of ideas is limited in the first place, you may find that the problem isn’t your level of creativity — it’s the pool of ideas — your imagination — that actually needs the help.
That pool isn’t a set quantity; you can increase it if you take the time to broaden your interests and move beyond your own personal musical experiences. Involve yourself in as many creative endeavours as you possibly can.
And the great thing is that artistic experiences from outside the music world will in fact create musical equivalents that you can then tap into as you write new music.
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