The best songwriters are the ones who are the most curious. Curiosity makes you wonder. When you hear something amazing or unusual, curiosity is that drive inside your musical mind that makes you ask, “How in the world did they do that??”
By being curious, you develop the ability to take other musicians’ ideas and modify them to make them your own. Nothing happens in a vacuum in songwriting; everything comes from somewhere. You just have to be curious enough to explore.
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Just to be clear: musical curiosity isn’t the same as musical envy. You may feel jealous of another songwriter’s successes, and wish you could have those same successes. That can be an important part of becoming a professional musician, but by musical curiosity, I’m talking about the fact that you might hear something unique, and want to know — desperately — how that’s done.
Do you ever worry that you’re not as musically curious as you should be? What can you do to open up your mind and make yourself more curious?
A Thought Experiment
Let’s try a thought experiment: imagine that you’re a music teacher, brought in to talk to kids about music. And let’s say that the first thing you notice is that they look bored, and you haven’t even said a word yet.
What do your instincts tell you is the best thing to do to get those kids curious?
I think your instincts would tell you to find and play the most interesting, unique music you’ve known in your life. So you’ll think about the music that’s made you excited, music that’s inspired you and helped to develop your musicianship over the years.
You’ll probably try to find music from diverse styles and genres. You might play something from classic rock (“Stairway to Heaven” perhaps), and switch to something from the classical genre — the opening bars of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (known better to most as the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Then maybe some Dylan, some Beatles, some Beethoven… anything to keep their heads spinning in the best way possible.
What you’d be doing is showing those kids how exciting and varied the world of music is. How much great music is out there, from literally hundreds of genres and subgenres.
And you’d be doing the right thing.
Learning From Your Thought Experiment
Now put yourself in the place of those kids. Are you musically bored? Is it hard to develop that necessary kind of songwriter’s excitement?
The cause may be that you’re stuck in one genre of music — your own chosen genre — and you’re not being challenged by the sounds and styles of other less-known genres.
And the answer should be obvious, just as it was obvious in your thought experiment: find music from diverse styles and genres, and listen daily.
If you listen with an open mind — not dismissing sounds or ideas simply because they aren’t familiar to you — your songwriting will benefit greatly. You’ll start to look for ways to incorporate those interesting new sounds into your own music.
By doing so, your songs become a unique blend of genres that make them stand a bit apart from all other songs out there. And that uniqueness is always going to be a good thing.
If you aren’t listening outside your genre every day, I can guarantee that you haven’t yet explored the full potential of your creative songwriter’s mind. Daily listening will always push you in new and exciting directions. It will feed your curiosity and propel you to your fullest potential.
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