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Transcribe the Music in Your Head

POSTED ON September 02, 2016   |   2 Comments

Your next creative breakthrough may be all in your head.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Ivan

When I attended the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in 2011, guitarist Anthony Wilson led a brilliant workshop called Composition: Uncovering and Revealing the Already Complete Idea.

He asked us to sit in silence, listen deeply, and discover a melody in our inner hearing. We all silently captured our inner melody with notation to the best of our abilities. Next, we performed our compositions for one another. Listening to the music we composed on the spot was a beautiful experience, demonstrating the power of intuition and inner hearing.

Our inner hearing (also known as “audiation”) is imagined music. Have an earworm stuck in your head? This is your inner hearing in overdrive.

In private lessons, when students struggle to play a coherent jazz solo, I ask them to sing solos with a recording. With few exceptions, they sound more fluid and naturaleven musicians without any experience singing. Many of these students walk in the door looking for they hip licks, patterns, and chord substitutions. In reality, developing a deeper connection with their inner hearing leads to their next breakthroughs.

Inner hearing is broader than just hearing melodies. The practice allows us to imagine the instrumentation, texture, form, and emotional impact of larger works. Skilled composers and improvisors have the experience, skills, and guts to transform an imagined music into an artistic reality.

New Book

This fall, I’m publishing a new book: Creativity Triggers for Musicians. The practices and strategies will help you unlock and unblock your innate creativity. Reserve a free digital copy here.

– ST


  • Andrew Wiggins

    Thanks Steve! This is the first place I’ve seen the audiation process mentioned before! Awhile back, in the midst of a series of moves I gave away our piano and shipped my bass away — in the absence of an instrument I randomly started singing eventually taking a few voice lessons.
    The first thing that struck me when singing is that at first I sang like I was playing a piano rather than naturally (probably not as much of a problem on sax). After unlearning this
    habit, when I returned to an instrument my playing was instantly more natural. I also noticed that I had all sorts of composition ideas. Currently, I am trying to force myself to develop whole ideas from conceptualization first rather than at the instrument where muscle memory leads me down familiar roads.

    In summary, starting with an internal “sung” conceptualization makes a huge difference for me.The process is helpful not just for composition but also for classical interpretation, memorization and working through problems away from the instrument. For instance, I’ve found I can work out music problems while on a long and boring bike ride.Ok, back to mumbling (er singing) to myself… I look forward to checking the new book.

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