Download a free digital copy of my new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians.
Creativity isn’t a mysterious or magical gift. It’s a practice.
Creativity Triggers for Musicians will help you express your unused creativity, break through barriers, and create an abundance of original music.
– Eight creative practices that underpin idea generation in any creative discipline.
– Creativity Triggers: frameworks for improvisation that draw from creative practices. These are similar to improv theater games and creative writing prompts.
This is a preview of new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Reserve a free digital copy.
Practicing can be a game, the goal is a deeper knowing of musical sound. One strategy is to draw the greatest variety of music from the smallest amount of material . . . [These] games are the kind master and beginner can play with skill.
– W. A. Mathieu, The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music
This chapter introduces Creativity Triggers, frameworks for improvisation that draw from the eight creative practices in Chapter One. Creativity Triggers are similar to creative writing prompts and improv theater games—these exercises help us narrow our focus and generate new ideas through experimentation and play.
When my wife and I were planning our wedding, our minister could sense we didn’t have a clear vision for our ceremony. She offered us her “Chinese Takeout Menu of Wedding Ceremonies,” which listed options for openings, readings, vows, and closings. This menu was a huge relief and helped us put together a personal and meaningful ceremony.
The Creative Limitation Menus list limitations for structuring improvised pieces. The challenge is to create interesting music within a narrow set of musical restrictions. Unlike a restaurant menu, you are free to change menu items and add your own.
In Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch suggests, “two rules are more than enough. If we have a rule concerning harmony and another concerning rhythms, if we have a rule concerning mood and another concerning the use of silence, we don’t need any more. The unconscious has infinite repertoires of structure already; all it needs is a little external structure on which to crystallize.”
The magic comes from experimenting with the musical elements that aren’t restricted. For instance, if your two limitations are “choose two pitches” and “slow pulse,” you can drastically alter the dynamics, rhythmic values, articulation, and tone color.
Three Movement Piece
Choose three sets of limitations to structure a three movement improvisation.
Think of a person, place, emotion, object, or story to serve as the theme for an improvised piece. Choose limitations that will effectively express your theme.
Choose limitations randomly.
Improvise with a drum groove from the Drumgenius mobile app. The app features 400 jazz, rock, and Latin American drum loops.
When creative writers “free write,” they write continuously without editing, judging, or censoring. Similarly, we can “free play” music. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes and play continuously. Record your free play because you may find material to develop in future improvisations or compositions
Experiment with mood, rhythm, and/or tone color limitations to play extreme interpretations of a notated piece.
Much more in Chapter Two of Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Reserve a free digital copy.
Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
– Sister Corita Kent and John Cage, “Ten Rules for Teachers and Students”
This is challenging practice because as artists, we are constantly assessing and judging our work.
Your next creative breakthrough may be all in your head.
It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quality and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.
Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Courtesy of Flickr/Gwenn Seemel
I had an exhilarating and inspiring weekend with thirteen musicians for the maiden voyage of the Game Symphony Workshop!
The event brought together a diverse group of musicians, including professional orchestral players, band directors, university students, and amateur musicians. The two day workshop at Seattle Pacific University culminated with the premiere of sixteen original pieces. The performance featured an improvised film score, abstract soundscapes, meditative minimalism, musical settings for poetry, solo improvisations, and Soundpainting, a sign language for live composition.
Collaborative graphic scores are extraordinary vehicles for teaching composition in the classroom.
I’d like to share one of my favorite exercises for generating new music. This organic process allows you to draw from your own imagination. If you have never composed your own music before, this is a great way to start.
“I believe creativity comes from limits, not freedom.”
This is not a quote about music. It’s how Jon Stewart describes preparing for the The Daily Show with his team of writers (from an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air).
Stravinsky employed a similar process:
My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.
– Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons
Writer’s block plagues creative artists from all disciplines. If you feel overwhelmed when you confront a blank page, a simple change in mindset can help you bust through this barrier.