I think it is pretty daunting for people to wake up and think that they can just create music one fine day. I know the music bug keeps biting people all the time – professionals who are caught up in their jobs and who want to get into the music scene in some way – performing mostly but also producing songs. But the lizard brain keeps saying – You’re not good enough, you’re not creative enough. But they forget that the principles of creativity and music improvisation can be understood, learned, and applied. Some people think you’re either born creative or you’re not, and that you can’t really develop creativity. I firmly believe otherwise: if you want to develop creativity and you learn the creative process, you can definitely be more creative. The issue isn’t whether you’ll become a creative genius, but how well you’ll develop your own creative gift
The Creative Process
Creativity is the art of organizing things or ideas in a useful or unusual way. You can use the creative process to do the following things, for example:
• Make one or more objects from available materials, such as a musical phrase from individual notes.
• Enhance or improve an object or situation, such as doing an extra take on a recorded solo.
• Solve a problem, such as finding notes to play with a given chord.
Notice that these tasks involve making something out of something. It’s not a question of pulling a creation out of “thin air;” it’s a question of organizing and combining existing materials to create what you want.
Steps in the Creative Process
Whether you build something practical, artistic, or both, you can follow these steps in the creative process which is something that I always follow:
1) Visualize what you want to create.
2) Plan and design your creation.
3) Understand what your building materials and tools are and how to use them.
4) Solve problems that arise in the planning, designing, and building steps.
5) Analyze what you create to find improvements.
Depending on the art form or project, you may execute these steps slowly or quickly, but you must use them in the above order to get the best results.
Five Barriers to Creativity
See some good picture – in nature; if possible; or on canvas hear some of the best music; or read a great poem every day. You will always find a free half hour for one or the other; and at the end of the year your mind will shine with such an accumulation of jewels as will astonish even yourself. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Sometimes we stifle our creativity by limiting the way we think. Too often, aspiring musicians want to create something unique – a song that follows patterns and ideas that no one has heard before. But that is impossible!
Below are five common barriers to creativity that may be hampering your progress:
1) “There’s just one way to solve a problem.”
2) “I need a new and unique solution, not one that’s borrowed or adapted.”
3) “I don’t really understand the tools and materials.”
4) “I just build, without planning or visualizing.”
5) “My fears or ego interfere with creativity.”
Below are some ways to overcome these five barriers:
Barrier 1: Only One Way to Solve a Problem
When we try to solve a problem, sometimes our solution clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, we should ask ourselves:
• Are we trying to solving the right problem? We often try to solve the first problem we see or the easiest first.
• Are we solving this problem in the right order compared with other problems? Often the right solution out of sequence is just bad as the wrong solution.
• Are we using the correct production tools and softwares? If not, the solution may take much longer, or it may not be smooth or effective. You might use another tool in an unusual way to solve a problem.
Barrier 2: Our Creation Must Be All “New”
We often think our creation must be totally new. Granted, we shouldn’t violate copyrights or patents, but our work can have small pieces or qualities that have been used many times in many other works. For example, artists use and reuse the same colors and media; musicians use and reuse the same 12 notes of the chromatic scale. So, much of the creative essence lies in how elements are combined, not in finding completely “new” elements. In each art form there are countless ways to combine elements and materials. Some combinations make no sense, some are very obvious, and some fit somewhere in between, with a wide range of meanings and beauty. Our task is to find the “beautiful” combinations to build our creation.
Barrier 3: We Don’t Know Materials / Tools
If we don’t know how to use our materials or tools, we can’t be creative in our chosen art form. (We can still appreciate how someone else uses materials and tools. I appreciate fine sculpture, but I cant sculpt for example.) But only using tools and materials doesn’t make us creative. It opens possibilities and removes barriers, but we’re still responsible to use tools and materials wisely, with imagination. Our knowledge unlocks creativity; our wisdom unleashes it. In every art form, some artists have limited technical skills, while others have great technical mastery.
Lets classify the kind of art works that are produced:
• Not technically sound and not creative. This is the weakest kind of art.
• Technically sound but not creative. This kind of art is usually produced with much attention to detail but not enough attention to vision. The artist needs to see and try other combinations and possibilities, perhaps outside the traditional boundaries.
• Creative but not technically sound. This is typical of artists who see possibilities but haven’t mastered materials and tools yet. I would rather be in this situation than in the “technically sound but not creative” one.
• Creative and technically sound. This is what we strive for, remembering that technique serves creativity, not the other way around. As artists, we strive to reach the level where we produce creative and technically sound art.
Barrier 4: We Don’t Plan or Visualize
Some think creativity is blocking out all conscious thinking and “letting it fly.” On the contrary, logical thinking is an important part in creativity. The trick is to get your brain’s logical (left) side and creative (right) side to cooperate in the creative process. When the right side says “What if we try this?” the left side can say “Here’s some stuff to help you do that …”
Before you start creating, it’s important to:
• Get a basic idea of what you are creating.
• Know your audience’s expectations and your own.
• Know space/time limitations on your creation.
The amount of planning may depend on how complex the creation is and what the art form is. Usually, static art forms such as painting and sculpture need more specific planning, where you visualize details before you begin. A real-time art form such as a song or impromptu speaking requires more general planning. This means you collect details about what you can do, but you make most creative decisions as you are create.
Barrier 5: We Let Fear and Ego Defeat Us
We often fear these things when we try to create:
• New or unexplored territory. Remember: new areas bring new adventure. If you’re prepared, new is good; if you’re not, new can be intimidating.
• Thoughts of failure. Small mistakes don’t cancel out the rest of our creation. Most finished works still have small imperfections; many have even suffered through corrections of major mistakes. If we err, it should be in technique, not in the ideas we convey.
• Criticism from our audience. What will the audience think? Actually, you must be solidly in touch with art, without an audience; then be ready for positive or negative feedback. Some of what they say may be wrong; some may be true but harsh; and some may be true and helpful. Screen and use audience feedback to improve your creations. Our own egos can also block creativity. Competing for attention can focus on the compelling need for ‘trying to make it’ by conforming to what is already out there instead of listening to your own inner voice and creating art that could only have come out of you and no one else. Or we can get into safe ruts, where we feel accepted and competent but where there’s no room for growth. Where art is a team effort, as in a musical group, the ego of one artist can cancel out contributions of others. To me, the truly great artist is the one who also realizes how much more could be done, then improves the creation next time.
Improvisation is the art of creating something quickly, with limited time to plan and with limited materials. To improvise, you need to make quick decisions and see relationships quickly, while you’re creating.
Can Improvisation Be Pre-Determined?
By definition, improvisation is not pre-determined. For example, if you plan out all the notes of a solo and then play them, it’s a composition, not an improvisation. (In some cases that may be OK, such as for very short solos or recordings where a specific result is needed.) Here’s what you should study and plan ahead of time:
• The elements of the song to improvise to (chords, scales, rhythmic style, etc.)
• The basic mood and feeling of the song.
Remember all art forms are interconnected in their approach. The more you understand this the better your music will be. Learn to see music as a painting made up of lines, shapes, colours, light, shade, textures and similarly if you are a painter you could learn to see your paintings as a piece of music composition.
Painting and Music
Programming Music is much like drawing with sound with all the comforts of erasing, touch-ups, or corrections that a pencil and eraser can afford to give you!
1) Organize lines, shapes, colors in a space (paper or canvas).
2) Balance and contrast filled and empty spaces.
3) Use foreground and background objects.
4) Balance unity and variety.
5) Contrast dark and light, thick and thin textures.
6) Use artistic tools and skills wisely.
7) Combine acute vision and imagination.
1) Arrange sounds (melodies and rhythms) in the space of time.
2) Balance sound and silence.
3) Solo in the foreground, accompany in the background.
4) Develop with repetition and contrast.
5) Contrast high / loud / fast with low / soft / slow, use group or individual solos.
6) Use musical tools and skills wisely.
7) Combine acute musical hearing and imagination.