I remember the first time I ever “created” a song. Actually, it wasn’t entirely my own creation, but rather new ideas based on an established pattern. My experiments with it were very exciting to me at the time. And they have helped me in my music ever since. More on that later…
Whether you are a song writer, a symphony composer, or just like to fiddle around on your instrument, I hope, in this blog, to give you some ideas to keep you being creative. Creativity doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes from all the combinations of experiences you have had up to the moment of whatever you create.
I remember when my daughter, Esther, came home from high school with the job of creating a piece of music. There were very few parameters given as to what to create, and it didn’t seem to matter that the students had no experience in it. When the field is as wide open as that, it will be either daunting or exciting, depending on the individual tasked with it. The downside with that approach is the possibility of having someone who does not play the piano creating a piece that requires unplayable music for the piano, such as too wide a hand span for chords. But, on the upside, some really creative things can happen. Esther created a lovely song with a haunting melody. It flowed quite naturally and part of that was probably because she loves to sing and has often experimented with melody ideas.
Having clear parameters around what you are going to create can be really helpful. I’m thinking of the time I was creating a piano melody for my course on teaching your own child the piano. I wanted to only use particular notes in a particular position and I was really pleasantly surprised that the restrictions helped me create something I was really happy with. Then Robin (my husband) created lyrics that were the icing on the cake.
An example, on a bigger scale, of clear parameters guiding creativity was when our family lived in the southern Philippines. I was teaching music at an international Christian school our children attended and, as part of that, Robin and I created 6 full school musicals over the period of a few years. I haven’t done anything like that since, but for that period of time writing musicals for the particular children I was teaching music to was easier in my mind than finding something to order. (Email and the internet were relatively new then, so an order would take ages to arrive and then you couldn’t be sure if it would be what you wanted.)
These days I enjoy creating new pieces for my pupils and that’s how Headstart Piano really started out. I might be going over a teaching point with a pupil and they get interested in something in particular. If I think it is helpful, I’ll create something that might help reinforce it. Actually, it really is the easier option than looking for something that will work if I can’t think of something already out there off the top of my head.
But how about you or your child? Quite often when I am interviewing a parent about their child starting lessons they will say that he or she enjoys tinkering at the piano and is always creating things. In the back of my mind I’m thinking of the fact that they will have far more to play with once they have some lessons, because the more actual skills they develop, the bigger the ‘vocabulary’ of ideas they will have to draw on.
Sometimes no pressing need, or helpful parameters are required to spur an occasion for creativity. You are in the flow and it just happens. Those times are special and they come out of all of life’s experiences too. When we were going into our most recent lockdown I felt a bit sick in my stomach, sad and pensive about it I suppose. I wanted to create something peaceful and uplifting, but didn’t know how to say it. So I sat at the keyboard and recorded this. It’s nothing grand or perfect, but it seemed to fit the moment.
Ideas to help creativity
Listen to a range of music
If I’m in a composing rut, the best thing I can do is listen to a range of music. I might get the germ of an idea from something I have heard to get me started.
Create from what you know, not what you don’t know
If you work with what you are able to do, you may be surprised, as I have been, at how much fun that is. Fiddling with something that is beyond you may be challenging, but it can also be frustrating.
Use an idea you have heard and rework it
It may be a simple chord progression from a song you like that you put a different melody to, or maybe it’s a cool rhythm. Start at your instrument with a basic idea you like and based on the ability level you are at. Play around with it, change the melody and chords around or play the rhythm with a variety of notes to see what works. Let me know if you want more ideas on this kind of reworking.
Keep a track of your ideas
You will forget if you don’t notate or record your ideas in some way. These days it is so easy to press record on a phone, so there is no excuse for not having a record of it. I have a recording function on my studio piano which is super helpful when I have an idea I want to come back to.
Share it with someone you trust
One of the worst things that can happen in the creative process is telling someone who is unenthusiastic about it. Nothing kills the creative process more than having someone say it reminds them of a favourite Beetles song or something else. But creatives have to choose their moments too. Sharing your masterpiece with someone clearly too busy is likely to set you up for that rejection feeling. For parents, it is a reminder to us that our children don’t always choose the right moment to proudly share their creations. We have to be ready to make an effort to honestly encourage when it happens.
Incidentally, when writing that first “song “, I experimented with the chords of “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music. I created a completely different melody with the harmony from that song – just because I liked the chords. It was an exciting exploration as an 11 year old and a true love of creating music for me dates back to that time. I couldn’t have imagined then that composing music would become one of my favourite things!