Spurring Musical Creativity for Composing

You can't overestimate the value of a good musical imagination. It's the single most powerful source for composing music — if you can tap into it. The imagination is so powerful, in fact, that it was long ago personified as the Muse.

Because it's inside your head, though, your imagination is also the hardest source to put your finger on. Its timing is sometimes off, for one thing. The Muse can feed you melodies when you least expect them and are least prepared to do anything about them.

But you can do a few things to help your Muse produce new music. Here are some tips for encouraging your Muse:

  • The Muse needs space to work in. Turn off the TV, log off the Internet, turn off your cell phone, and tell your family that you are indisposed for the next hour or two.
  • The Muse likes to be nourished. Every day, expose yourself to a variety of musical influences — not just the few favorites you keep cycling through. For your Muse to get real exposure to different music, listen with full attention.
  • The Muse likes quiet. Music as a background often silences or distracts the Muse. It's hard to focus on what you're hearing in the mind's ear when you're hearing things in your physical ear.
  • The Muse needs you to follow where she leads. The Muse can't do it all; you have to do your part. Once the Muse gives you something, run with it. Work it, play with it — above all, write it down! No matter how impressive your melody seems at the moment, it will slip out of your head just as magically as it slipped in.
  • Your Muse needs you to remember what she says. Keep a pencil and paper or a simple recording device next to your bed. The first few seconds after you wake up provide the best opportunity to clearly recall your dreams. Discipline yourself to write them down, even if there is no music in them. And when you do wake up with a strangely unfamiliar and uncharacteristic Beatles song in your head, get it down on paper or tape. It's possible that it wasn't a Beatles song at all, but your Muse playing hide-and-seek with you. (Of course, make sure it wasn't an actual Beatles song before you try to publish it!)
  • The Muse works for you. If you sit at your keyboard, piano, guitar, computer, or pad and paper long enough in a patient, receptive state, your Muse will show up more often than not. The Muse lives in your subconscious, waiting for only one thing: your impassioned receptivity. Once you figure out how to turn that on, you will be on another level entirely as a composer. If you defend a routine time and place to work quietly, your Muse will become trained to know when and where to make an appearance.
  • The Muse is fickle. Of course, even if you do all of this, it won't always work.
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