How To Improve Your Musical Creativity And Play The Music You Hear In Your Head
by Tom Hess
Do you know how to make your listeners feel exactly what you want them to feel with your guitar playing? Are you able to accurately and consistently express very specific musical emotions on your instrument and play any sound that you hear in your head?
Many guitar players struggle to express significant emotion with their music even though most have a strong desire to do this well. In rare cases when guitarists actually set aside time to practice becoming more creative, they often end up frustrated from not being able to improve this musical skill.
For most guitarists, the process of training their musical creativity primarily revolves around looking for tab and learning the guitar licks and solos of their favorite guitarists. As fun as it may be to learn your favorite music on guitar, practicing in this way will do very little to help you express yourself with your own music. Too much time spent on searching for new "notes to play" will distract you from developing two essential elements of musical creativity, which are:
An understanding of HOW your favorite guitarists create the music that you are learning to play. If you want to have the same ability to consistently express yourself with "your own" songs and guitar solos, you must learn the art of making the same highly expressive "musical choices" that your favorite guitarists make. This is completely different from "copying the song" or the style of music and instead focuses on developing the "ability" to consistently express powerful emotions in your own music according to your own musical goals. This skill is what will enable you to develop true musical creativity without sounding like a "clone" of your favorite guitar players. There is nothing wrong with practicing the licks and guitar solos of your favorite guitarists for fun, but understand that doing so only shows you the "result" of the creative processes that made the music possible. In order to express YOUR emotions in music, you must learn how musical emotions are created and controlled by making appropriate musical choices.
The ability to "explain and predict" emotion in music. When great musicians make certain musical choices in their music (as described above), they do this with a specific intention of making their audience "feel" a specific musical emotion. Unless you learn how to do the same, you will be restricting yourself to a lifetime of playing your favorite songs but being unable to create any truly expressive music yourself.
Most guitarists already have their mind made up one way or another about music theory. Some stay away from learning it, believing that music theory is only about "rules" that restrict one's musical creativity. Others consider music theory important for understanding "how music works" in order to have an easier time writing songs and communicating with other musicians. The fact is that neither of these arguments gives one a complete understanding of what music theory (and being a truly creative and self-expressive artist) is REALLY about.
“Music theory” is also a lot more than a mere set of “theoretical explanations about how intervals, chords and scales work”. The true purpose of music theory is only to explain and “predict” the emotions that will be felt when certain musical elements are used in a particular way. All of the tools of music theory exist only to serve this fundamental purpose.
Shifting your mindset from thinking about music theory as a set of theoretical explanations about “how music works” to seeing it for what it REALLY is (a way to explain WHY we feel what we feel when we hear music) will make it much easier for you to boost your musical creativity.
Here is just one possible example of how this can be achieved. When I train my students to improve their musical creativity, one of the things I have them do is to make lists of various emotions they want to express in a song or a guitar solo and then write down all of the musical tools (various music theory concepts) that can be used to achieve that emotion. Doing an exercise like this will greatly help you to see the link between music theory and its real world application, while at the same time developing the skills needed to produce any sound that you hear in your head. However, in order to see how that actually works, start by watching this free music theory for guitar lesson video.
Here are the most important objectives that learning music theory (and doing exercises such as the one above) will help you to accomplish:
You will begin to understand WHY you like the music that you like. This will enable you to re-create the same musical emotions and feelings in your own music without having to blindly copy the same notes/licks that your favorite guitarists play in their solos. This will make you a MUCH more creative musician overall.
Approaching the process of creating music with the mindset described above will enable you to express yourself with greater accuracy and consistency. Many musicians rely on "happy accidents" to create songs, however such an approach makes it much harder to consistently write great music. In contrast, if you know exactly what you want to express and have the musical tools for achieving that creative goal, then composing music becomes a much more productive (and enjoyable!) process.
Having a set of proven musical tools at your disposal will help you to "remember" musical ideas much more easily. When you can identify the music you composed not only by remembering the exact notes you played, but also by relating the musical concepts you have used to create the music, it will become much easier to recall (and complete) unfinished musical excerpts.
When you learn to associate musical emotions with specific musical elements that cause that emotion, it will become easy to predict and control the response that your music will create within your listeners (and within yourself).
If becoming more musically creative and expressing the emotions you want to convey is one of your musical goals, you should do the following steps to start moving towards that result in your guitar playing:
Watch this music theory for guitar video.
Understand that although music theory is the gateway into true musical creativity, studying music theory is only "one" of the steps you must take to maximize your ability to express yourself in music.
Realize that your current level of music theory mastery is measured NOT by the number of theoretical concepts you have memorized, but instead by your ability to use appropriate creative tools to express specific musical emotions. Challenge yourself to complete the exercise described earlier in this article that will test your ability to truly apply music theory to music. If you have trouble doing this exercise, it is a sign that either your general music theory knowledge is lacking OR (most common) you have not learned how to apply your musical knowledge to real world music. Invest your guitar practice time into learning how to integrate your musical skills on a deeper level and watch your musical creativity explode!
Above all, I want you to think deeply about the true definition of music theory that I have explained in this article and consider how you can use this new understanding to improve your ability to express musical emotions. Approaching the process of creating music with these insights in mind will help you to move beyond being a "guitar player" into becoming a truly expressive musician!
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