Creativity Exercise #3: Play A Different/New Instrument

A great way to expand the rhythms and notes you write is to use a new instrument entirely.

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By using a different instrument, preferably one that you’re less familiar with, you’re inherently encouraged to go outside of your typical “muscle memory” and instead start playing more with your mind.

For Acoustic/Analogue Instruments

When I say “acoustic” what I really mean here is “not MIDI instruments”. If you’re in a situation where you’re playing with a MIDI keyboard hooked up to a DAW, I’ll address your situation in the next section.

By switching from a real instrument like Guitar to Bass, or to Keyboard or Violin, you’ll get the exact effect that I described above: your hands won’t be used to the instrument, and you’ll have to do more listening for rhythm and pitch.

This also encourages you to go outside of your comfort zone, which could drastically change your playing style if you keep shaking things up over the next few months.

This newness to the instrument breaks you down to a time where “you didn’t really know what you were doing” - oh what a special time to be in, as a new musician who is just trying her best to create something unique, being completely unsure of herself.

Uncertainty, discomfort, instability - these are all great things to feel when creating! And you’ll probably experience each one of them as you try a new unfamiliar instrument.

Don’t feel bad about it though, because you’re participating in the glorious and unnoticed struggle of the artist. You should feel proud to be uncertain - it means you’re doing something new. And at the end of the day, you’ll probably start to feel a whole lot more certain as you write down the new sections that you’ve created.

So when you wake up tomorrow, certain that you can write something good (because yesterday you certainly did!), be sure to knock yourself down a peg. For your music!

For MIDI Instruments

If you’re used to being on the computer often like me, you’re probably quite familiar with the idea of scrolling through dozens/hundreds of different MIDI instruments to find the right sound.

My challenge to you is to find a sound that’s the WRONG sound, and write something with it.

The key here is that you don’t have to keep the sound in the end; you can easily replace it with something more pleasing to the ear. But for now, find a sound that you don’t really like, and try to write something that you do like.

You should also try taking instruments that you like (or don’t) and add in different effects. A delay effect can dramatically change the type of song you write, especially if you use a rhythmic delay that does more than just echo the instrument you’re playing; it turns it into a new rhythm entirely.

Using effects like delay, heavy reverb, distortion, or tremolo can make a big difference in what you decide to write using your MIDI instruments. You can use “the effect technique” with regular non-MIDI instruments as well.

Pick 1 single combination (maybe say, a sound you DON’T like, combined with tremolo) and start writing with it.

Remember, you can always change the sound later, but for now, record the rhythms and notes you come up with in your DAW so you can change the instrument later (using these new notes you just wrote!).

Another great effect you can use is the arpeggiator. If you’re using Logic Pro or Reason, you’ll find there is a built-in arpeggiator there already. If your DAW doesn’t have one, you can always try the Kirnu VST arpeggiator plugin. Once you’re arp is setup, experiment with the rhythms, speed, octaves, shuffle, and any other options that your arpeggiator lends to you.

This is your opportunity to be creative with your instrument.

With all of the effects and instrument suggestions above, just keep mixing and matching them. Every time you come up with a new combination, spend 5 minutes playing around with the notes to see if you write anything good. If you can’t write anything that makes you want to keep going, try a different combo.

Action Steps

Here’s what you can do to get creative and put into action this “challenging of musical paradigms”:

  • pick either a new instrument, or a new MIDI instrument
  • play around for 5 minutes, see if you can get yourself excited about something new
  • if nothing comes around, choose another instrument, effect, or arpeggiator.
  • play around for 5 minutes
  • rinse and repeat

How’d you do? I also love to hear about these experiments from fellow musicians, so let me know here, or comment below with a description of what you did and a link to the audio (maybe on Soundcloud or Bandcamp)

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My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

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