Musical Creativity Exercise #1: Encapsulate Yourself With Imagery

There are certain limitations that you can impose on yourself to get the best music out of that brilliant mind of yours - I like to call these limitations “creativity exercises”. 

This is the first post in an ongoing series of creativity exercises that I'm doing to help you write more inspired music.

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One of the best ways you can inspire yourself is by creating an environment that is conducive to creativity. We may not want to admit that our visual atmosphere has a big impact on us, but it does. This first exercise involves creating a visual focal point that brings out the best in yourself.

Here's the exercise: find an image that grabs you, and then focus on it while you noodle around on your instrument. It sounds silly at first, but as I develop the idea you’ll start to realize how powerful it is in making you more creative.

By focusing on something visual, your mind is able to make new connections to the music that weren't previously available to you. Focusing on arbitrary notes and rhythms is dumb! With this exercise, you can let yourself go and focus on feelings and emotions instead.

Your focus could be on anything that evokes emotion in you. Some examples of visual atmospheres are:

  • a painting
  • an image on a TV or a projector (turn the lights off for this one)
  • an image you printed off
  • colorful lighting in a dark room
  • get a fog machine and fill the room you’re in with eerie fog. Add in optional lights for a bigger effect.
  • playing in pitch black
  • look out at the sky, day or night, and focus on it. Better yet: move your instruments outside and write there instead.
  • what other ideas can you come up with? List at least 1 new idea to add to this list.

By taking the time to set up your workspace, you've given your mind the message that it’s going to be creating something inspired - and it will.

Use A Projector To Display A Visual

My first experience with this creative exercise was while testing out a projector for a live performance. I was playing music with the band, and we just needed to make sure that the projector worked.

Once we had the visuals worked out, we didn't need the projector anymore. But then we had an idea: what if we did our whole band practice with the same visuals we’re using during the show?

The visuals we had weren't particularly special (coming out of an Xbox 360 music visualizer), but we found a certain setting that was full of disconcerting red & purples colors. It was quite a stunning visualizer to look at; it reminded us of videos “inside the human body”.

Such an emotionally disturbing visualization was the perfect choice to write music to - it evoked emotion and distracted us from our own inhibitions.

And the music we wrote ended up being great - one of the best chord progressions I’ve written to date. It wasn’t a disturbing song either, even though the visualizations were rather disconcerting. So don’t fret about whether the image you’re using contains the emotions you want to convey (though I’m sure it won't hurt).

Today's action steps:

  • choose a visual element that sounds fun to you, and try it out!
  • spend 20-30 minutes noodling around on your instrument or voice while being fully immersed in your new, surreal environment.

Share your results in the comments section below. Did it help your write anything special? 

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About The Writer

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

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.