Thoughts on Composition and Creativity

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Thoughts on Composition and Creativity by Rod DeGeorge

What makes you listen to an artist or CD over and over again? For me it is strong composition. When a piece of music can take you on a journey, spark a memory or make you feel a certain way, then the listening experience is more meaningful than just being impressed by someone’s technical ability. With that said, I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding composition and creativity.

The first thing I would like to address is developing the tools needed to play what you hear in your head. I suggest learning the basics of music theory, scales, keys, and how to build chords etc. There are many articles and books written on this, so I won’t go into too much detail here. I would like to say however, don’t think of theory as a set of rules that need to be followed. You can play anything you want; if it sounds cool, it is! I personally think of it as a way to identify the things that I hear. Being familiar with the theory behind the music helps me to know where to look, so I can express what I am hearing in my head.

Second, develop your ear. Become familiar with the sound of certain chords and scales. More importantly, take notice of how they feel, or how they make you feel. For example, a Major 7th chord, does it feel soothing? Pretty? A sus2 chord, does it sound “bright”, could it represent an awakening? Take the Phrygian Dominant scale, (5th degree of the Harmonic Minor, starting on E. E F G# A B C D), does it sound exotic, take you to a foreign land? Try to take some of your favorite songs or riffs and break them down to see what makes them sound or feel a certain way. What scale does that riff come from? Does it have a sixteenth note feel, triplet feel? What chords make that verse sound mysterious? Becoming familiar with these things will greatly improve your ability to convey your thoughts and feelings to others.

Now, there are probably some of you saying, “yeah, but I don’t hear anything in my head”. This is where the creativity part comes in. To be creative, you must be open. Our minds are full of constant chatter, inner dialog if you will, and with this going on, it is difficult to hear much else. I personally use meditation to try to quiet my mind. Whether you look at it as contacting your muse, subconscious or higher self, it is a way to open up to your own creativity. Don’t expect to go into a trance and wake up with a brilliant piece of music. Not too many of us are that lucky. However, the more you sit in total silence, the more you break down the barrier between your conscious mind and your creative state. You may meditate on something in the morning and the answer may come to you later that day when you are driving, doing the dishes etc.

An exercise that may help, and is fun to do, is to pretend your daily experiences are scenes in a movie and you are the composer scoring these scenes. For example, you see someone “strutting” down the street, can you come up with a riff or groove in your head that will fit what you are witnessing? Or a passing stranger looks at you in a certain way; do you feel calmness, excitement, danger? What chord would express what you feel at that moment? The more you do this, the more comfortable you get with expressing what you experience and feel, through music. If you aren’t really “feeling” it when you write it, you can’t expect it to connect with too many people.

When I have an idea for a song, I try to write as much of it as I can without my guitar in hand. This approach will allow you to create without the physical limitations or practiced routines. I will run the idea through my head whenever I get a chance. If nothing comes to me, I let it go and come back to it later. I try to be open and let the song write itself. Each part has to feel right to me, that’s not to say it will to others, but I feel I work best that way. However, I don’t discount “happy mistakes” with instrument in hand either. You have to be open to any and all possibilities.

There are so many amazing guitarists/musicians out there who are doing very impressive things on their instruments. But, if you listen to them once and say “Wow! They’ve got some chops”, but never really get the urge listen again, then you are not likely to follow their careers too closely. I think composition is what sets our favorite artists apart from all the others that we hear. When a song or melody touches you inside, or takes you to a different place, it will stick with you much longer than someone just flying around on their instrument.

Well, I hope this helps you to look at things in a different light. Stay open and keep moving forward.


Rod DeGeorge

"If you liked this article, you may shuck-n-drive to this one too! Inspiration and Composition

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