Do you struggle with becoming a more creative and self expressive
musician? Many guitarists run into this problem as they begin to feel
more comfortable with the physical aspects of their guitar playing. A
lot of musicians can't seem to write songs or create their own guitar
solos at the same level as they can "play" their guitar. Their music
sounds stiff, uninspired or not very creative and expressive. If this
describes you, then this article will help you to identify the causes of
why this problem exists in your guitar playing and will show you the
steps you need to take to overcome it.
That question of how one can become a more creative guitar player is a
very typical one that I (and probably most guitar teachers) am very
often asked. Before I go into detail to answer it I need to say that
in order to completely overcome such a problem will require one to
work at it for a long time. And I strongly suggest working with an
excellent teacher to help you through this. He/she will save you a lot
of time, effort, aggravation, etc. (Refer to my previous article on How To Choose A Guitar Teacher".)
Most players have, at some time in their musical development, felt
uncreative, uninspired or otherwise not very expressive musically.
Fortunately, there are several things that can help one get over this.
The first (and the most critical) thing to realize is that the problem
lies in lack of creativity as a "musician" rather than as a "human
being". We are all creative and expressive as people (that's a big
part of what makes us human). When it comes to your ability to express
your innate creativity through your guitar, the problem lies in lack of
mastery over several fundamental musical skills. Typically the issue is
caused by a combination of factors such as those in the following
Music Theory Problems
- Not knowing your fretboard well enough so that you don't need to
think about where the notes are as you are playing, improvising and
- Not having memorized all the notes in the key(s) you're working with.
- Not knowing what notes are in what chords.
- Not knowing what notes are consonant and what notes are
dissonant in any given situation (and more importantly, how to control
dissonance in music theory!)
Aural Skills (Ear training) Problems
Not listening closely enough to recognize consonance and dissonance.
Not knowing how to use and control dissonance aurally.
Not knowing what notes and chords are going to sound like before you play them!
Not being able to aurally (by ear) understand the emotional function of each individual pitch in a scale and a chord.
Guitar Technique Problems
Not having enough physical technique developed on your
instrument to do the types of things that will allow you to be
creative. If you are severely restricted musically by what your hands
are able to do (or rather, what your hands are not able to do), it
will be physically hard (or impossible) to do certain creative things.
Not knowing how or when to control your technique.
Thinking too much about what your hands can do instead of what you want them to be able to do in order to execute your creative possibilities.
If you have any of the above problems, work on fixing them because
those things, although not really elements of creativity itself, are
the basic skills that one must possess to be creative/expressive on an
instrument. The human mind is amazing and can do several simultaneous
operations, but the more things you ask your mind to do at the same
time, the more difficult it becomes to do any of them well. To really
be creative and musically expressive, you need as much of your
conscious brain energy as possible to be concentrating on being
creative/expressive. If you don't really understand what notes you can
use in a given situation to produce desirable results, and at the
same time your mind has no idea what the notes are going to sound like
before you play them, and at the same time, you are struggling with the
limitations of what you can physically play, and at the same time,
you don't know how to control dissonance, etc., how much conscious
brain power do you actually have left to think about improvising an
expressive guitar solo, create an original melody, or to write a song
with new ideas? I would bet that the majority of those of you reading
this have this problem to some extent. I suggest to make it a priority
to get these basic skills under your belt as soon as you can.
Once you have (or if you have) a good amount of control over the
basic musicianship skills, you are ready to go deeper into the creative
aspects of playing / writing.
I usually find that my most creative musical ideas don't come from
thinking about music at all. I look at other forms of art (and nature)
to find new ways to see creativity. Once I have an interesting idea or
concept in mind, I look to find all the possible ways that I may be
able to adapt that into musical form to suit my musical needs.
Following is an example of what I am talking about.
A few years ago I began thinking about the similarities and
differences in the different processes that are used in separate art
forms (painting, music, poetry, stone or marble sculpture, etc.) Of the
four I just mentioned, only stone cut and marble cut sculpture starts
with something (the raw materials of stone or marble) and then the artist destructively eliminates materials to create the art. Poetry, music and painting generally are created from nothing (no materials from which to take away from) thus the artist creates the art constructively
(adding materials such as letters, words, musical pitches, rhythms,
brush strokes of wet paint, etc.). I once made this simple analysis of
the stone sculpture process, I knew that its importance would be
significant and valuable to me eventually. After almost a year of
thinking about a way in which I could apply the principle of destructive
creation (versus constructive creation), I finally had some brand new
ideas (at least they were brand new ideas to me) for a new creative
way (process) to write music. I found ways to apply this to general
musical compositional processes and form. I'm sure there are more ways
to apply the principal that I have not yet thought of. If I told you
my own discoveries it might hinder you from discovering your own and
going beyond what I was able to do. I encourage you to think deeply
about how you might be able to apply destructive creation into new
musical writing processes.
Another example of taking creative processes from other forms came
when I was watching a Disney movie on DVD. There was a special features
section after the movie on the DVD in which the film makers showed
diagrams and charts called story boards. The purpose of these story
boards was to communicate more clearly the ideas from the writers and
producers of the movie to the artists who were creating the animation
for the film. I thought about how this might be applied to my advantage
when writing the music for my "Opus 2" CD. Since I had in my mind all
of the things I wanted to express in the music, I used this story
board technique to better communicate between the right side of my
brain and the left side of my brain. I charted out with diagrams,
charts, elemental lists, etc. all of my non musical ideas (emotions,
thoughts, ideals, experiences, etc.) that I wanted expressed in the
music. The plans were much more organized now, I could clearly see
what I wanted to be expressed at what moment during the music. This
helped to keep me on track musically. I was very pleased with the
final result. There many other processes that I used in composing
"Opus 2" (and "Opus 1"), but this general principal is one that I
think any composer or songwriter can use no matter how advanced or
basic one's music writing skills are.
As the previous example illustrates, I typically think about what I
want to express before I think about writing the music. That is
something that surprisingly not a lot (probably most) songwriters don't
really do much (especially in the non classical music world.) I'm not
saying that my ways and processes for writing music are better than
someone else's way (because I believe all methods are legitimate), I'm
just offering here one of my ways of composing which may be a new
approach for you.
Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, professional touring
guitarist and recording artist. He teaches guitar players around the
world via rock guitar lessons online. Visit tomhess.net to get free guitar playing tips, assessments, surveys, mini courses and to read more guitar playing articles.