This article was originally posted at my guitar instruction site to help musicians who have lost their creative spark. However, the concepts are applicable to anyone looking to get out of a creative dry spell. For instance, in a business setting, we might be looking for an innovative marketing approach to address our marketplace. If we are in a creative rut, it doesn’t always flow out of us so easily. Learning how others solve their problems can often reveal new approaches we can use to solve our own. Once you have read the article, think about how you could apply these ideas and please, leave a comment with your thoughts!
Have you ever had a dry spell? You know, where you can’t get motivated or inspired to play your instrument? If you’re like me, you might even put a few of your guitars out on stands and leave them where you will always see them hoping that the sight of them will encourage you to play.
When you pick up your guitar and start playing, you feel as if you’ve played these chords a million times and there is no creative spark to continue. It’s like driving on a road you have traveled many times and there is nothing new to see. You put the guitar down and tell yourself that you will get back to it later.
“Where did my muse go” you ask yourself. You’re dry! You can’t write and you just can’t find a groove. At the worst of times, at least for me anyway, the instrument doesn’t sound in tune, even though it is. The neck feels foreign. I get bummed and I find myself humming B.B. King’s version of ‘The Thrill Is Gone’.
What to do? I have a few thoughts that might help.
Revisit old favorite grooves and work them into a song.
Most of us come up with chord progressions or hooks that we really like. Many of those stay just that, a progression or a hook. We have played them many times and they are always favorites but they go nowhere. We promise ourselves that we will do something with them one day. Taking one of those ideas and working it can re-energize your creativity.
Years ago, I wrote a chord progression inspired by the theme song for Hill Street Blues written by Mike Post and Larry Carlton (one of my favorite guitar players). Anytime I tried out a new guitar, I would play it. Often people would come over and tell me what a great groove it is. I had always thought it would be fun to solo over but never got around to it. A few years ago, I decided to record it with Bruce Davies playing bass. A simple recording with no edits. I practiced over it a bit, hit the record button and then just improvised. I then handed the recording over to my friend and engineer Eric Brad who did a nice mix for me.
Here is the result. It’s called ..
Promenade (click on name to play in a new window)
© 1995, Gil Namur
2 minutes 30 seconds
Every time I listen to this, it makes me smile and makes me want to play my guitar. It’s not really a complete song, it’s just a happy groove, an idea that I breathed some life into with Bruce’s help. Am I happy with all my improvisational choices in the piece? Not entirely. If I was going to record this for a CD, there are a few bars where I would have made different improvisational choices. It doesn’t matter though. It’s raw and it speaks to me each time I hear it. When I record my next instrumental CD called ‘Next Exit’, a new version of Promenade will be on it. I have a vocal CD to do first though!
Change the scenery
If you have one, take your acoustic guitar and head off to the woods or the beach. Remember to bring along some paper, a pen and if possible, a portable recorder.
Try to find somewhere you won’t hear people, cars, cell phones, or jets flying overhead. A change of environment can have a profound impact on your creativity. Start by playing single notes or single chords and listening to how they blend in with the natural sounds of the environment. Let them sustain and hang in the air. Let your ears and your heart guide you as to what to play next. Don’t forget to hit the record button!
Play a different instrument for a few days
I have four guitars for a reason. Each plays and sounds different from the next. They each lend themselves to distinctive styles, which leads me to play different melodies and rhythms.
If you have access to a piano, tickle its keys for a while. Pianos are such inspiring instruments. Alternatively, go buy a nice clay flute. They are inexpensive and can be very expressive. The idea is to get your ears hearing different things. This exercise will often unlock your creative juices.
Unplug or Plug-in
If you are playing your electric guitar constantly, put it in its case and pull out your acoustic. Conversely, if you are always playing your acoustic, then give it a rest and play your electric guitar.
Try an open tuning that you have never played with before. It will force you to explore your instrument in unfamiliar ways and you will hear new musical possibilities.
Unfinished Songs are Unfinished Business
I believe that when we have unfinished songs or tasks, we have dissonance and clutter in our lives. Finishing songs brings resolution and creates the space for new songs. Think of it as musical Feng-shui! You need to discipline yourself to do this. Even if you don’t feel like it, you eventually need to get to the business of finishing the things you have started. If you don’t, you surround yourself with dissonance and clutter.
This concept is also covered in the article Look after the little things. I encourage you to read it as well.
By the way, you are not alone. I have written well over 100 songs. About half are actually finished!
Go see a concert
Hearing a gifted musician play can really be inspiring. Often after a concert, I find myself driving home longing to play my guitar. You will often hear sounds or rhythms that are new to your ears. Exploring these on your instrument can open up a deep well of creative possibilities.
My final idea to share with you is to rely on discipline. It’s so easy to use a dry spell as an excuse not to play at all. What I have learned over the years is that if I pick up my guitar and ‘practice’ for at least 15 minutes, things begin to happen. I will hear something new and that will spur me on to play for an hour or two. That’s when the magic happens. That’s when your muse and you can have a delightful promenade together.
B.B. King in concert in France 1989 © Roland Godefroy
Woods and moon photos © Gil Namur
© Gil Namur, 2009