So, writer’s block happens to all of us creative types: musicians, writers (obviously), painters, sculptors, skydivers… And this tends to occur because creativity isn’t a well you can just dip into at will. No, it’s more like a stream that at times will run fast and furious after a hard rain, and at others will trickle slowly across your path as it meanders down the barren riverbed in your proverbial mind-desert that is its domicile. And like the primitive being you are, you don’t have any mind-barrels that you can just store that mind-water in because your mind-brain is underdeveloped (because for some reason I’m picturing all our mind-selves as little mind-cave men). Confused yet? Me too. In fact I was suffering from writer’s block of the musical kind for practically six months when it came to a song my band is preparing for our debut album. And if you couldn't tell by my spotty publishing on Examiner, I am a consistent victim of the writer’s brand of writer’s block. And now that the metaphors are getting wordy again, let’s jump down to the real reason we’re all here. Sometimes you need that little boost to get your musical juices flowing again and get the product you want. And so like the primitive mind-person that your mind is, I’m going to pass on some tried and true traditions that will function as your own little personal mind-rain dance to get that mind-river of yours flowing at full capacity. And I promise I’m done with the “mind hyphen” stuff as of… now.
1. Listen to new music
Now this can mean a few things. Listen to music that’s new to you, listen to music that just came out today, listen to a CD of nature sounds… Whatever. The idea is to break out of your normal musical habits. Maybe there’s a group or genre that you really like but don’t listen to regularly. Try pulling that music out again and glean some inspiration from it. For example, I’m a huge fan of both Coheed and Cambria as well as Porcupine Tree, but I don’t listen to them with the same intensity as say Dream Theater or Steve Vai. But after really delving into their music for a few days, I found myself playing a little bit like them, and as a result more ideas started to flow, different chords and riffs I might not have thought of were suddenly there. I know a lot of musicians are hesitant about this, and that’s totally fine, especially if you’re trying to preserve your style of playing. But I for one can attest that it helps more than you’d think.
2. Go to a show
Three fifths of our band wet to see Coheed when they came through in February, and I know that we came away with some ideas we might not have had before. Not entirely because of the music either. Sometimes just seeing someone play live helps with inspiration and motivation to the point where your ideas flow naturally again. Pay close attention to how they’re playing stuff. Maybe you’ll pick up on a scale pattern or arpeggio that you hadn’t thought of and be able to utilize it in your own way.
3. Watch a DVD
Can’t afford a show? Try the next best thing. Pick up a DVD and get excited about performing live. For some reason that seems to be a big mind-rain (okay, I lied) promoter for most people. And more often than not, bands will have a behind the scenes feature on their DVD releases. I personally am really inspired by stuff like that. Sometimes it helps to know that the guys you look up to had to pay their dues before they made it to where they are now.
4. Jam with your bandmates
Improvise. Do it. It’s not that scary. Pick a key and/or a mode and jam for as long as it takes to get some cool stuff going. You don’t need much. Maybe a short chord progression, maybe one little lick or a drum groove. Just mess around till stuff comes to you. And to be honest, that’s how my band was able to get over our writer’s block and really dig into the song.
5. Try out old ideas
You have a place where you store all of your ideas, right? Your iphone, a tape recorder, manuscript paper? You don’t? Well start now. Because when you can go back to old ideas you jotted down two or three years back, it can be just the little boost you need to get going. Or maybe you can add your lick/chord progression/lyrics to a song you’re currently working on but are stuck in. Guess what? We totally did that too for the chart we were stuck on.
6. Take a break
Sometimes this is all you need. Put down your guitar (or drums or English horn or whatever), and maybe even step away from listening to music actively (like, keep your car stereo off, don’t touch your headphones and ipod, basically avoid music when you can control it). I know that this sounds like the hardest solution, and for me it’s certainly a last resort, but it totally works. You find yourself missing music so much that when you come back to it, everything is new again and the inspiration flows like water from the mind-fountain of youth (okay, now I’m done for real). It may even take a combination of all these and more to get things moving again if you’re really stuck. But when you get it right… That’s when you strike mind-gold.