Craft, Creativity And Customization

Creating music is a wonderfully satisfying experience that not only can be appreciated and performed by the Composer, but by the listener as well. In this article, I'm going to share with you 3 essential and very effective concepts for making music that I teach and help execute with my current students.

*If you're skeptical about the "teachability" of creating music, then I recommend you read my stance on the subject HERE first.


This could be considered the "grunt" work. Learning your Music Theory, Counterpoint, Ear-Training, Arranging, Orchestrating, etc. However, just "learning" something isn't good enough if you want to be able to accurately express everything you want in music.

You have to practically apply everything you learn so that it becomes ingrained in your "creative self." This is partially on your instructor, but most of the responsibility falls on you. That's why the 3 P's (Patience, Passion, and Persistence) are so important to your musical development.

What does it mean to "practically apply" something musical? In my lessons I approach it as is best for my student (will touch more on this in the customization section), however there are two main ways of practically applying something you just learned musically.

The first is to listen to and play through examples that utilize the technique/concept you just learned. For example, if you've just found out what a Tritone substitution is then you should listen to many different styles that use this concept, play through them, and analyze why/how they work. (This is as far as a majority of the "Good" music schools will go). Perhaps even more importantly, analyze what you love or hate about it and how you can integrate this new musical concept into your own music (If you even want to at all!).

The second thing to do is to actually use it in your music. Write a few short examples (or perhaps an entire song) utilizing this new concept. For the first few examples you write, make them more traditional so you understand where the concept originates. However, after that feel free to put your own unique "twist" on the concept. This could mean many different things - change meter (Maybe even polymeter?), tempo, key, styles, orchestration, etc.


I can already hear the cries of blasphemy on this one (haha), but before you skip ahead or begin to close your mind on this matter, hear me out. Creativity in most cultures is something that people tend to believe one is born with or without. Furthermore, because it's believed that you're born with or without Creativity (as if it was a quantifiable gift), it's concluded that Creativity can't be practiced. In addition to this, the theory of "Right and Left Brain" can falsely lead one to the conclusion that there would now be a set physical limitation on ones ability to be creative. However, I challenge this belief with two simple questions:

* How do you measure Creativity?

* Are you in control of your own Creativity?

As for the first question, I'm unaware of any specific physical instrument that is able to accurately measure one's Creativity. Sure the "Right and Left Brain" theory explains which hemisphere controls what function, but does that infer an ability to physically measure that function's effectiveness? No. In fact, this theory actually makes the issue even more complex. The Theory states (and most people know that) the Right Brain tends to be more intuitive while the Left is analytical.

However, did you know that Music is understood in a non-musician's brain as "living" in the Right Hemisphere, where as Music is understood in a musician's brain as "living" in the Left Hemisphere? "How could this be?" you may say. "I thought Creativity is a Right Brain "only" thing and music is surely a product of Creativity... right?" If you were saying or thinking anything like the following, then you'd be both right and wrong. Music is surely a product of being Creative, but chances are that your understanding of Creativity is slightly skewed.

This is probably because Creativity means different things to different people. In fact, if you look up "Creativity" in different dictionaries there is a high probability that each one will have a slightly varied definition of the word. Some simply mention it is "A state of being creative," in which we then have to define "creative." Often this is defined as "Someone who creates." Following this logical thread, we find that "to create" is simply "The act of bringing something into existence." So is Creativity our ability to simply bring something into existence? Is someone more Creative than another because they have brought more into existence than the other?

To further complicate this matter, some dictionaries define Creativity as "the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc." As you can see, this dictionary's definition conflicts with our previous definition of Creativity as it states that "transcending traditional ideas, rules, patterns, etc." is actually Creativity rather than the ability to "bring something into existence." Which is the right one?

The answer lies within both definitions. Both definitions seem to infer a balance of Left and Right Brain function. Absolutely it is true that unique and "divergent" ideas are a part of creating music (Right Brain), but it is also true that analyzing, arranging, and detailing are a part of the music making process (Left Brain). It is then easier to see why a professional musician may use their Left Brain more than the right, because they now understand certain musical concepts (Theory, Arranging, Orchestration, etc.) and after the initial intuitive "rough draft," they come back and analyze/organize the music so it is coherent and expresses their intent as clearly as possible.
Now... are we in control of this Creativity? If you answer "No, we are not in control of our creativity," then I ask you... "What is the point of Brainstorming sessions?" If we are truly not in control of our Creativity, then why waste our time sitting down and trying to solve issues with unique/original concepts and then attempting to bring those ideas into existence? We've already concluded that Creativity is a mix of Left/Right Brain function, so by saying "No," you're essentially stating "I will wait and it will happen on it's own." I don't know about you, but I personally am not one to willingly sit by and wait/hope for something to happen if I truly want it to.

With this said, I would like to re-state that random inspiration can occur. Sometimes you're not looking for great unique/original ideas, but they come to you randomly anyway. In these cases at least a small portion of it was not in your control, but the important thing to consider is "What will you do with that inspiration now?"

So, now that we have a little bit better understand of what Creativity is and that we can control it at least to a certain degree, I'd like to share with you a few techniques for practicing to expand your ability to be creative.

Bursts of Writing

* For 30 or 60 second intervals you should write down as many song titles, ideas, themes, etc. as you possibly can.

* A lot of these ideas will come forth intuitively. If you think/analyze too much here, then it will hinder the exercise and your growth. Never erase anything, even if you think it sounds dumb!


* Look, listen, feel, smell the world around you and document it in absolute detail.

* This, unlike the previous exercise, is helping you intellectually/consciously develop the connection between your senses and how you express them.

Make it Happen

* Turn this "collected data" into something... bring it into existence.

* Through your knowledge of Music Theory (Harmony, Counterpoint, etc.), Ear-Training, and Musical intuition, it's time to answer questions like "What does an aromatic, velvety-red rose sound like?" An exercise like this trains both your intellectual process and musical intuition.


The last subject I would like to discuss is that of customizing your lessons and creative process. At the beginning, it's very beneficial to have an instructor guide you along this path and create custom content that caters towards your goals (although in all honesty, it can be useful for all musicians of any level).

Eventually through tons of practice and guidance from an understanding instructor, you'll be able to not only recognize but conceive of and execute your own customizable practice plans.

It's true that a majority of all people who ever pick up an instrument or try to write their own music give up after six months of trying on their own. The key to surviving through this period of "unbearable ignorance" is a supportive and understanding instructor (a bad one can make you want to quit too. I did when I first began taking lessons). A great instructor is then able to help you thrive after that point so you're able to quickly reach your goals with high quality results.

To better help yourself and your instructor guide you towards accomplishing these goals, I recommend asking yourself and answering the following questions in detail so that you may be better aware of who you are, what motivates you, and how you learn best.

* Realistically, how bad do you want to accomplish your goals? Are you willing to do anything to accomplish them?

* Why do you want to accomplish your goals? What do you hope to gain from reaching them?

* Have you found that you accomplish more when people are supporting and encouraging you, or when others think you can't do "it" and you're out to prove to yourself that you can?

* Are you the type of person that needs to physically play something before memorizing? Can you just hear something and understand it, or must you have a visual representation of that which you're trying to learn?

* What inspires you to create music? When you see people, a situation, a painting, hear birds overhead, smell pastries from a bakery what do you do? What triggers the music in your brain to "play"?

I hope some of you take away quite a bit from this article, even if it is controversial and you don't agree with some of the points/conclusions. I only ask that before you pass judgement on any one thing, that you at least give it a fair trial. Try these things out and honestly evaluate your music making abilities before and after attempting the techniques mentioned above.

If you truly want to be able to create music, but have yet to see improvement after trying these techniques by yourself, then get in contact with me HERE. I will work with you so that you better understand how to practice and improve your ability to create music - and hopefully move yourself that much closer to expressing whatever it is you want.

Thanks for reading and keep composing fellow artists!

Kole is currently studying music composition and classical guitar at Indiana University; and will be transferring to GIT, in the fall of 2007. He also is completing his debut album "Exile" through Empire Records and teaches many students for guitar and songwriting.

He has also just finished co-authoring a great new instructional e-book for guitar titled "The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist," which can be found and purchased at