Finding the inspiration to be creative musically or lyrically can be very frustrating for a lot of musicians, so I thought I'd write a quick article on it and how I find myself being creative, hopefully you will get some ideas you can use for yourself.
1. Get back to nature
This is great, especially for city dwellers. The hustle and bustle of a city, constant noise and concrete as far as the eye can see can be a little wearing on the soul. When I've struggled to find an idea for a song, or a lyrical concept, I've found taking a walk in a county park for a couple of hours can really help new ideas to surface. Find a nice spot to sit, and just watch nature go by. Then I've started listening to the demo recording (I usually record all the guitars then add lyrics and change the structure as appropriate) and it's like getting a fresh perspective on it, and ideas start flowing. You'll want to have a pen and paper on hand, or a voice recorder, and start writing down your ideas to work on them later.
If you want to take this to an extreme, rent a log cabin for the weekend, take your guitar/laptop/interface and record some new songs! Being surrounded by nature and fresh air is great for creativity.
2. First thing you do when you pick up the guitar
I've sometimes found that by picking up the guitar and just messing around creative ideas start flowing quite quickly. This is not so good if you have a strict practice schedule for the day, but if you have a slightly more relaxed practice session, rather than putting on the metronome and diving into scales/arpeggios/spiders etc., have a play around and see what happens. Record your ideas, and work on them later.
3. Keep a library of your ideas
Whenever I get an idea I record it onto Logic straight away, or if I don't have an interface, I use my phone and record a voice memo hitting the strings as hard as I can and record the idea at home later on. You never know when that riff will come in useful! Which brings me to my next idea...
4. Turn your ideas into complete songs
I can't take credit for this one, I got it from Guthrie Govan when he was talking at Vai Academy 2014. When you record your idea, don't leave it. Take some time over the coming weeks to develop it into a complete song. If nothing else, you will improve your song writing and arrangement skills, and also have to write some additional riffs to go with it!
5. Make time to be creative
Make being creative part of your practice schedule. So after you're done drilling your technique, take 15-20 minutes to work on creativity, writing a new riff, a harmony for an old riff, the next part of a new song, etc. By regularly being creative, you will find your musical output quickly increases! It doesn't have to be the greatest riff ever... one perspective you can take is that the more rubbish riffs you write, the sooner you will be able to write a riff you are really proud of.
6. Learn new chords, inversions, modes, etc.
Now you don't need to go overboard and become a human dictionary of every mode in existence. However, if you are struggling with getting a section of your song sounding the way you want, you could try using some different chord inversions. Or if you want a totally different feel for your lead playing, try learning a new mode or scale. Learning a new scale can also be a great way to spice up your riff playing. Try not to go overboard with this or you will quickly overwhelm yourself! I wrote an article on minor inversions you can use and how to apply them in your playing.
7. Regularly learn new music theory concepts
This is a good one. Set aside some time each day, or maybe an hour at weekends, to sit down and learn some music theory. Then, make your own examples on your guitar so that you learn to actually apply it. You will quickly start finding new tools and sounds you can use in your own compositions.
8. Get your frame of mind right
If you are feeling stressed, angry or upset you will probably find it hard to be creative (unless you are writing some death metal!). Cast your mind back to a memory when you were feeling calm, peaceful and happy and relive that memory in your mind (maybe when you had played an awesome gig and were on top of the world, got a promotion you'd been after, made love to your smoking hot partner, etc). This should help change your state so you can relax into being creative.
With a decade of playing under his belt, Sam Russell has been pretty busy with his guitar playing. Attending BIMM after university to study music, Sam then went on to study with Tom Hess and Luca Turilli while teaching guitar in West London.
Russell has also been attending workshops with Bumblefoot and Ola Englund and recently played with Steve Vai, as well as releasing three books - Bach's first 3 cello suites for electric guitar (suites 4-6 coming out early 2015).
He has recently published an eBook: "The Ultimate Guide to the Modes of the Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Scale", which you can get for free here.
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