Using non musical influences

A question I quite often get is what inspires me as a guitar player and composer. It seems most people who ask this question expect an answer consisting of a list of guitar players and other musical input. There’s no doubt such direct musical influences can inspire you. And I think they even shape your musical vocabulary and identity to a great extent. That’s how it works in any art form, you pick up little bits and pieces from your colleagues and use them how you see fit. But while this direct inspiration can be seen as an important part of every musician, the phenomenon of indirect inspiration is something I’d like to write about for this month’s blog.

I remember reading interviews with my musical heroes back when I was younger. The same question about inspiration came up quite often as well and some of my heroes answered the question with abstract answers like nature, love, life in general, etc. And while this sounded cool to me, I didn’t understand it at all! How can nature tell you what awesome riff to play, right? That was not the way I wrote music. I approached composing as throwing in a certain style riff there, doing a certain passage there, use that riff there and so on. An approach that on an obvious level only makes use of direct inspiration.

But as I grew older and got more experience writing music I began to realize the power and influence of indirect inspiration. Basically everything that happens in life influences your creative process, whether you want it or not. And as I began to realize the impact of this phenomenon I also began to see its beauty. As an artist you have the opportunity to poor your feelings into the work you create. This is not only an extremely rewarding experience for the artist, but it also makes your work stand out as honest and pure, which in turn gives your listener a very rewarding experience.

But how do you capture this abstract energy and transfer it to the calculated world of music? I think it’s a life long journey to really master this conversion. I feel like I’m just getting the hang of it really and I try to be really conscious about it when I’m working on music these days. I think the real challenge lays in interfacing abstract and concrete. Feelings, emotions, intuition, they’re all an extremely abstract thing. While composing music is a very mathematical and calculated craft. In other words, you have to find ways to let these 2 opposites interact with each other. This subject is obviously too big to really cover in a blog, so I’ll try to list some tips & tricks to get you started.

1. Get away from that computer! Almost everyone I know writes their music from behind a computer. And while it’s do doubt a great tool for recording and even getting creative, it can also be an incredibly stale and sterile environment to get the creative juices flowing. Just try and and write music at a place that actually inspires you for example.

2. Start small! Let’s say you’re out in nature, a desolated, sunny mountain top with pine trees all around you. This experience will definitely put you in a certain mood, this mood can be used to inspire you. But there’s no way you’re going to just write a complete song from this experience alone. So start small, try and sing a melody that fits the vibe. Fool around with some chords and see which ones match the vibe. Start tapping a beat and see what comes out. It’s all about finding these smaller building stones that you can build an entire song around by using your craftsmanship and taste.

3. Listen! Everything around you, everything you experience, everything you feel, influences your experience of music. Whether you’re listening to, playing or writing music. You could think a simple E minor chord will always be the same chord, with the same emotional values. But the reality is that the way you perceive this chord will be different when your external circumstances change. This is obviously a simple example, but it basically goes for everything in music (and probably life in general). Experience can’t exist without reference. Change your point of reference and the experience will change as well.

4. Practice! Dive into life and consciously experience new things or things that always fascinated you. See how they influence your perception of music and try to see if you can find ways to let these experiences guide your creative process. Like any skill it takes time and practice to develop.

5. Forget about theory! While studying theory is a great way to expand your musical knowledge and musical skill, it can also put you in a place of extremely boxed and linear thinking. Don’t forget the purpose of theory, it’s there to help you, not to hinder you! In other words, try to have an open mind, judge and trust your creative process from a place of feelings instead of thoughts.

There’s obviously a lot more to say about this subject but I feel this should cover enough for this months blog. I hope it was an interesting read. And again, if you have any suggestions on what I should cover for next month’s blog, be sure to contact me and let me know!

Thanks for reading,


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