Over the years I had few of them. Actually I suffer a Composer’s block every month. Some are stronger, and others just disappear as quickly as they appeared. But the skill of overcoming Composer’s Block is an art itself. Let me give you few tips on how to overcome this depressing notion of ‘can-not-write-anything-ness’.
First of all – relax.
Go away from the computer or from that note sheets for at least few hours. Of course this depends on what stage of your project are you. In fact the less time you have to finish – the better. Just stay with me and hold that thought – few words of explanation will come soon.
Imagine you are working out, you have been doing this for the last 3 hours and your muscles just cannot handle it anymore. Sounds familiar? It does for me. Actually your brain works like a muscle – overstrain it, and you’re gone. So the first thing you need to do is just give it some time to relax. Stay away from your music, take your pet and go for a walk. Go swimming, running – exercises help you stay fit and they relieve your stress. Freshen up a bit – you have been sitting here for too long. If you’re reading this article – than you know I’m right. Period. Go.
Now let’s get back to business.
1. Give yourself a timeframe to finish your piece.
I actually do this all of the time. The truth is – if I have all the time in the world to finish a piece – I would take the whole time. And? You’ve guessed it – I would never finish it. This is just our nature. Remember the times when you had to write a homework, a dissertation or a report for you company? When did you do it? Probably at the last possible moment. That’s because we accomplish things much quicker, when we are forced to do it. So give yourself a timeframe. Do it today, or until the end of the week. In whatever stage the piece is – just finish it already. Of course you can come back to it later, with a ‘fresh ear’ and do some final adjustments (but don’t spend too much time on that as well – give yourself a day or two to do it) and then – move on.
2. Limit yourself to few instruments.
Perhaps you don’t know what should you do with all these instruments you have in your score? Try this approach instead. Choose three or four leading instruments and play around with them. Were you writing your main melody for a piano? Try violins instead. Was it an acoustic guitar? Switch to flute etc. Experiment with different instrument. Try to write for a smaller group. If until this moment you’ve been concentrating on drums only – compose the percussion part first and then come back to your main instrument, whatever it may be.
3. Use the Force.
Sometimes you have to be brutal with yourself. Whenever I get the feeling that I’m really stuck with some passage or bridge section, whatever it may be – an orchestral piece or a brand new shiny urban track – I just sit and hit that record button and I take it from this point forward. Whatever comes out, I stick with it and try to build on it layer after layer. Have you been trying to cope with the same rhythm section and it still sounds like tens of works you have already completed? Now try to put that kick on an upbeat instead of downbeat. Do the same with the snare and see what comes out of it.
4. Leave it… and compose something else.
I usually work on four or five pieces at the same time. When the ideas come – it’s all good. The problem starts, when I get stuck in one part of the piece. I quickly turn it off and open another project – the one I left before and force myself to write at least few more notes to each one of them. If the strict ‘composition’ doesn’t work, I play with various instruments – I load the piano and play anything within the key range of the original project. Just to keep these creative juices flowing. If that doesn’t help with the original piece, at least I have some new material to work on later.
5. Write in chunks.
This one is quite similar to the one above. But in this case, try to concentrate on one piece only. Don’t try to create the whole piece in one go. Try writing one bar or section (intro, bridge etc.) at a time. Complete only one bar with all the instruments in your mix. Maybe you should try changing the key for this one bar? Maybe you need to go in different direction than your listeners would expect? When your done, move to the other section of your piece, and write just one bar again there. Remember – Rome wasn’t built in a day. They completed it brick by brick, stone by stone. So can you with your piece. Small steps will lead you to bigger phrases, sections and pieces. This is actually one of my favourite methods in composing, just write something opposite from what you’d expect from yourself. It works for me – why shouldn’t it work for you?
6. Study some of your masters.
Easy as one, two, three (C, D, E? :)) Going for that walk? Take your favourite artist and put it into your mp3 player. Actually – forget that. Take the artist you don’t know and listen to his/ her best recordings. Why? Because you know the songs/ pieces of your favourite artists by heart, and that doesn’t help when creating something new. Don’t expect a new outcome by repeating the same steps (when it comes to listening to your favourite music). Did you notice the bass line in the recording? Try to focus on one instrument. How it flows, or how does the harmony change over the course of the track? What is so distinctive about it? Can you incorporate that method in your own tracks using your own melody and techniques?
7. Switch between your composing techniques.
I play many different instruments, and this helped me over the years to influence my composition skills even more. My main instrument is piano, but I also love my celtic harp. I sometimes try to incorporate my piano playing technique to harp – the harmony, the design of chords. This method always brings some amazing results to my pieces. I don’t have to record what I play on the harp, in fact it just helps me to produce some more ideas and I am able to take them from this point forward. On the other hand, when I don’t feel like it, I start with the simplest of rhythms I can create, but I play it on the piano instead of a drum. Then I put layer after layer of different instruments just to create the backing rhythm of what’s to come next.
Sometimes nothing just seems to work. In that case I just sit and write. Anything. I sit at my instrument and lay my hand over the keys (by the way – did you notice that every time you sit at your instrument you tend to place your hands at the exact same position you’ve been doing for years?). Well, try to change it. Instead of playing chords, play few notes. Instead of adding the same bass progressions, this time do them completely differently. You will be amazed with the outcome. Try it now.
I hope that these few tips will bring you back on the track again. If not – you should seriously consider taking a longer break from your instrument, computer or project (even for few days or weeks).
Got any other ideas on how to overcome Composer’s Block? Maybe some of my techniques helped? Write your comments and thoughts in the comment section below.
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