“It’s not about what you can play, but what you can come up with.”
This quote has stuck with me throughout my entire musical career ever since high school.
Back then, I wasn’t any different than any other average worship musician. I don’t believe that I had a specific “gifting” that set me up to eventually write parts for major records. Very few people believed in me to pursue music for a living. It was a pipe dream that I didn’t think I was called to.
Regardless, that quote made me not just want to play in worship sets, but to contribute.
Creativity, the process of generating fresh ideas, isn’t a personality trait.
It’s an innate process of every human’s brain that depletes over time unless we choose to continue to embrace it. Reputable scientific studies show that non-creative behavior is learned over time and shuts down our ability to generate ideas. (For more information, check out this video)
Ultimately, I believe creativity is a skill that can be embraced and developed with the right steps.
When I analyze how I went from being an average musician to a professional writing “parts” every day there are 5 key concepts that helped me mature creatively.
1) THROW PAINT ON THE CANVAS
In the study I linked to earlier, the scientist defines Divergent thinking (imagination) and Convergent thinking (evaluation, judgement). Divergent thinking is like a gas pedal that creatively pushes us forward into new territory and new solutions. Convergent is more judgemental criticism that acts as a brake pedal. Modern culture and education teaches us to use these at the same time, which shuts down brain function and ultimately, creativity.
When I am producing a song or writing guitar parts for a record, I have learned to fight against any critical thinking before trying an idea out.
I record as many ideas as possible even if I initially feel like they could be bad. Even as I write this blog, I try to throw as many words down as possible and edit later.
If we shut an idea down before we try it, we will just resort to formulas and create a stale product.
It’s in this process of experimenting that you discover what works and what doesn’t as well as find unique ideas you haven’t heard before. There’s no harm in not using an idea later on, but there is harm in not trying.
2) LISTEN TO LOTS OF MUSIC
In the music industry, the most creative people I know consistently discover and listen to new music. The least creative people I’ve encountered typically listen to a small handful of artists and genres that they loved in their 20’s.
You produce what you digest.
If you listen to 5 pop rock bands you will most likely sound like those 5 bands. If you listen to 100 or 1000 artists of different genres and time periods, then what you sound like will be a diverse, unique, cumulation of all of that inspiration – developing your own creative identity.
3) GET CULTURED
Similar to the previous point, one of the greatest pieces of advice I can give is to expand exposure to various cultures and experiences.
Moving from a suburban town in Pennsylvania to a melting pot, southern city like Nashville was life-changing in many ways. When you simply experience new food, communication, art, design, and ways of thinking you develop your mind’s ability to think creatively overall.
In some ways, you become who, and what, you surround yourself with.
When you live in inspiration, you become inspired.
When you live in an environment that embraces change and new ideas, you produce change and new ideas. Don’t just think outside of the box, travel outside of the box.
4) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
If you are around people who solely want to produce predictable music, or those who shut down ideas before entertaining them, the development of your creative skills will most likely be stunted.
When I look at my past, I can think of key people and environments that gave me freedom to explore, fail, and learn how to not just replicate music, but create it.
One small church I was a part of actively encouraged us to write intros and parts that were different from the original recording. It was a normal part of rehearsal that no one even second-guessed.
Similarly to point #3, moving to urban environments full of culture is a good step towards finding creative environments. Always pray about where God leads you, but if you are passionate about developing who you are creatively, choose your people wisely.
5) PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
To be able to improvise, flow, write worship parts, etc. – you have to practice it like anything else.
Creativity is a muscle you have to exercise.
The primary way you exercise it is by failing – a lot. If you’re trying to write melodies you’re going to have to be comfortable writing lots of bad melodies.
Now, I understand that most younger musicians aren’t always comfortable risking playing something that could potentially not sound great in rehearsal or service.
This is why I encourage people to do what I did when I was younger (and still many times do today) – record and practice your ideas.
A few months back I wrote an article about the 3 foundational keys for writing your own guitar parts, that I highly suggest you read.
For as long as I can remember, I have taken songs I’m going to play, pitch shifted them to the correct key in a DAW, and then recorded various original parts that I want to play on Sunday.
I guarantee that if you do this every worship set for a year, even with just one song, your brain will become the creative powerhouse God created it to be.
I encourage everyone reading this to intentionally pray about God’s creativity coming to life in you.
Just as God has helped write a creative story in my life and musical development, I believe He wants that for you as well. I pray that God breaks off any fear of failure that you may have…that He equips you to take the risks necessary to find the supernatural power that can only be unlocked through His beautiful creativity He put inside you.
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