Anyone who has done a large amount of composing knows that from time to time, a creative rut can occur. But have hope. These mental blocks can’t last forever and there is help out there. Here is a list of ideas to help with getting rid of writers block that I’ve learned over the years from others as well as from personal experience.
1) Pick an instrument and give yourself a time limit to compose (I usually do 45 minutes to an hour). After the time is up, do not touch the piece for the rest of the day. Repeat several days in a row with a new piece each time.
The best thing about this exercise is that, though whatever comes out of the session may not be a masterpiece, it gets you in the habit of writing every day and may even help you develop a more efficient way of writing down ideas and coming up with them quicker. Also you can always take fragments of these bits later and use them in a larger work. Many thanks goes to fellow composer Dan Brandt for showing me this exercise.
2) Read a book and envision a movie score.
This works best with Fiction Novels. As an example, Of Wizards and Dragons is inspired by events of the first book in The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
3) Get a list of random subjects and pick them out of a hat.
Whatever you pick is the subject for your next work. (similarly, you can do this by putting instruments into a hat and repeating the same process) Here is a list to help you get started.
4)Step away from the Music and give your mind a break.
Sometimes doing something non-musical like taking a walk or attending a scientific lecture can inspire in unexpected ways. When I studied with Dr. Gwen Rollin, she recounted how her former composition teacher, Iannis Xenakis, once required his students to drive a long way to a lecture about celestial bodies. His justification : inspiration for a piece can come from any source and educating the mind is always beneficial.
5)Ask a musician friend for an assignment
…or what it is they want to hear for their instrument and write it for them. Bonus: There is a greater chance that your piece will be performed.
6)Pick 3 instruments/ styles that you have not written for yet and write a trio.
You can also apply this exercise to time signatures and voices you have not used yet in a piece.
7) Reverse your Process
If you are used to writing the melody first and then the accompaniment, try writing the accompaniment first next time. Or, vice-verse.
8)Pick 5 notes at random
This is your melody. You can further challenge yourself by allowing these to be the only pitches allowed in the piece.
9) Mirror Image
At a keyboard, pick two pitches, preferably at least an octave apart. When one pitch goes up a third, the other pitch goes down a third for example. Try playing with various combinations. I have “accidentally” come up with germ melodies and harmonies this way.
10) Close your eyes and don’t look at what you play.
Let your musical ear and creative heart be the only things that guide you. Don’t forget to record yourself in the process.
Most importantly, remember to Always Be Open, as anything may prove to be an inspiration for a piece.
If my fellow composers have any other suggestions to add to this list, please leave them in the comments below. And as always, Happy Composing!