Subtitle: Routines and Practices Intended for Strengthening One’s Mental Agility
“…greater right-hemisphere activity occurs even during a “resting” state in those with a tendency to solve problems by creative insight. This finding suggests that even the spontaneous thought of creative individuals, such as in their daydreams, contains more remote associations.”
(from ScienceDaily, referencing study by John Kounios, professor of Psychology at DrexelUniversity, and Mark Jung-Beeman, of NorthwesternUniversity.)
This is one of my favorite articles, and I hope it will inspire you to get more creative in productive new ways.
Ok, so let’s break this down as simply as possible. Below are six tools / methods to developing a routine of creativity. It might seem daunting at first, but trust me, once you kill your intimidation by starting to practice some of these techniques, you will find yourself getting into a very creative flow, which will most likely be very rewarding to you… Alright, let’s get started…
2.) Randomization Patterning.
3.) Culture Shock / Accepting Temporary Chaos
4.) Physical Exercise
5.) Building a Mental Base for Specific Thought Patterns
6.) Breaking it Down
What is meant by this equation? A could be anything. B could be anything else and C is the result. Simplistic, but here’s how it works… (grab your notebook. Rule # 0 to every lesson I’ll ever provide is to have somewhere to write things down… laptop will work, but it’s great, in my opinion, to have a physical notebook. There’s no Facebook in your notebook to distract you…)
Ok, in your notebook, make three columns. One for A, one for B, one for C.
In column A, on the first line, write down a noun. Anything. An animal, a color, a genre of music, a genre of literature, a kind of food, an electronic device, an emotion, anything. Got it? Ok. Now to column B, write down another noun, but of a different category.
Let’s say you chose, for Column A, the word, “Duck.” Now, for Column B, you wrote down the word, “Radio.” Random? Yes, that’s the point! Now, for C, write down the first possible way you could combine a duck with a radio…please bare with me! Imagine a radio that’s in the shape of a duck… or, the inverse; a duck that looks like a radio… Yes, it’s a ridiculous (and probably useless) image. Ok, now draw a picture of it in Column C. Doesn’t have to be a big and illustrious drawing, just something basic.
Ok, now repeat the process again for the second row of Column A, B, and C… What random images did you get? If it helps, you can stick to a formula from the first example (an animal + a machine) as long as it helps you work faster. Or try “random food + random place.” The trick is to keep writing, continuously. How about a, “frog,” plus a, “truck,” and creating some kind of wheeled amphibian? Trust me, it’s Ok if you’re skeptical. The point of this exercise is just to free your existing thought patterns and loosen up your mind, and eventually start to build more neuron connections in your brain, allowing you to be more creative. Yes, you’re rewiring your brain, physically. Do it twenty times. Again, it’s alright if your pictures for Column C aren’t very good.
Combining things that needn’t be combined is an excellent way to come up with new thought patterns that you likely wouldn’t have thought of, even if they’re throw away ideas. It’s also, potentially, a useful way to come up with interesting ideas for new inventions and tools (or musical genres, or artistic forms, etc) and eventually, once you feel more creative and are more lucid with idea-construction, you’ll be glad you took the necessary steps to get there… alright, on to the next step…
2.) Randomization Patterning.
This is a lot like the first step, but more freeform. You’re going to need to set an alarm on your phone for five minutes from now, and you’re going to fill an entire page with random images and ideas. One after another. One or two words per image/idea, that’s it… If it helps, here are some categories, to glance through, if you get stuck…
Locations… People… Foods… Languages… Colors… Fashions… Genres… Books… Machines… Emotions… Clothes… Politics… Comic book characters… Fears… Chores… Musicians… Politicians… Historical Movements… Sexual Positions… Scientific Fields… Slang… Shapes… Restaurants… Websites… New Technologies… Movies… Drugs… etc….
Ok, so you should be able to fill an entire page. It might seem odd, but I bet it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. It will get far easier, though, if you practice. I can guarantee you that much. And, when it does get easier, just know that you’re starting to build a strong base in your brain for creative sponteanity. You’re building more neuron connections, and you WILL become more lucid in your thinking. Even though the whole thing might look stupid, remember, building more physical connections in your brain is really, technically, the opposite of stupid, by definition…
Get into a routine of performing these first two steps, everyday, and fill up a page for each of them. You are preparing yourself for a shockingly creative mentality.
3.) Culture Shock / Accepting Temporary Chaos
Ok, now I wanted to talk a little bit about this, because, I think it’s very important to understand something about culture shock. I think it’s one of the healthiest things a person can do for themselves.
Why? I remember when I was a kid, my parents took my on a trip to England. Now, England, compared to America, is not as insanely foreign as, say, Taiwan or Russia. But, for me, at the time, it was pretty damn different. There were so many things in the UK that were just slightly different, and yet the same… For example, they had CDs, but different artists than I’d heard of… They had stop signs and everything on the road, just like in America, but their stop signs were shaped differently, the fonts were different, things like that. They had a slightly different version of breakfast. They had a cereal called Wheatabix which was like a cereal chunk that you break into your bowl and pour milk over it!
Also, conditioning yourself to getting used to what you’re not used to forces you to improvise, and become more accepting of what might, at first, seem like chaos. And, having said that, it probably seems a bit funny to consider how mind-expanding all these seemingly-trivial things might be – after all, Wheatabix is just a fucking cereal, right? Well, I was just a kid at the time, and it blew my mind to think that they had a slightly different version of everything! Not just a differently-organized political system, or different cultural perspective, but minor things like cereal that were shaped just a little alternative to what I was used to! It made me appreciate how everything can be done a little bit differently. Everything.
Now think about that in context to your music. What are you making, exactly? As an example, let’s say it’s some kind of drum ‘n bass. There are so many different, untried ways to drum ‘n bass, just like there are different ways to eat cereal! What if you thought up a new way to put bass into your DnB track? Or, what if you tried an alternative time signature? Or, what if you just used sounds that aren’t typically used in DnB? What if you gave the track a completely different emphasis? Or, what if you did something relatively minor, like try to slightly mix some Chicago footwork ideas into your DnB tune? …Or… what if you performed step 1, and combined DnB with something very non-DnB (or non-musical altogether) and got some wacky new ideas to try and create music out of. An example might be, what would a fish-themed DnB tune sound like? What would that image suggest? Try it. New approaches to anything can spring from both major or minor ideas.
Note: not sure why ‘fish’ is always one of the first animals I think of when I’m doing the A+B=C experiment, but it is. I’m not even a big fan of fish. Hmm….Also, for the sake of full disclosure, I should point out that I didn’t like Wheatabix… or anything on the English breakfast menu… Sorry… just being honest…)
So try the untried! Plus, here’s another interesting thought to consider – listen to musical genres that you wouldn’t normally listen to. Oh, there’s SO much music most people haven’t heard, simply because it’s not put right in front of them. Just going on a good ol’ Youtbe-surfing session could help you in that department! There are lists of genres all over the place. Listen to something you wouldn’t normally think of trying out. Why? I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it here – to expand your mind (and stay OUT of any creative ruts you might have) and to build new connections in your mind… so you’re listening to Giant Steps by Coltrane, and you enjoy the weird time signature that seems to be employed in the intro.
“…It’s nice, but how does that connect to anything in EDM?…” you might ask…. Then, a week later, when you’re trying some things out in your DAW, sequencing beats, layering sounds together, perhaps you will try some slightly-different technique in your production, and not know where it came from…
“Yea, this sounds different, how did I think of this? The notes move around differently than I would’ve expected… Oh, it was that Coltrane song I listened to! It influenced me…”
4.) Physical exercise
I’m not going to write too much about this because I know you can figure this one out on your own, and I’m not a gym teacher or a physical trainer – but what I do know is that keeping a routine going of aerobic fitness on a regular basis can give you energy and get the blood flowing the way it needs to. I would even recommend performing this step, and doing a bunch of sit ups or pushups or walking/running before attempting steps 1 and 2. They will probably be easier after some physical exercise.
5.) Building a Mental Base for Specific Thought Patterns
This tip is designed to reinforce the concept of positivity, as well as to get you into the routine of trying to continually build a constructive base in your mind for creative thought patterns. Building a base is all about cementing the pathways in your mind that you want. A good example is to think about all the steps in this article, and to re-read them whenever necessary (which is why I put this article on the home page) and to go over the exercises described, everyday. You’ll find, as I stated earlier, that they get easier with time. I remember working on the ‘Random’ exercises often enough that I came to a point where I could freely improve dozens of random images and thoughts at any given time. It paid off in other areas, as well.
I always enjoyed writing, when I was younger. I decided, one day, to write a full novel. I did it, and I was extremely pleased. It took awhile, but I was Ok with that. Then, about three months ago, I decided to do it again. This second novel took me about six weeks. Now, I’m not saying it’s as epic as War & Peace, but it’s a fun, quality read. Why such a small time frame? Because I was able to get through multiple chapters every sitting, on account of being able to creatively improvise. Or, take this website, for example – I’ve spent a lot of time on it, and put up around twenty articles/posts in the last couple weeks.
I’m NOT saying this to brag (it’s not as if I’m making a dime off this site or anything) I’m just saying that improving your ability to creatively improvise can worked, and I am walking proof of that. If you look around, there are others who are walking proof, too! We walk among you! Join us! There’s room for one more……
Also, as far as thought patterns go – ambition, imagination, impatience, and stubbornness are good things to go for… I intend to make a whole video on why impatience is an underrated virtue, but for right now I’ll basically say that, although you DO need patience to learn your craft and go about these techniques, it takes a certain level of impatience to motivate yourself out of a lazy stupor (that we all get into) and to decide, “No, I want to make beats, right now. Right now!” …and to be stubborn about it, too! If other people other people want you to hang out and go to a movie, but you’ve just gotten into a super productive music flow, tell them you can go out later. Explain the situation to them, but know that they MIGHT not understand, and they might think you’re being lame. Fuck that, you’re not being lame. Be stubborn about it. Chances are, they don’t have any cool hobbies like you do, that take up much time. If they did, they might understand.
Learn to appreciate the beauty in everything around you, and to see things in a more creative light, everyday. Even if you don’t knock Skrillex off the list of highest-payed DJ’s, at least you’ll have a fulfilling life, if you can really appreciate how wonderful and beautiful so many things in life really are. Remember, these ‘tricks’ really do work, and you’ll start to see it in your own life after a little practice.
6.) Breaking it Down (now they call it a, ‘drop’)
Now that you’ve looked through all of these topics, consider, for a moment – what kind of music do you want to make? Find the best track in that genre (be picky, but find one!) and listen to it 50 times. Yes, 50. Consider it research. Break the track down in every possible way. Take notes. Write down as many things as you can think of. What’s going on in the track? What separates this track from others? What makes it great?
It might take awhile, but think of it this way – if the track is 4 minutes long, and you listen to it 50 times, 4*50 = 200 minutes, or, 3 hours and 20 minutes. You might want to do this in two sittings… But I guarantee it will help you. I remember breaking down a track by Edit (from Glitch Mob fame) and at first, the track was dauntingly complex. But after listening to it five times, I started internalizing all of the ideas of the track, and by ten times, I was no longer intimidated by it. That’s just ten times. I kept listening to it, and the more I did, the more I understood of the track!
Ok, so if you’re not ready for 50 plays, just go as long as you can… And, listen, I’m NOT saying that you need to spend three and a half hours on EVERY track, but, to understand a style of music comprehensively, it could REALLY help you out a lot. I really mean that. For extra credit (or, just for fun) try doing the Break-it-Down exercise on this (lol.. Yes, im half joking… it’s crazy.. unless you’re into breakcore and want to figure it out, in which case, go for it!)
<<< if you ARE trying to make breakcore, though, I JUST posted a tutorial here
But back to the lesson… after you’ve broken your desired track down, do research and see what the artist said they were up to when did the song. What techniques did they employ in the studio? What were they going for? What do the other tracks on the album sound like?
Try to contact them, tell them you’ve been listening to their track for LITERALLY fifty plays to try and understand it and ‘master’ it COMPLETELY, and that you’d like helping decoding something in their wonderful tune. Chances are they will be extremely flattered and will definitely want to help you out, at least a little… unless they’re far too busy (or if they’re just a big douche) but there’s a pretty great chance you will get somewhere doing all of this.
If someone told me they’d listened to one of my songs LITERALLY-FIFTY-TIMES, I would bend over backwards trying to help them, especially if I generally thought they sounded sincere and honest about it. I mean, how would you feel, if it happened to you? It’s a step or two beyond obsessive.
And here’s where it specifically fits into your creative mindset – beyond building a base for creative ideas and REALLY internalizing the song structure/style that you want to work with, after you listen to a song fifty times, and are trying to come up with notes, you will start to come up with new ways of interpreting the song; interesting perspectives on it, a unique and creative analysis that others might have missed. When you talk to the artist directly and bring some of your truly-inspired ideas to them about what you heard in that wonderful song, they will likely be pretty impressed and surprised that you took the time to think of all sorts of original ideas and methods to describe his or her song in a completely new light. (For example – I just heard your “_______” track fifty times, and after listening to it for the third hour in a row, I started picturing nine-headed unicorn having sex in space; because the spacey, pulsating, and animalistic screeching melodies you used seem to flow together in such a way as to seemingly have that galactic-unicorn-sex-energy sound after you hear it long enough!)
Ok, maybe you don’t need to say that to some artists (especially if you DON’T get a unicorn-space-sex vibe…) but I’m just saying you should try to be a wordsmith with it. Be poetic and come up with a wholly new way to transform what could be rampant (albeit clever) knob-twiddlin’ and sequenced grooves – into something epic and meaningful. Hopefully, you’ll find it in their track. If not, maybe you should’ve picked a better song? ;)
In conclusion, these are some very powerful ways to get your mind going in the right direction. Like I said earlier, if you practice these techniques, I promise you, they will get a lot easier. You have to put the time in, but if you’re willing to do what it takes, you will likely, down the line, be shocked and impressed with the results. Your music will be better, you’ll gain more mental agility, you’ll be able to go about creative projects faster, and you’ll get WAY more presents for Christmas.
Well, most of that last statement is true, anyway.
Article quoted: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071027102409.htm
Journal reference: Kounios, J., Fleck, J.I., Green, D.L., Payne, L., Stevenson, J.L., Bowden, E.M., & Jung-Beeman, M. The origins of insight in resting-state brain activity, Neuropsychologia (2007), doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.07.013