Lately I’ve been reading some good blog posts by Chad Shanks, who owns C-Sharp Productions. Most of his blogs deal with the art and craft of songwriting, but I’ve been able to find some gems in them that I can apply to practice, performing, and composing as well.
Of special note is “Get Out of Your Songwriting Comfort Zone.” The title immediately reminded me of a metaphor once used by Stephen Covey, who said that we were only able to walk on the moon because some brave men were willing to leave their comfort zone here on Earth. Shanks feels that songwriting is the same way; it’s easy to get into a rut and do the same old thing over and over again simply because you have had some measure of success with it. He offers some good suggestions to go boldly where you haven’t gone before: copy a chord progression from a song you probably wouldn’t write, or start from the end of the song.
As I was reading his suggestions, it dawned on me that I could use some of these techniques (with some adaptations) to get out of my comfort zone and practice, play, or compose as I haven’t before. So with a nod to Chad, here are a few of my own:
- Practicing and Composing
- Transcribe a song, then transpose it. I found that different keys can suggest alternate melodies or solos. Don’t ask why, they just do. Bonus points for transposing it into a key with more than 4 sharps or flats.
- If you usually write in major keys, write one in a minor key.
- If you usually write one bridge, write two. Make the second one very different from the first.
- Really listen to some music you normally don’t listen to. If you enjoy classical, try dubstep for awhile (try “Elements,” by Lindsey Stirling for a smooth transition). Try to find something in it you can take away.
- Invest in a copy of The Keyboard Grimoire or The Guitar Grimoire. Learn the modes and practice them often.
- Take a gig that’s just a bit more of a challenge than one you’d usually play. For example, I had never played the piano for a chorus competition before, but my middle school’s choir was going, and that meant that I was going, too. Not a strong sight reader, I nevertheless sat down and conjured up everything my piano teacher, Ms. Gilmore, had taught me. Not only did I learn the music, I found out how much fun it was to actually sit down and read the music. I grew as a musician as a result, plus I picked up a few nifty composition tricks in the process.
- Play with some different musicians. Just because you’re in a band doesn’t mean you can stop learning. Find some different musicians and jam with them from time to time. It’s even better if they don’t play the same material you’re used to or if they’re an original group. If nothing else, you’ll sharpen your listening skills.
There you have it – my two cents worth. Hopefully you can take some of the suggestions and use them to help you leave your own comfort zone.
Updated May 26, 2013