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  • Writer's pictureAmit Weiner

Jamming Through Creativity Blocks: Three Tips for Composing From Start to Finish

Get ready to unlock the secrets of overcoming creative blockage and finalizing those killer musical compositions you’ve left undone.

If you've ever hit a dead end around the fifth bar of your tune or found yourself stuck after the chorus, I've got some laid-back insights to groove you out of that rut, and tools to prevent it from happening next time.

So let's dive in and turn those creative roadblocks into musical highways!

Leonard Bernstein compose on the piano

It happens to all of us.

You embark on a new musical composition, and the beginning seems promising. However, after a few measures you hit a roadblock, unsure of how to progress. You might bail out at the 5th or 8th bar and move on to the next piece- only to repeat the same cycle with the next piece. Then the same happens again… and again…

Sounds familiar?

Do you have composition beginnings sketches scattered across your computer or music notebook?

If so, how do you tackle this creative jam

In this article, I will delve into a crucial aspect of the musical journey: the challenges we encounter in the creative process. I'll explore why we often experience creative hiccups and, of course, provide some simple techniques to smoothly navigate through them.

This approach is particularly beneficial for putting the finishing touches on compositions, songs or film music.

Let’s start with a full disclosure: I also have countless composition beginnings on my computer. I admit, I struggle with this tendency in each new piece of mine.

Tip 1: acknowledge that completing a composition is a form of bidding farewell.

It's important to understand that the fear of parting ways is a basic human concern. It extends to various aspects of our lives, similarly to the difficulty we face in ending relationships. It's a bit like breaking up. Being able to say goodbye is challenging yet necessary growing up, since life is filled with all sorts of farewells.

Accept that completing a musical composition is a farewell to an artistic journey. If you find it challenging to finish a composition, it might be because you find it difficult to just let go.

Letting go is one of the biggest challenges we face in life. Letting go of people, mentors, our parents when we’re old enough, and also of our musical compositions.

Draw that final bar line and tell your creation, "Goodbye. Thanks for this exciting adventure. It's been a blast, but it's time to move on to the next creation." It's tough, I know, but if you skip this step, you'll just keep circling back, rewriting, and editing the same piece forever.

To sum up the first tip - recognize that completing a composition involves bidding farewell. If we prepare ourselves for this goodbye in advance and learn to navigate it, drawing the final bar line would become more manageable.

Finishing a composition is saying goodbye

Tip 2: Embrace imperfection - none of your compositions will ever be perfect!

Seriously, just let it go.

I know what you’re saying:

“Amit – what do you mean by “none of my compositions will ever be perfect?

How can you say that!"

Just as you are not flawless (trust me, you ain’t) and may have “perfect imperfections” (as John Legend phrased it, quite perfectly may I say)- your next composition might bear some flaws as well.

It would probably be better than the previous one, though.

Your goal SHOULD be that PROGRESS from one composition to the next, not an unattainable perfection.

The desire for perfection just holds creative artists back and often leads to stagnation. Release that need. Each piece is a step forward in your artistic journey.

Listen to Kenny Werner – Meditation number 1, From his book Effortless Mastery.

“You’re already PERFECT.

You don’t need your actions to prove it!”

And now for the last, yet not least tip:

Tip 3: Write Swiftly and Focus on the Composition's Form

Naomi Shemer, the renowned Israeli songwriter, said it took her six months to start writing her iconic "Jerusalem of Gold", and only two hours to finish it.

Two hours, to write one of the most beautiful songs I know!

What can we learn from that? Write quickly.

She kept procrastinating it, not knowing what else can be said about the ancient city that was the topic of many songs (when she didn’t even live there), and when she had finally sat down to write it- it was finished in a few hours, and has remained an Israeli masterpiece ever since.

Jerusalem of Gold - (English Version)

The same goes with Mozart, Handel, and many other composers known for their swift writing.

Russian composer Igor Stravinsky said something really powerful:

Igor Stravinsky, one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century.

"Composition is an entirely arbitrary act.

Yet it must not SOUND arbitrary."

What does he mean?

Stravinsky has aptly described composition as arbitrary, but emphasized that the music itself should not sound arbitrary. The final piece must possess internal logic, where each chosen sound serves a purpose.

The very fact that you are currently composing a specific piece, whether it's a piano composition or a piece for flute and oboe, is entirely arbitrary. On the deepest level of things, the reason I am personally currently working, for example, on music for a dance, is entirely arbitrary and connected to a work offer I’ve received. I could have received an invitation to write music for a film (and that would also be arbitrary. I suppose you get it by now...).

But we don't want our music to sound arbitrary!

If it does, it means the listener won't understand what message you wanted to deliver.

I mean... if there’s no reason for your musical choices- how is it any different than a cat walking on a piano, creating an arbitrary collection of sounds.

So why do we all have a lot of unfinished music pieces? Why do we get stuck so many times after a few bars? Because we couldn't understand the general concept of the composition, and we haven't found a justification for the sounds we chose.

This is something I do myself, to build a concept for a composition as quickly as possible in the working process: It can be a sketch of the composition, a diagram, or any kind of method to draw a general structure:

I try to get to a state where I know how the composition starts, where it's going, and how it ends, even if I don't have all the sounds in the middle yet.

Why, you ask?

Because the worst thing that would probably stop your flow is to progress from bar to bar without a clear plan.

You know how this goes… you'll get stuck and then, usually, you'll say to yourself, "I'll take a break and get back to it tomorrow."

Then tomorrow comes, and the next day comes, and a week goes by, and you have a great start but no continuation. And even if you try to continue, you've reached a dead-end.

By the way, do you know what happens if you're stuck for a week and then come back to the composition?

It's not the same as when you left it. Your mood has changed, the air in the room has changed, you’ve changed, and even your musical taste might have changed.

The worst thing is to go back to something you started a week ago. This is a huge trap!

So how do you avoid it? How do you write quickly and finish a composition in one evening, like Naomi Shemer did?

I recommend the following method to you, and it has many benefits:

Write quickly. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Just compose and finish the composition quickly.

Plan ahead the form of the piece. Where does the composition start? What happens in the middle? How does it end?

Even if you haven't chosen all the sounds and textures. Don't worry, you can always go back and change it.

The main thing is to have a clear concept for the composition, a path, a map.

To summarize it all- here are my tips for avoiding unfinished compositions and writing blockage:

1. Recognizing that finishing a musical composition is a form of saying goodbye

2. Letting go of the pursuit for perfection.

3. Writing quickly and focusing on the form.

These are the three tips I wanted to share with you.

Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have any more tips to add?

What is your greatest difficulty in completing a composition?

Feel free to write me in the comments below.

If you liked the article, please share it. Maybe your friends will find it helpful.

Thanks for reading. See you in the next article!

Is it your first time here on this blog?

My name is Prof. Amit Weiner, a composer for film and TV and pianist, proudly leading the cross-disciplinary composition department at the globally recognized Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

I’m on a mission to help musicians find career opportunities and help musicians find their way in the huge world of the music industry.

With two decades of active composition experience, I find immense joy in teaching and sharing my knowledge and experiences.

My music is published by Universal, Sony, Warner, Megatrax, and more and I have received the Prime Minister's Prize for Composers in 2022.

I'm confident you'll not only enjoy but also find immense value in the content!


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