pianist's hand at the keyboard“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
–Erich Fromm, psychologist and author

Is there a state of mind more adverse to creativity than rigid certainty? I doubt it.

To create, we have to generate ideas that take us beyond the familiar confines of certitude.

Whether we’re composing, practicing, writing, devising promotional strategies or whatever, we have to ask open-ended questions along the lines of, “What might happen if . . . ?”

Then, we need the courage to explore our ideas amid the tangles of uncertainty.

Mental Grooves

Often, though, as we explore, our mental flexibility can dwindle, limiting our creative options due to habits of thought that we inadvertently pick up.

For instance, if we invent a melody to companion a lyric, then, when we think of that lyric again, the melody we invented tends to stick in our minds, even if we dislike it and want to compose a different one.

Similarly, in the practice room, we might try out several ways to interpret a musical passage, and then, in subsequent days, find ourselves falling into predictable expressive patterns.

The main reason for this conceptual narrowing is that, when we spawn a thought, we establish a mental groove of sorts. Thereafter, the instant we orient toward that same notion, our thoughts stream down a pre-cut mental channel.

But we can counteract this restrictive tendency.

One way is to collaborate with diverse people; another is to use thinking tools that open up new conceptual pathways.

Scamper Out of Habitual Thinking

Among these thinking tools is one developed by Bob Eberle known as SCAMPER.

When you want to break out of mental habits, solve creative problems, and stimulate fresh thinking, experiment with the following techniques:

S – Substitute: Switch one idea for another.

C – Combine: Merge themes or ideas.

A – Adapt: Rework a riff or an idea to serve a new function.

M – Modify: Change things like register, tone, rhythm, instrumentation.

P – Put to another use: E.g., use an opening idea in a closing section.

E – Eliminate: Cut out material, either temporarily or permanently.

R – Reverse: Flip around rhythmic or melodic shapes in a composition; invert interpretive habits.

Two quick illustrations:The Musician's Way book cover

  1. If you commonly crescendo to dramatic high points in phrases, try reversing that approach once in a while – drop to a softer level mid-phrase or as the intensity peaks.
  2. If a melody you compose lacks overall impact, try combining elements of it with ingredients from other tunes that you make up.

The applications of this tool are limitless, and so is our artistic potential when we relinquish the comforts of certainty and adventure beyond our conventional habits.

The Musician’s Way explores abundant ways to heighten creativity, especially in “Solving Problems” (p. 54-70), “Committing to the Creative Process” (p. 109-112) ,and “Boosting Creativity (p. 309-314).

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © grafvision, licensed from Shutterstock.com