By Tom Hess
Do you want to be able to fully express yourself with your guitar? One of the most powerful aspects of music is its ability to serve as a tool for expressing our ideas and emotions. It is for this reason that musical expression should be one of your greatest goals. In order to enhance your musical expression and clearly communicate your ideas, you must understand how to think creatively when you play guitar. Once you have mastered this, you will be able to use your guitar to create very deep connections with those who listen to your music.
Most guitarists want to be able to express themselves better with their guitar playing; however, the majority of guitar players have no idea how to actually practice this skill. This leads to a lot of time being wasted on practicing guitar in a way that does not produce big results. The solution to this problem is to develop a more accurate fundamental understanding of how to develop musical creativity.
Many people play the guitar songs and melodies of great guitar players hoping that they will soak in the same musical expression abilities through time and experience. Although it is cool to play nice guitar riffs, and learn your favorite solos on guitar, doing this alone will not give you musical creativity. The reality is that copying other musicians will bring very few results on its own. There are essentially two things you need to understand in order to become highly creative and express emotions in music:
- You have to understand the manner in which great guitar players and musicians ‘think’. More specifically, this means determining WHY they choose the specific notes and musical ideas that they do. This is something that you cannot learn if you simply copy the “notes” of your favorite songs and guitar solos. Rather than just playing the same notes as other musicians, you must spend time thinking about the musical emotions you want to express, and what specific musical choices you need to make to achieve that goal. Once you gain this level of musical creativity, you will develop your own unique sound as it relates to the ideas and emotions that come from your mind.
- You must learn why certain musical elements create very predictable emotions for people, and then use this knowledge when playing music for others. The best musical artists will generally make decisions in their music based on the goal of influencing the emotions of the listeners in a specific way (whether the artist, or their audience consciously realize it themselves or not). Without this ability to intentionally express your unique emotions in music, you will be limited to merely playing the musical ideas of others.
If you want to truly master musical creativity, you will need to learn how to use music theory. Unfortunately, most guitar players have one of two misconceptions about what music theory IS. Some people stay away from theory because they believe it contains unbreakable “rules” that will limit their freedom of musical expression. Other guitar players think that the purpose of music theory is only to learn abstract ideas about all the nuts and bolts that make up music.
The truth is, music theory is neither of these things. Music theory is the idea of connecting one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions together through musical expression. It is the ability to explain WHY we feel emotions in music, and how we can continue to use musical creativity to recreate our emotions.
Change The Way You Think About Music Theory
In order to really understand music theory, you need to first get rid of any of the current misconceptions you have about it (as described above). Once you do this, you can truly unlock your greatest potential with musical expression and creativity. The main thing to understand about music theory is that it is very useful for explaining how music makes us feel various emotions.
There are many ways to demonstrate this, and here is one example of how I teach my guitar students to become more musically creative by applying music theory. First, I have them take out a piece of paper and write down all of the thoughts, ideas, and emotions they want to convey through musical expression. Once they have done this, I ask them to try to figure out the various music theory tools that can be used to express these things. The key here is to emphasize “applying” music theory in a creative way so that you integrate the music world together with everyday thoughts and situations.
Using exercises such as the one above is great for helping you to understand the connection between raw music theory concepts and their application for specific expressive uses. This helps you to learn to associate musical concepts with the ideas you have in your mind. If you would like to hear a more detailed explanation of these ideas, watch this musical creativity guitar video.
Here are the most important skills you will get from learning music theory:
- You will gain an understanding of exactly WHY you enjoy listening to certain kinds of music. This will allow you to create the same musical emotions that you get from the music of your favorite artists without copying/cloning their exact guitar licks and solos. This skill will greatly enhance your musical creativity.
- You will no longer have to waste time trying to find the “right notes” when making your own music. You will be able to quickly identify the exact musical elements needed to express your emotions in music. This will put your level of musical creativity far ahead of most guitarists and musicians who simply play around on their instrument until something sounds interesting.
- Music theory gives you all the equipment you need to put together new musical ideas much more quickly, without having to rely on remembering the way something sounds. Having the ability to associate specific feelings and emotions with the musical tools needed to express them allows you to compose and organize entire sections of your music on paper (or by ear) before even playing any notes.
- When you understand how to connect emotions in music with the musical ideas that create those feelings, you will be able to make music that puts the listener into a specific emotional state (that you get to choose!)
What Do You Need To Do Right Now?
If your goal is to become highly skillful at musical expression, then you need to follow these steps to start achieving this on guitar:
- First, watch this musical creativity guitar video.
- Remember that although music theory is extremely important for maximizing your musical creativity, you need to also develop a variety of musical skills to achieve the most freedom in your musical expression.
- Understand that music theory skill is not developed by merely taking a certain number of music theory lessons, but rather by your ability to use your current knowledge to accurately bring out your emotions through your music. Use the exercise mentioned earlier in this article to see how well you can use theoretical music concepts to make music that is consistent with the ideas you want to express. If you struggle with this, this either means that your music theory skills are low or (most commonly) you do not understand how to use what you know in music theory in an actual musical context. If you play guitar while integrating together music theory and musical expression, you will notice a HUGE surge in musical creativity!
Remember, it doesn’t matter if you know a lot about scales, chords, and other theoretical concepts. The most essential thing when it comes to music theory, is understanding how to consistently integrate your music knowledge with the thoughts and ideas in your mind. Once you can do this, your musical creativity will be overflowing!
About The Author: Tom Hess is a successful professional guitar player, composer and the guitarist of the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He also trains musicians to reach their guitar playing goals in his rock guitar lessons online. Visit his website, tomhess.net to read more articles about guitar playing, get free guitar tips and guitar playing resources.