Thursday, February 15, 2007

Creativity in songwriting - the four stages of learning

I continue to ponder songwriting as a craft vs. creativity. Lately I've felt my creativity slip, while I learn more and more each day.

In teaching canoe instructors, I talk about the four stages of learning:
- Unconscious incompetent. Don't know and don't know that you don't know (i.e. totally clueless)
- Conscious incompetent - Know that you don't know
- Conscious competent - Can do if you really concentrate
- Unconscious competent - Can do without thinking about it

I think that pure creativity is highest during the first two stages. You don't know the rules, so you're constantly drawing outside the lines. You try things that the "experts" would never consider or had discounted from other's experience. The majority of times you fail, but occasionally you hit on a great novel idea. I've learned a lot in canoeing from those who never had a lesson, but just went out and survived. For that reason, I like hearing the songwriter, who developed their craft by themselves and is bringing it to the world for the first time. The majority need help, but occasionally...

For songwriting, I would classify myself in the third stage. I can write decent songs if I really think about it. Unfortunately, a lot of energy goes into thinking about it. I can get from point A to point B (the finished song) but am not gracefully. It also takes a ton of energy to do it right.

Where I really want to get is the fourth stage, unconscious competent, to go from point A to point B with ease and grace , to create songs without thinking about it. To date my best songs have been those that just flowed only took 2-3 hours to write from start to finish.

Unfortunately the only way to go from the third to fourth stage is practice and time. Yuk work...

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2 Comments:

At 7:07 AM, Anonymous mjpmusic said...

Great insight, Jeff. I think I am at level three -- I need to work a lot harder to get to level 4 -- that is not appealing to me at all. Keep up the blogging!

 
At 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always find it slightly odd that people have this creativity v craft dilemma. To me, craft is nothing more than the grammar of songwriting.

Imagine someone who wrote in a stream-of-consciousness way, using no punctuation and incorrect spelling... Would you consider this to be when they are at their most creative? Surely their writing is much better when it is written in a way that is grammatically sound and can be read?

I guess it all depends on what you want to do. If you want to write songs for yourself, that only you understand then it's fine to be creative only. However, if you wish to share that musical language with others in a way that they can get, then you need to employ the grammar of a song - form, structure etc. A good songwriter is only someone who knows how to communicate their creativity using their craft. Therefore, there is no distinction or polarization between creativity and craft - they are part of the same thing if we want to be understood.

 

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