Critical or Creative?
Left and Right brain theory is the idea that we are either logical or creative thinkers. How can we best use our Left and Right brain in music creation? We are going to look at a really simple three step technique to unlock both parts of your mind at the right time.
Before we start, it is now generally accepted that the concept of a left (logical) and right (creative) brain is a myth. Each hemisphere of our brain does control different functions but this doesn’t actually translate into our personalities.
However even if the model is a myth, we’d probably all agree that we think both creatively and critically at times. Both ways are important when we are creating music. The problem comes when our over-active 21st century minds try to do both at the same time.
For the purpose of this post I’ll continue to borrow that outdated model as a neat analogy. When I say left brain, I’m meaning our critical, more analytical voice. When I say right brain, I’m talking about our more creative and improvised thought patterns.
Managing your left and right brain in Music Creation
Have you ever found yourself trying to write a melody idea, an instrument part or a chord progression and continually dismissing each idea as they come? If a ‘great’ idea doesn’t hit quick, you can get more and more frustrated and negative. Constantly dismissing each new idea as boring, cliched, untalented, a trope etc… you gradually descend deeper into the analytical abyss.
Perhaps you’ve sat in front of the DAW for hours and by the time you get up you’ve played or sung hundreds of ideas, recorded nothing and instead become locked in a sort of desperate spirit battle with your inner musical demons? We’ve all been there.
What’s happening is that our Left brain thinking has become too dominant. We are thinking more and more critically, like a self-editing machine reviewing our ideas almost before they come out of our hands, voice, or mouse.
As someone wise once said, ‘the same thinking that got us into the problem isn’t going to get us back out’. You’ve lost your flow and you need to get it back.
Here is a quick and easy solution, which can be a great way to alter our thinking patterns and get us back into the state of musical flow. Some of you may already work this way, but it’s surprising how quickly we can forget the simplest of tools and end up stuck.
Step 1 – Loop
Start by looping the section of the song you are working on (fig 1 below). Here I was trying to write a melody for the verse section of a song. I got stuck fairly quickly and started thinking of all sorts of crazy things (“my guitar needs setup, my strings are too old, I can’t play well enough” etc)
Step 2 – Engage the Right Brain
Next we are going to throw caution to the wind, hit record and just free improvise ideas for the next 5 or 10 minutes. Logic is great for this when looping as it can store endless recorded takes in Take Folders which are then very easy to review (fig 2 below).
You could even set a timer to force yourself into this. The main point is that anything goes. Try to make it almost meditative and the longer you record, the more likely you will eventually get bored, the critic will die down and you will start tapping into deeper parts of your musical subconscious. Even at that stage don’t judge yourself, just keep letting the ideas flow good and bad.
Step 3 – Review (Let the Left Brain loose)
Now that we’ve hopefully got 5 to 10 minutes of material to play with, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve hopefully let the Right brain have some fun and come up with stuff that you might never have if you spent an hour constantly self-editing. Go and make yourself a nice coffee, grab a biscuit and I’ll see you in 5 minutes.
We can now safely review our work without sabotaging the creation stage. This is when the Left Brain thinking is in its element. You can be your own producer and assess your ideas calmly and go through them. You might find magic in take 34 that you didn’t even notice as you were playing it.
It really is that simple. With the right working method we can optimise how we employ our left and right brain in music and allow both modes of thinking in their rightful place. Hopefully you can employ this simple strategy to good effect in your next song or production and avoid some of the darker moments when progress seems to stall.
One other thing I forgot to mention. The loop and go crazy approach is fun too. Surely the whole point of making music at some point is to enjoy the process? If we allow ourselves a free reign to go a bit mental and explore the more stranger ideas possible by rolling tape, we’ll probably end up with more ideas and enjoy the whole creative process a lot more.
Let me know how you get on with the technique in the comments below.