How To Nurture Your Creativity As A Musician

musical creativity– Have you ever felt stuck in your development as a musician?

– Have you ever felt blocked creatively, energetically, or even uninspired?

– If you’re like most serious musicians your answer will most likely be YES!

You’re Not Alone

All serious musicians have felt this way as they progress through their journey of improving their musicianship. As musicians we LOVE music so much and  we care very deeply about how we sound.

So, when we don’t sound as good as we want to it can be very emotionally and spiritually draining. Our ego and pride can play tricks on us and be quite cruel.

As a result, these types of bad experiences can quickly put us in a musical rut and really play a number on our spirit, our creativity, and our motivation to practice.

The Jazz Mindset

This can create a serious dilemma for jazz musicians. You see as jazz musicians, we are improvisers by nature. We are constantly exploring the unexplored, experimenting, and trying new things.

Of course this can lead to occasionally falling flat on our faces from time to time (wrong notes, bad time, forgetful moments, etc. etc.) We grow from these mistakes though. They are a VITAL and ESSENTIAL part of our musical process as we learn how to play jazz.

These “mistakes” are true and honest feedback in regards to what musically works and what does not. Some of my best musical ideas ever have come from what originally were “mistakes.” 

(Update: Via request here’s a new article on the 7 most inspiring books for jazz musicians)

Musical Courage And Creativity

Lets be honest here. It takes a lot of courage to be willing to sounding like shit from time to time in order to grow. I wish I could say that I was never scared of mistakes. This is far from the truth though!

Steve’s Story

When I first started playing I used to be petrified of sounding “bad”. So, I’d play mostly safer stuff that I knew would work.

It was all “nice”stuff I guess. Pleasant I suppose on a good day. In reality though, it was a recipe to sound just passable and maybe decent if I was lucky.

I guess this would have been cool if I didn’t have the highest aspirations for myself in music.

I never wanted to sound just plain competent. I wanted to sound GREAT! I let fear get in the way of my progress. 🙁

What’s the Opposite of Musically Inspiring?

Sadly, this my safe approach stunted my development big time! This became obvious after a particularly lame gig one night about 15 years ago.

I received more polite golf claps in one gig than I ever wanted to receive in my whole career. 🙂

Shock Alert: People were bored. 🙂

I wasn’t playing the real me and my audience knew it.

If I wasn’t even inspiring myself through my playing how was I suppose to inspire an audience? I knew I had to change my attitude and approach and change it fast! Boring sucks!

It became a turning point and  I started to listen to the real musical voice inside my head for the first time.

jazz creativitySlowly, I gained some courage and I started going for “it” more and more in my playing and practicing. I never wanted to hear polite golf claps again!

I wouldn’t and couldn’t settle for mediocrity.

The Answer Lies Within The Question

I knew now that I needed to approach my development in a different way. I needed to change my attitude and the inner dialogue I had with myself.

So, every day in the practice room I’d begin by asking myself new questions I never asked before. I started asking powerful questions like:

  • “What else can I do with this musical idea?”
  • “What happens if I try x?”
  • “Where else can I go with this music idea?”
  • “What if I add this note?”
  • “What if I change this rhythm?”
  • “How would this scale sound here?”

These questions became my mantras. I started discovering an unbelievable amount of new musical ideas all by shifting my mind. This shift caused me to grow more in 3 months than I had in 3 years.

With Great Risk Comes Great Reward

Sure, I had times that I didn’t sound great as I went through this beginning process. It was to be expected if I was going to truly work out my real musical voice and just my safe one.

In fairness though I also had musical moments that were 1000x more deep than my musically polite golf clapping approach ever was! 🙂

The best part was the more I went through this creative process the less I actually sounded “bad.” It’s ironic isn’t it? As my creativity increased my technical skill also rose to support it.

Now, years later, since I started allow myself to sound “bad” I play better than ever. This attitude shift changed my whole entire musical career. (check out video below)

Golf Claps No More

You can see the effect of what I’m talking about on one of my gig videos right here. Real inspiration for the audience. I love Colorado by the way! 🙂

The Jazz Dilemma And Your Solution

Now, here’s the conundrum we all face as jazz musicians. Jazz can be a very technical style of music. There can be so many things to think about (chord changes, scales, licks, forms, substitutions etc. etc.)

So, how do we nurture this boundary pushing/mistakes are cool/experimental attitude when there are so many technical things to think about in jazz?

how to be more creativeThe answer is very simple…practice them separately!

If you couldn’t tell from the insane amount of detail on all the jazz lessons on this site..I’m a pretty detailed oriented musician. I love all the technical stuff…it’s fun for me to learn and to teach 🙂

Now, even though I do spend a lot of my practice time with this stuff in reality the technical stuff is only one part of my practice routine.

I also spend specific practice time everyday exploring my creativity. I call this time “mistake acceptance mode”.

In this time I try new things in my playing and experiment with new ideas.

No Judgement Just Growth

I don’t judge myself during this time and allow myself to search and make mistakes. This isn’t a public performance. This is just for me. It’s my time to grow!

Later on when I’m in “technical mode” I’ll go back and work out some more of the technical specifics of the new ideas I just discovered. This period of daily creativity provides the fuel for me to do that though.

So, let’s help you find some new growth and creativity in your playing now!

Your Action Step

As a reminder my loyal jazz friends this site is about making you a better jazz musician! 🙂

So, in order to help yourself grow I’d like you do to an easy exercise. Try 1 new thing in your playing this week that you’ve never tried before.

Please leave a comment below and let us know what you plan to experiment with in your own playing this week. This should be a very fun growth exercise for you!

The more we share here the more we grow as musicians together.  I look forward to hearing your comments below!


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Steve Nixon