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Creativity, Divergent thinking and Hunting Sky-kraken

Here’s a little story of how I wrote a song about hunting Sky-kraken

Sitting down with my acoustic guitar, I just started playing. I didn’t know what I was going to play except that I wanted to write something new.

Lately my fingers have been finding E lydian rather too easily, so I started with an E major 7 chord and a few twiddlings with the scale – not enough to be called a melody, just a bit of noodling.

I carried on playing, entirely aimlessly…

Alun Vaughun a fantastic solo bass player had recently turned me onto the music of Mike Kineally. His songs use lots of complicated chords, I decided I wanted something harmonically lush – so some 9th chords worked their way into my guitar part. Nothing like Kineally really, but that memory triggered the chords.

A few more moments noodling…

The last big gig I went to was Opeth at the Royal Albert hall – some Opeth-like chords appeared under my fingers – but I remembered Kineally and for some reason that meant I had to play a little melodic run that didn’t sound like Opeth at all.

I had been reading PZ Myers over at science blogs – he likes Cephalopods. This combined with my recent obsession with Steampunk and suddenly the song was about hunting Sky-kraken in an Airship.

Steampunk led to memories of Radiohead’s video for There There, which led to a chorus ripping that off – and now the Kraken was winning because the chorus melody was about the bewitching power of it’s ink and tentacles.

All of this occurred at a far less conscious level than I’m making it appear, and it resulted in this song (which isn’t finished yet, but you get the idea):

The Beast of the Air

Divergent Thinking

Divergent, unrelated solutions to the problem of how to write a song making their way in from the outskirts of my mind, unleashed by the practice of jamming without any structure.

I’ve been writing, reading and thinking about creativity a lot recently. Divergent thinking, the ability to find lots of of unrelated possibilities from different disciplines is very important to creativity. What I was doing when I sat down with no idea other than to play and see what happened was the musical equivalent of the free writing a novelist might do to get the brain working – it’s also similar to brainstorming or mind mapping – letting the brain run and sifting through what turns up.

Divergent thinking has been shown to be a skill that musicians are particularly good at, but I’m aware that I don’t make as much effort at it as I could. Too often I try to structure my composition, rather than making time for exploring possibilities and creating the circumstances in which the mind can find these possibilities.

What can you do to encourage divergent thinking?

  • Mind-map – sit down with pen and paper, write down a central idea then surround it with related ideas…
  • Free write – Just start writing prose and see what turns up.
  • List possiblities – what are all the possible ways of startign a song? What are all the possible chord sequences, or lyrical subjects that you could write about?
  • Just play – sit down with your instrument and start playing with no aim except to see what happens. You never know, you might end up with a song about hunting Sky-Kraken too.

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