I feel like I've already been "programmed" by pop songs when creating new sound. I always enjoy simply improvising on piano but I can never break through that musicality that is "programmed" in my head after yeas of listening to pop songs. The only thing I can do is exploring melodically, putting aside the harmony first; but then, again, I tend to go back to the "common practice"(and often times it's the chord progression that is just working so fine in transition) of what makes a pop song sound nice to ears. How can I get out of the box and explore creativity? Advice from different genre and styles are all welcomed. Thanks a lot!

p.s. As a matter of fact, this question is not entirely for opinions, as I'm not asking for opinions. There might be opinions that are partially included in the answers though, but that are just advice to support the methods. Ultimately, I just want to know what are the technical/appropriate ways composers do to explore creativity and get out of the box.

  • 1
    The only thing you can do is push your own boundaries by listening to and creating music that is outside of your comfort zone.
    – user39614
    Aug 11, 2018 at 15:17
  • 1
    Stop listening to pop songs and start listening to something completely different. Bartok, Schoenberg, Messiaen, Elliott Carter - it doesn't really matter what, just "soak it up" until your brain starts to make sense of it (warning, that will probably take longer than a few hours...)
    – user19146
    Aug 11, 2018 at 18:35

3 Answers 3


Instead of telling you what you should do, I’m going I tell you what I do, since this IS what I do:

1.) I ask myself questions about what I’m trying to accomplish artistically. I treat myself kind of like a journalist, and I let the piece’s particulars (all the fun details everyone likes to get hung up on) fill themselves in as logical solutions to my questions.

2.) I get out of my comfort zone. A very famous composer once told me that if you know what you’re doing then you’re doing the wrong thing. Other people say to change your musical diet. I go a few steps further: I read different books, watch different movies / shows, eat different foods, change my daily routines, learn a new skill, challenge myself personally, etc. You can’t be the same old person and come up with new ways of thinking. If you want to be a creative, you have to get used to the idea of changing.

3.) Collaborate. I don’t write in a vacuum. I start collaborating with my performers from the very beginning. Often times performers have tons of great practical feedback. Talk to other composers for creative feedback. Don’t bother showing your work to anyone who will say “that’s nice” unless your intent is just to share it. Share with people who you think might be the most different from you aesthetically. OR, who exactly specialize in the exact thing you’re trying to do.

4.) Put up creative barriers. Choice is a burden. You are more creative when you have more limitations put on you; more for you to push up against. Give yourself absurd challenges: make everything Fibonacci related / write the piece backwards / put a rest in every 5.5 beats (you get the idea).

5.) I make sure each project I do is different than the last one. Solo piano piece? Okay, now 3 Bassoons, now Orchestra, now video game, now I write a bunch of songs on my guitar, now I do copying work, now jazz choir, now an electronic piece. I often ask myself: “what is the exact opposite of what I just did and how can I do that?” I often measure my response to that with how I’m feeling creatively. Sometimes it lines up, sometimes it doesn’t. I spend a lot of time listening to my creative voice’s needs.

I say the word “you” a lot here but I’m really just talking to myself. This is what I do, and I have to say, I don’t ever sufffer from “writer’s block”, nor do I feel like I’m in a creative rut.

Anyway, hope these ideas help you get your own creative juices movin’.

  • Good thoughts! I do many of the same.
    – Heather S.
    Aug 12, 2018 at 10:01
  • If you are looking for some good creative barriers google Brian eno's oblique strategies.
    – b3ko
    Aug 12, 2018 at 13:28

Experience and play lots of music, of different styles. Absorb the methods and 'tricks' of all of them. Use them in your songs. You can only create from the tools you know and understand.

When you think someone is being 'creative', he's just putting together HIS set of musical building blocks in a way you wouldn't have thought of trying.

Sometimes artists decide to 'throw away the past' and 'start anew'. It rarely goes well.

And here's something. 'Professional composers' are often more concerned with continuing a winning streak than with being being creative and original.

Write LOTS of songs. Write one today. Another one tomorrow. Your 'voice' will emerge. Don't worry too much about being original. Try to be good.


Two ideas come to mind. First, listen to lots of music that you might like compose (or that you feel that you could learn from.) One might for example listen to lots of tangos or rumbas or country & western or Strauss waltzes or Broadway to get a feel of the style.

Second, pick a riff, chord progression, melodic segment, time signature or the like and write a few pieces using that as a constraint. Try a chord pattern: I,I7,iv,II7,V7 or I,vi,ii,V or i,iv,VII,III,CI,ii0,V,i and I,IV,vii0,iii,ii,V,I for comparison. Use something like a 5/4 time signature to see how the accents interact with melody differently from 4/4 time.

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