Keys to Acoustic Creativity

In this "Frets" column, take a look at some of the keys to acoustic creativity.
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The glory of the acoustic is that it’s always ready at the moment of inspiration. You don’t need any pedals or a noisy amp to get your tone together. The acoustic is your anytime/all-the-time guitar. Keep it close by. When you wake up in the morning, walk over to it and simply start playing. All those weird dreams are still lingering, waiting to come through your fingertips and become music. Don’t think. Just play. It’s the only time of day not obscured by all the thoughts that start accumulating the moment you become conscious. Always record right into your phone. Don’t waste time hooking stuff up. Get right to playing, and keep the creative flow going for as long as it lasts. Once your conscious mind starts taking over, then give it a chance to make sense of the raw creativity. Can you repeat what you just did? Is there an A and a B section? If you’re lucky enough to feel a song manifesting, pursue it doggedly, following the path like a hound tracking a rabbit until you’ve either snagged that sucker, or the trail goes cold. Once you start playing familiar licks—stop. Give a listen back. Got it? Good. Move on with your morning.


After you’ve been doing other things for a while, grab your acoustic again. What happens when you pick it up and start playing this time? Is it that thing from earlier, or something altogether different? Follow through. All the emotions and thoughts that the day has brought are waiting to be translated. If it’s the earlier thing again, is it happening exactly the same way? Great! You’ve got something solid. If not, that’s cool too. Maybe it’s better, more developed. Maybe both ideas are valuable. Variation on a theme is super useful. Once that moment of inspiration gives way to logic, consider what you’ve got. Take a listen back to both recordings you’ve made today. Do they connect? Hit record again, see what flows, and move on.


After you’ve lived your day, give your acoustic a chance to help you make sense of everything that has happened. What’s there this time you pick it up? If it’s something new, always give that a chance to flow. If it’s some version of what happened earlier, let that happen too. Now take the time to think. Can you play these ideas consistently? They should start to take more definite shape. Finally, try to connect them. In the end, you may only wind up with one full theme, but you also may have an entire tune. Try to determine at least one definitive thing. Listen back to the earlier recordings. What’s the strongest idea? Can you hum it? Is there a distinct rhythm? Play around with it. Are you in the best key? Try a capo. There’s no better sleep-aid then knowing you’ve created a living, breathing musical idea—something you can play again and again.

When you wake up the next day, what you worked on yesterday will either be there again, begging for development, or perhaps there’s a completely different idea waiting to celebrate a new circle around the sun. Of course, it may strike in the middle of the night, and you must get up and get it down before it slips away. That’s why it’s imperative to always keep an acoustic handy—out of the case, on a stand and seductive. Remember, the greatest thing about the acoustic guitar is that it’s always in the mood to get creative.