People often ask me to help them with their lack of musical motivation. I think writer’s block happens to most of us. It is nothing to panic about. I always advise people to check out music they normally would never listen to. Metalheads should try listening to some folk music, country players need to explore classical, blues players have to listen to a tasty John Philip Sousa march, funk guitarists should dig some Lawrence Welk polkas, and punk players must listen to Justin Bieber. Ha! I’m getting carried away with silliness, but you get the idea. On a serious note, I have heard that the great Albert King was inspired by Debussy.
I remember when I was working on writing my piece “Life and Death,” I came to the end of a section that had a definite “final” sound. It is a thematic orchestral piece, and that little movement was done. I stressed about where to go with it for a couple of weeks. One day, just to forget about that pesky song of mine, I watched the Stevie Ray Vaughan video Live at the El Mocambo.
I was moved by how he would go from a heavy, rocking section to a quiet whisper. The whole band got so gentle and simple, out of the blue. Stevie was barely touching the strings. I thought, “Hmmmm… Why am I stressing about coming up with another complex section when maybe I just need something simple and moving?” I went to the computer and played one soft, sustaining violin note after the previous section. It worked! I got the mood I wanted, plus that one note inspired me to start writing a whole new, slower part. It became extra cool when I combined both sections near the end of the song in a wild and dramatic way. This got me all giddy! (Another thing to keep in mind: If you can’t find any music that tickles your creative bone, try mindfully watching TV, listening for tones or inflections in peoples’ voices that might be cool.)
Sometimes the best thing you can do is get away from the guitar, believe it or not. My family and I used to vacation in the southwest desert, and a couple of times I didn’t bring my guitar. Yes, it was difficult, and I had withdrawals, but the silence and stillness of the desert is breathtaking. Music does come out from silence, so often it’s cool to just shut up and listen to nothing. Once I got home and played after two weeks, it felt like a new experience—like sleeping with a new lover. My fingers felt different and fresh, like someone else was playing. It was easier to try things without the hindrance of old finger habits.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to practice a lot. Guitarists need to play almost all of the time. It is fun, though, to mess with your routines and think outside of your comfort zone. If you want to be a unique musician, I highly recommend that. Of course, I spent years not writing music because I didn’t know how to do it without any real movement. I wouldn’t recommend going that far!
Jason Becker is a composer and guitarist whose work can be heard on his solo albums, and with Cacophony and David Lee Roth. Check out this sexy man’s story in the awardwinning documentary Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.