How Creativity Strengthens Musicians During Times Of Tragedy

In times of intense turmoil and uncertainty, creativity can give artists meaning, comfort, and direction when they’d otherwise feel aimless. Musicians are just one of the countless groups of people seeing their professions get upended during the COVID-19 crisis. Embracing creativity during this painful time won’t bring your life back to normal or fix what’s wrong. But it can make some of our lives better in a meaningful way. 

What maintaining a creative practice gives musicians during challenging times 

What most of us consider normal has become a thing of the past in the age of COVID-19. Maintaining a regular creative practice can give musicians during this time is structure, hope, excitement, and goals to work towards. If you tour for a living or regularly practice with bandmates, the usual ways you express yourself through music are inevitably going to be very different right now. But making an effort to keep the act of creating and exploring music during this time is important. It can be something that strengthens you not only as a musician but also as a person. 

It’s easy to forget this, but creativity enriches our lives in profound ways during normal circumstances as well. The difference now is that musicians will be more inclined to seek out creativity as a lifeline during the pandemic. Everything around us might be changing, but that doesn’t mean our connection with music has to as well. By turning to musical creativity during this crisis, we’ll have an outlet that can center and strengthen us. But, as we’ll soon see, that doesn’t mean making music will be easy for every musician right now. 

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The challenge of embracing creativity during a crisis

In times of tragedy, some musicians view creativity as a lifeboat while others can’t think about music at all. Musicians who can easily create right now aren’t better or more devoted to their craft than those who can’t. One of the worst things we can do is to oversimplify things in the midst of tragedy. If being musically creative is tough or even impossible right now, you shouldn’t feel bad about it. From unforeseen challenges that spring up while working from home to being overwhelmed by despair and anxiety, it’s completely understandable why engaging with music is difficult for many of us right now. 

This is why tailoring expectations and being kind and patient with ourselves is paramount right now. You might want a “business as usual approach” with your musical practice right now, but no one and nothing is normal at the moment. If you find yourself less productive than usual or unable to work at all, try responding to yourself the way you would with a friend who is going through an extremely difficult time. Creativity can absolutely strengthen and enrich our lives during a tragedy, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always be able to access it to make the kind of music we think we should be making.

It’s good to have goals to work towards during this time. But it’s also a good idea to ease up on the typical pressures and expectations that drive your creative work. Like during normal circumstances, we want to create great work, but things don’t always go our way. Forcing things to happen and working when we feel like we can’t is a terrible idea right now. Working like this deprives us of the benefits of creativity, and it won’t result in meaningful work. There’s a difference between putting hard work into our music careers and unnaturally pushing through when we just don’t have it in us. 

One of the most comforting aspects of creativity is that it’s always there when we need it. If music feels impossible to focus on one day, it’ll be there waiting for you the next. By pursuing music in a healthy way, you’ll have a way to find hope and humanity during this crisis. 

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.

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  • Eric Rubenstein - May 12, 2020 reply

    Thank you, Patrick, for a smart and compassionate piece. It is indeed very hard to just turn on the “be normal” light amidst this chaos. One suggestion if I may: There can be other avenues for creative outlets, even if they aren’t your usual. For instance, I’m finding it very hard to write anything now. But I’m doing lots of covers, just to work on my singing and playing. Posting them in different places when I think it might give someone I know a lift. It helps me feel engaged– that I’ve done something musical– without the added pressure of doing something original or necessarily even good. Thanks.-Eric

  • Tetiana - July 27, 2020 reply

    If you’re looking for examples and things you an try out – here is a nice list for you:

    Am-F-Em-Am

    (This distinctive progression is widely featured in the famous piece “Requiem for a Dream” by Clint Mansell. You will likely recognize it at once as you work with it!)

    C-Am-Dm-G

    (This is an ubiquitous sad guitar chords progression, which is why it may sound familiar when you work with it, similar to the one above utilized by Mansell.)

    Am-Dm-Fm-C

    (Minor iv chord gives this progression an edge of tension thanks to its addition towards the end of the progression.)

    Em-Bm-G-Em

    (This one uses the minor vi and the minor iii. It sounds really moody, ominous and sad.

    You can stay on those two chords, alternating back and forth. Or you can explore other options by adding in some major chords as well.

    Some of my favorite options are resolving to the I chord or moving to the IV or V chords.)

    Fmaj7-A

    (It is yet another interesting chord, using a different chord with a similar base note can dramatically steer up emotions, especially when most of your chords are on minor keys.)

    Am-C-D-Am-C-Am

    (This one was actually used in the Johnny Cash cover of “Hurt”!)

    Em-G-C-Am

    (IT’s an interesting progression – it can be arranged in any desired order as part of a larger composition to achieve the exact sad affect you want from the notes.

    This applies to any highly recognizable and iconic chords. Mixing them around always has the chance of finding a new powerfully emotional combo you might like!)

    A-E-F#m-D-A-E

    (Oh it’s a beautiful one! It’s from “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton.)

    Em-D-C-G-F#-Em

    (This one creates a beautiful sense of rest. You can freestyle with a few notes to add a bit of flavor.)

    Em-G-D-C

    (Some common chord progressions are just so fundamental that they are used in many different pieces of all kinds of musical styles. This is great news – it means that if you become fluent with them there are hundreds of songs you’ll be able to play relatively easily. Here is one of such progressions for you.)

    You can also listen to how they all sound on this interactive page if you’re interested)

    https://chordchord.com/20-sad-and-emotional-chord-progressions

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