Improve Your Craft By Keeping A Music Journal

Keeping a music journal has been one of the best habits I've developed to improve my craft as a musician, composer, and producer. In my journal, I include:

  • My ideas, goals, progress, and current focus.
  • Information on music theory and music production.
  • Notes from lectures and books I'm reading.
  • Thoughts on life and music in general.

Writing a music journal is proving to be an invaluable asset in my creative process. Hell, I probably would never have started blogging about music if I had never started journaling on music!

In the following paragraphs, I will share with you the benefits I have personally received from starting a music journal and how journaling has improved my craft.

Writing a music journal has helped me:

  • Stay focused on goals and process
  • Solidify ideas in more than one medium
  • Accelerate learning
  • Track my progress
  • Reference past projects and ideas
  • Express difficulties and successes in music and life

Let's go into more detail!


Journaling Helps You Stay Focused On Goals And Process

Memes and Dreams was my first album in well over a year. I was playing live in bands quite a bit during that time but was not writing much music for my solo project.

When I first started writing, I found it difficult to get any work done. I decided to try out goal setting.

My music journal was created. I had a big goal of writing an album that would combine multiple genres of music. with a lot of guitar work, based on electronic music production techniques. I wrote that out on paper and on a whiteboard so that I could see and reference it every day.

Every morning when I'd wake up, I'd look at that page in my music journal. Then, I'd go to the next blank page in the journal and write “I compose one piece of music every day” on every line of that page.

I was like Bart in the opening sequence of The Simpsons! I got this idea from Grant Cardone's book Be Obsessed Or Be Average.

This may sound a bit overboard, but this exercise proved very effective in getting me to compose one piece of music every day.

Now some of the songs I wrote were not very good, but that's beside the point.

The fact that I wrote one song per day meant not only that I was creating music, but also that I was improving my production techniques and the speed at which I could bring my musical ideas to fruition. Within a month, I had 13 songs I was proud to assemble into an album.


More On Goal Setting

I believe goal setting is crucial for getting work done in an effective manner. When it's time to write an album, I like to get totally focused on just that.

The “I write one piece of music every day” works wonders for me when I'm working on getting an album done. A music journal helps tremendously in writing these goals down and actually achieving them!

Lately, I've been writing “I write 3 blog articles every week,” which gets me to sit down and actually write them.

I prefer writing my goals out on paper, but writing them out on a computer can yield the same results.

The point is to create that reminder and program the subconscious mind into believing what you tell it. In that sense, writing “I write a piece of music every day” is magnitudes more effective than writing “I would like to write a piece of music every day.”

The key is programming yourself to achieve what you want by writing down exactly what it is that you want. So write as if you've already achieved your goal, or as if you're already doing what you'd like to be doing.


Journaling Solidifies Musical Ideas In Another Medium

One of the main benefits of being a bedroom producer is that if you have a musical idea, you can plug it straight into the computer and hear it back with all the elements you'd like!

There's no need to wait on other musicians to hear your idea and write their own parts. There's not even a need to remember the idea once you have the piece written inside the digital audio workstation.

Sure there's “no need to remember,” but it certainly helps you improve as a musician.

The more ways in which you can explain an idea, the better your understanding of that idea will be.

Writing “music” in multiple media helps to build more neural connections to the art. This is why I think it's important to journal about your musical ideas both before and after production.

This is also why I believe bedroom producers should learn an instrument, and that musicians should learn music production. It's all about expressing yourself in as many ways as possible.

Of course, it can be argued that art is not meant to be explained and music should be enjoyed for what it is. But journaling your ideas, to me, is less about musical “art,” and more about improving your musical “craft.”

When I'm writing with my guitar and I'm away from a computer, I'll occasionally write down the chords, melodic structure, and rhythm on a piece of paper.

More often, I'll record a voice memo on my phone.

But when I do write down my idea on paper, I get much more involved with potential instrumentation, sonic palette, voicing, chord-scale relationships, and other theoretical aspects of music.

Recording a voice memo of one guitar is great, but very limiting in the amount of information I can provide. By combining these two media, I can get a solid idea of what the piece will be before ever sitting down at my computer to produce it 🙂

The initial goal here is to get a musical idea written down before it escapes your mind. The added bonus is that it builds more neural pathways to your music!


Journaling Helps Accelerate Learning

When learning, whether by listening, watching, or reading, it helps to take notes. In the same way that it helps to play the chords and scales that you're learning on your instrument.

Brian Tracy touches on this in his audiobook Accelerated Learning Techniques. He states that there are three ways in which we learn.

These three ways are Visual, Auditory, and Tactile. And although we each have a preferred or best way of learning, we will accelerate our learning by combining all three.

Playing sheet music, for example, activates all three of the learning senses. We read the sheet music (Visual), play what we read (Tactile), and hear what we are playing (Auditory). Music is beautiful in that way.

Writing about your music activates the tactile (the writing itself) and the visual (reading it back).

Whether you write about the musical idea, the chords, the rhythm, the theory, the production techniques, the sheet music, or any other aspect of your music, you are effectively connecting yourself more deeply to your craft!

On top of that, when learning something new from books, lectures, or other information products, taking notes will help accelerate your learning so that you can apply the new knowledge to your craft faster and more efficiently.


Journaling Helps Track Progress

Tracking progress is important in order to remind yourself that you're actually making progress.

Regularly writing down what you've learned, practiced, and composed will help you stay optimistic in the fact that you're moving forward with your music.

Sometimes it can seem like you're going nowhere. But jotting down little things you've done will help solidify in your mind that you are, in fact, making progress.

I sometimes feel stagnant when I go into what I call “information overload.” When I'm so absorbed in researching new theory, production techniques, and new music, that my own music takes the backburner.

I need to constantly remind myself that I'm learning and that my music will benefit from the time off and investment in more knowledge.


Journaling Provides A Great Reference

Having a music journal comes in handy when you want to reference past work. Perhaps there's a piece of music you forget the chords to or a certain part of music theory you vaguely remember but want clarification on.

In the case of composition, I will also keep MIDI data in my sessions for reference. And in the case of information, I can always re-research it.

Nevertheless, having written references from past projects and study is useful.

It's fun to go back through old journal entries and rethink old ideas or find sparks of inspiration from words past.

It's also handy to have your own copy of the information that you haven't quite memorized yet (for example, I've kept pages upon pages of modal writings in my own journals and the knowledge has since become ingrained in my memory).

When it comes to my music, business and life, I always have a notepad and pen nearby to capture my ideas and keep track of my work.


What's Measured Improves

This quote from Peter F Drucker rings true from my personal experience. Journaling gets us to record our difficulties and successes in both music and life. Simply keeping track of our work in music will help us improve.

A music journal can become a life journal quickly since music is such a big part of our lives. It's a great place to write about personal triumphs and failures in music and in life.

A journal provides a space where you can really articulate your thoughts and feelings without judgement from others. It can really help get both good and bad ideas out of your head. Personally, I have found that journaling helps relieve stress and improve my memory and focus.


How To Keep A Music Journal

Keeping a music journal is an excellent tool for musicians. I talk about some of the benefits of keeping a music journal here, but I never really touched on how to keep a journal and what to journal about.

This article will discuss how to keep a music journal while on your musical journey, including what to write about and tips on how to stick to it!


Where To Keep Your Music Journal

The first thing to discuss is where to keep your music journal.

I prefer to keep my music journal on paper. But there are many who journal on their phones or computers. I certainly blog on my computer (who could have guessed?) but I love the freedom of pen to paper.

There are absolutely no formatting restrictions other than the size of the page you're writing on, and that makes it both easy and more enjoyable to journal about the expansiveness that is music.

When I do use my phone to take notes or journal, it's usually in point form and about ideas that I'll further pursue later in my written journal, my blog, or in my digital audio workstation.

Alternatively, there's audio and video. There are times when I have a musical idea in my head that I will record into my phone's microphone as a “voice memo.”

And yet there are other times when it's a few chords on my guitar that get recorded, either in a voice memo or in a video so that I can see exactly how I played my idea.

So there are 4 basic ways to “journal” about your musical journey:

  • Writing your journal on paper.
  • Typing your journal on a computer or phone.
  • Recording audio.
  • Recording video.

The beauty of all of these journaling methods is that they can all be taken where ever you go so that whenever you have an idea, you can quickly document it.

How many of us bring our smartphones with us everywhere we go?

That's really all you need to journal with. I much prefer to bring a physical book journal with me. I keep a large one in my bookbag, and a small notepad in my jacket pocket (both hardcover).


What To Write About In Your Music Journal

The next question is what to write about in a music journal

There are so many things to write about in a music journal. It's such an expansive art form that I could write forever on the topic (expect this blog to get huge). Some common subjects to write about in a music journal include but are not limited to:

Let's touch on each of these a little bit.

Composition Ideas

I was originally going to call this “Musical Ideas,” but that would be too vague. Composition ideas are any ideas related to writing and composing your music.

I most often will write chord progressions down, perhaps accompanied by a melody line, or by notes and scales/modes I'd like to improvise with.

Write rhythms out over space on the page. Include a note on tempo. Journal about orchestration as well, as in which instrument or synth sound you'd like to play which parts. I've handwritten guitar tablature before when I had a great idea on my guitar.

I've seen people carry around blank staff paper as part of their music journal. I'm personally pretty terrible with sheet music, so I mostly stick to writing out chords by their names. Although learning how to sight-read and to write sheet music is a great skill to develop.

Writing these compositional ideas in your journal makes it easier to recall the ideas when it comes time to sit down and actually compose, whether you reference the journal or not. It's another brain connection to your music!

I have difficulty remembering melodic lines or chord progressions if I don't write them down or repeat the ideas throughout the day before I get a chance to get them out in my DAW.

This is a perfect example of something you can journal in audio or video form as well!

Production Ideas

For me, these ideas typically come after a piece has been written into my DAW. Production ideas include how to process your sounds, mixing ideas, and even recording ideas.

“Could sending a pad to a bus, and processing that bus with a pitch shifter an octave up and 100% wet reverb add to your sound?” This is an example of what I've written in the past.

I get home and try these things out. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But with so many ideas bouncing around my head, I think it's important I write them down so as to not forget them when it comes time to produce some music.

Do you have any special ideas for mixing certain elements of your track? Write them down!

What about recording ideas and signal paths? These things can get really convoluted quickly, so drawing out a diagram for your routing can be invaluable to experimenting with different hardware and software signal paths!

Taking Notes During Lectures, While Reading, Or In Courses

I cannot stress this enough. I'd even urge you to take notes while reading this article (in your journal, of course)! We live in the information age, and the experts say we're “constantly being bombarded with new information.”

I know I can only retain so much. And that the ideas and information I write down have a much better chance of being remembered. Also, if I happen to forget, I know I have it written down somewhere for reference!

I also urge you to keep learning. Whether that's through paid schooling, online courses, free blogs (hint, hint ;), books, or from other musicians.

I'm not suggesting that you stop a jam session in order to write down something you've learned. But I am encouraging you to take notes in your own time, when you learn something novel, or even if someone repeats an important piece of information you already know.

On top of writing these notes in a journal, it may be worthwhile to write them either on a whiteboard in your studio space or on a sheet of paper that can be posted to the wall. That way, you will see the notes often and have a better chance at internalizing what information is in them 🙂

Goal Setting

It's important to write down our goals over and over again to help us achieve them. This subconscious “brainwashing” is part of the Law of Attraction.

If that's a bit too hippy for you, then consider thinking of it in this way: By writing your goals out every day, you're constantly reminding yourself to pursue those goals.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” isn't a great strategy. So by continually re-writing and re-reading your goals in your journal, you'll improve your focus on attaining what you want with your music and life.

This, in my opinion, is the most beneficial part of keeping a journal about music and life in general. As musicians, we have goals for our music so I had to add it to this article. I must also add that it's more effective to write the goal as if it has already been achieved.

Or, if it's a process goal, write it as if it is being achieved every day/week, or another set period of time. For example “I compose one piece of music every day.”

My advice for setting goals is that every morning when you wake up, write out all your goals for that day and for your music in general.

Pick one goal that is the most important and rewrite it over and over again to fill up an entire page. It may sound crazy, but it has a strange way of working.

Every night before going to sleep, review the goals and have them in your thoughts as you fall asleep.

I could write for days on goal setting, but I think I've gotten enough down for the scope of this article.

Reprogram your mind for success!

Music Theory

Write notes about new pieces of theory you learn and especially about theoretical ideas you plan on using in your compositions.

I remember getting really into modal study over the winter holidays one year. I spent a great deal of time writing out the modes with their scale degrees. I'd write them in order based on their parent scale; from darkest to brightest; I'd reverse the intervals of one mode and find which mode it would become.

It was a bit obsessive, but “repetition is the father of learning,” and now I know the modes of the Major, Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor, and Harmonic Major by heart, among others.

That's just one example. Write about any theory you're interested in. Language is just a way of expressing ideas. The more ways we can express music, the more abstract we can think about it, and that may lead to enhanced creativity for you.

Production Theory

Write about production techniques you learn about or come across naturally when producing your own music.

Jot down how certain effects work; about plug-in settings and channel processing; or nifty tricks you learned within you DAW.

Have these production tips, tricks, and general information as a reference for later sessions.

Personal Mix Ideas And Improvements To Be Made In Your Mixes

Now, I don't consider myself a great mixer (although technically I am a professional). However, I'm learning and always trying to get better.

Part of this is listening back to my mixes on different sound systems.

What may sound great in my headphones may sound small on studio monitors, thin in the car, or boomy in earbuds.

Listening back on all these systems and taking notes about the mix is a great idea for getting better results.

Take notes while you're listening in as many different scenarios as possible. I like to take a lot of notes, and compare the notes from each listening environment against each other. If there's a common criticism among all environments, I know for a fact that a change has to be made.

Ideas You Like In Other Artists' Music

I don't do this personally since I'd prefer to relax and enjoy my time with others' music. But it is something you could write about in your music journal.

We are all influenced by our surroundings, and as musicians, we are certainly influenced by the music we listen to.

The next time you sit down for a nice listening session, try writing down things you like or find interesting about what you're hearing. It can be anything, even if you don't quite understand how it is that they're creating that sound.

Putting these elements into words may help you achieve similar results in your music.

Lyrics

I have a few journals full of lyrics from past projects, and plenty of word documents as well. Lately, I've been producing instrumental music, but I still write some lyrics down from time to time.

Very rarely have I ever sat down and written a full song worth of lyrics at once. Often times it's a few lines one day, a few lines another day, and these days are sometimes months apart.

If you're a lyricist, I would assume you already do this (unless you're Lil Wayne ;), so really, you already have a music journal!

Practice Routines

I like to compare this to a meal plan or workout routine for those of us who are getting in shape.

It's important to practice your chops, whether that's traditionally like an instrument or more modern like learning hotkeys of a DAW or sound design with a certain synthesizer.

Often times though, we blur the lines of practice time and production time. Keeping a well-laid-out schedule of specific practices will help you improve your skills as a musician faster than if you had no plan at all!

Successes And Failures In Your Musical Journey

As with all aspects of life, we will have successes and failures in our pursuit of making music we love and sharing that music with the world.

Writing out your failures can help relieve stress, while writing out successes may help amplify the good feelings that got you into making music in the first place.

If nothing else, it will provide a story that you can read back on to bring out the sensations you felt when you were involved in certain musical projects or working on certain albums.

Of course, listening to the music will bring back stronger memories, I'm sure. But it's always nice to look back on your thoughts written in words.

So the above paragraphs offer some ideas for you to write about in your music journal. The following paragraphs will offer some tips to keep the journal growing while you grow as a musician.


How To Keep Going

Make It A Habit

Making journaling a habit is easier said than done, but once done, it will be an everyday part of your life and you'll start seeing the benefits.

I like to write in the morning whether I have any ideas or not. Fresh out of bed with a cup of coffee can lead to some strange ideas. Perhaps since your body's not fully awake. So I try to do this every morning.

Another important time is right before bed. It's good to review what you had written that day and to jot things down that you learned throughout that day. Check up on your goals and write down what you did and didn't do that day to get you closer to achieving them.

Keep Your Journal With You As You Go About Your Day

This is another way to keep the journal going. If you're able, have your journal with you as you go about your day and write ideas down as they come to you. Many of my songs stem from spontaneous ideas that were scribbled down in a notebook.

Oftentimes if I don't write them down, I don't remember them. The ideas leave my thoughts as fast as they came in.

Try carrying your journal around for a week and making regular notes in it. Remember that this can be done on a note-taking app on your phone!


Conclusion

I hope this offers some good ideas to get you started (or keep you going) in your music journal.

If I can get a little artsy on you, your music is like the journal of your life. The music you create tells a story and is deeply influenced by your experience. So, I say, why not take it a step further and build another tie between your life and music with a music journal.

If you have any tips and tricks for writing a journal, I'd love to hear them. So please comment below!

As always, thanks for reading and for your support.

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