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.
I hope you've found some inspiration in this article to start your own music journal. I've discussed the benefits I've had from journaling, but I'm sure there are many others. If you journal, what other benefits have you come across? And how has journaling improved your craft? I'd love to discuss further with you!
As always, thank you for reading and for your support.