The Musician’s Mind

2018-06-03 Essay


by Wendy Hamilton

Ask any musician or lyricist about their source of inspiration and they may point to their head. For them the mind and the thoughts, truths and beliefs that unify us are at the core of their music. Their music is revolutionary and often defines a generation, a culture, or a moment in history. For others they place a hand over their heart revealing that their core source of inspiration is the part of them that feels and connects music with emotions and sentiment. Their songs speak to timeless elements of being human, mostly themes about love and passion. There are also musicians that have an almost supernatural connection with all that is around them; their music comes from their soul, an often poorly-defined part of each of us that some define as the gut and others as their whole person. Musicians with their soul as their source create music that transcends centuries and, with words or without words, their music touches us and moves us in profound and meaningful ways.

While there is much theorized about the musician’s soul and the musician’s heart, the musician’s mind is one of the most tangible and tested resources of both lyricists and musicians. For the sake of definition, “tangible and tested” means that a musician’s mind can be scientifically observed, and a battery of tests run to analyze and assess what happens physically within a musician while playing music or a lyricist while writing music. For our purposes, a lyricist writes the words to a song and a musician writes the music. A musician can be a lyricist and a lyricist can be a musician. However, usually the best examples of these aspects of musical creation come from more than one individual.

Creativity and the Musician’s Mind

The musician’s mind exists in both the lyricist and the musician and is the source of creative thought. Collective and cultural experience teach us that lyricists and musicians are creatives who see the world differently than most and interpret all that is going on around them through song. From personal crisis to social injustice, the musician’s mind takes what is happening within and outside of themselves and cultivates and creatively manipulates the chain of events into a new song. The musician’s mind crafts lyrics and tunes that resonate with the mind of the listener. Where a musician’s heart speaks to the listener’s heart and the musician’s soul speaks to the listener’s soul, the musician’s mind speaks to the listener’s mind and invokes a challenge to think differently. It is in this mind to mind exchange that a lyricist and musician can show the revolutionary power that defines generations and shapes culture with words and a catchy tune.

Inventive Nature of the Musician’s Mind

In addition to being creative, the musician’s mind is wildly inventive. The more a lyricist writes and develops his or her craft and the more a musician plays and develops their skill the more easily both lyricist and musician diverge and improvise and create new sounds and songs on familiar themes. In the beginning most musicians only know a few chords. At this stage, what they don’t know limits them. However, as they practice, learn new chords, and expand their ability, they become almost limitless in their inventive nature to push the bounds of music and theory and reach for a sound all their own. Musicians with a unique sound have strategized chord combinations and progressions and thought about what sound they wanted and the best way to achieve that sound.

Lyricists also can be inventive. Learning rhyme patterns and studying the logical structure of various genres of music allows a lyricist to create new songs by combining multiple elements from many styles or being able to remain a purist in style and stick to customary formatting and rhyme schemes. (To learn more rhyme schemes and writing better song lyrics read How to Create Better Song Lyrics.)

What scientist do for science, lyricists and musicians do for music. Some musicians possess a scientist nature and those musicians are the artisans who create new instruments, improve the sound of current instruments and leverage technology and innovation to take music to new levels of creation and production. Invention at this level doesn’t occur in the musician’s heart or soul but in the musician’s mind as a musician sees changes needed and logically approaches problems with a musical solution.

Structured and Focused Reality

Several universities have studied the musician’s mind and found that musicians, in comparison to other individuals in the same population groups, used both sides of their brain more than non-musicians. For those of us who are musicians and lyricists we knew we were using more of our brains than the average individual. The fact that studies proved this theory confirm what we know-that playing music makes us better at problem solving, handling life, and being inventive and creative. For the lyricist and musician, playing music is as educator Anita Collins described, "the brain's equivalent of a full-body workout."

Because music is rooted in the biological and natural rhythms of heartbeat, breathing and sounds of nature when we tune into the structure and focused work of music the musician’s mind is fully engaged and alive. Collins described what happens in the musician’s mind as they play an instrument as “fireworks going off”. Musicians know this. Playing an instrument is not all play but a lot of work to create the muscle memory of the brain. Musicians practice, practice, practice until they play chords with little to no thought or effort. The inherent structure of music at this point becomes natural to the musician and is an almost automatic function for the musician.

While there are many benefits to the necessary function of musician’s mind, the best musicians and lyricists don’t and can’t rely solely on their mind to develop songs. Without the heart, soul and mind working and functioning together, a musician or lyricist may be technically sound with perfected technique, but their music will be hollow and lack that “something” that connects what they write and what they play to the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the listener. Remember, mind speaks to mind, and heart speaks to heart, and soul speaks to soul. For those who want to become the best musician or lyricist they can be there must be a conscious pursuit to understand, develop and cultivate the musician’s heart and soul in addition to the musician’s mind.

Wendy M. Hamilton is a teacher of writing and songwriting at Inspired Life Ministries, a creative arts ministry, located in Dallas, Texas (USA), and partners with multiple organizations to equip and encourage writers and songwriters. She is the published author of many songs, books and devotionals including her one-month devotional for moms, 30 Verses to Heal a Mama’s Heart, available on and Amazon Europe.