An Imagination-based Workflow
Some musicians can come up with a new song by simply thinking up the melody and lyrics in their mind. Creativity no doubt plays an important role in that process of imagining a new song but making a song in this way is considered to be an imagination-based process. You think of how you want the song to go, and then you go ahead and play the melodies on your instruments, arrange the parts on your sequencer, or sing the lyrics into your microphone; perhaps all of the above.
Often, many people will be involved in the song making process, so being able to share your thoughts verbally is a critical skill when working in this way. If you can only play the guitar, for example, but you have also written the lyrics, you are going to need to explain the flow of the song to the singer – perhaps by making a rather terrible vocal rendition yourself!
A Creativity-based Workflow
Sometimes, musicians work in a different way. Rather than thinking up a song before creating it, they will just pick up their instruments or dive on their computer, and they “jam”. Jamming is a process where you simply play with your instruments or tools and see what comes out of the other side. This is a creativity-based process, and even people that cannot play any instruments can make a song in this way.
For example, you could load up your music sequencer, create a virtual instrument track, and then just play around on the keyboard to see if you can come up with something. Don’t have a keyboard? Just draw the notes in on the computer, then move them around and see if you can come up with something that sounds good using your creativity.
Whilst this process is viewed as being creativity-based, some scholars argue that imagination is still being used here, as you are unlikely to come up with something great on your very first attempt. Does it require imagination to change or move the notes around into an arrangement which makes sense musically? Or are you simply using the music theory that you have learned?
The Prior Knowledge Element
If you have been “classically trained” in music from a young age, you will know all of the chords and scales that are essential to the creation of a good song. If you have all this knowledge, and are simply applying that knowledge to the notes that you play, are you using imagination and creativity at all? Most scholars would say that you are; no matter how much prior knowledge you have, you still need imagination to arrange a musical composition.
Even if you are creating a cover version or bootleg of an existing song, you still have to apply creativity to change that song and mold it into the vision that you have for how it should be. This is the very reason that bootleg versions of songs exist – people here a song, imagine it being better in some way with additional elements or changes to the existing arrangement or structure, and go ahead and create a new version that matches the song that they have imagined in their mind,
However, when a musician chooses to create their music, it seems that imagination and creativity are tied together, and are inseparable elements of the music creation process. Musicians who follow the imagination-based workflow pattern still need creativity to create a song, whilst those who prefer to use a creativity-based process still require imagination to create something which sounds good.
Answering the Question
So, to answer our initial question; How important are imagination and creativity in music? Quite simply, both of these things are essential to both the music creation process, and even just listening to music will often spark people’s imaginations into thinking of new arrangements that they could make to the music that they hear. You might say that imagination and creativity are the cornerstone of the creation of music.