Quote of the week

Typically, I see or hear things that lead me to think about everything else. This week isn’t like that! This week, the quote pretty much speaks for itself.

We’ve talked before about the importance of being kind to yourself in your practice and in your performance. But this quote takes it another step closer to the origin of the thinking. Here’s the quote:

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Scott Adams

You’ll recognize the source – the creator of Dilbert. He usually has an incisive, if cynical, take, but this quote is certainly spot on – it couldn’t be more right!

Make Mistakes

There is an craft to making art and it stems from your own willingness to make mistakes, and then to pick up those mistakes and lick them, and keep the ones that taste good (you know, the sonic taste) as you keep going in the music.

My early teachers who taught me two important things with respect to this, although it took me a while to appreciate these gems. The first gem was that, no matter what string you land on, you are never more than one string away from a sound you might prefer! The second nugget was that we don’t make mistakes, we make impromptu improvisations.

For a long time, I really didn’t believe them – I thought they were being “nice” because I made so many mistakes. But over (a very long) time I learned that they weren’t just being nice – they were giving me gentle permission to make mistakes and to learn not only which ones to keep but also to learn my processes for selecting them. They were helping me to learn to do my own taste testing so I could select what worked and toss out what just didn’t speak to me. They were showing me that being willing to make “mistakes” was the point. That this was how I would make my art – by transitioning these excursions into elements of my music. That while safe was comfortable, and it might be creative, it certainly wasn’t moving my art.

So, go make some real whoppers, some complete stinkers, some small and some large mistakes…and see what you can make of them!

Improvisation

No, don’t think, “Oh bother, I’m not reading this!”.  Bear with me.  Up until not too long ago, I thought improvisation was something my teacher thought up to make my life hell, I thought she just didn’t like me (ok, not really). But, every time the word “improvisation” was uttered, I could see it, hanging in the air like a cloud of smoke over a frying pan – smelling slightly bad and not improving my disposition.

I know now that my fear was unfounded but not baseless. I no longer quake in my boots at the thought of ripping out an improv…but that’s only because I have spent some time on some important fundamentals. Learn those fundamentals and you’ll be well on your way to comfortably filling the time between tunes, when you can’t think of anything to play, or just when your mind is blank.

Start with riff. A riff is a short pattern or phrase (melodic, rhythmic, both) that is repeated. Remember that the “re” in repeated means over and over and over and over…..I suggest keeping it simple – especially when you’re just beginning. You can do this!!

Picture1Here are four things to get you started:

  1. Start with a simple pattern – and I mean s-i-m-p-l-e! This is not the time to channel your inner JSBach! Three notes is all you need to start. Starting simple means that your brain doesn’t have to work hard just to keep the pattern going. You want something so easy you can do it without thinking – literally.
  2. Noodle around the pattern – this is the stone soup method of composing on the fly.  To your well established simple pattern, add stuff.  Try adding the root note, then try out the other notes in the triad, maybe give the 4th, the 6th, or the 7th a go and see what you like. Remember that tunes are made of the patterns, pitches, and SILENCES so you can add those too – use all the colors on your palette!
  3. Don’t forget your theory – it will help you make choices faster with less hunting and pecking. All that adding stuff is easier if you don’t have to muscle through it (you don’t have to have studied your theory but it helps to know ahead of time what sort of effect you’ll get with the 3rd as opposed to what happens when you use the 4th (for instance)).
  4. Practice – improv doesn’t just happen from the stage – all that nonchalance comes from hours of practice! The jazz greats (what most people think of when you say improv) know their music cold (like you will if you practice your 3 note riff) so they could select a pattern and build a riff on it. You have to practice doing improvisation! Don’t expect that sort of creativity to just jump into your head or into your hands – it takes work.

Start doing a little gentle improve in the safety of your practice space – just spend 5 minutes of each practice session seeing what happens if you suspend disbelieve and give it a try. If I can do it, you can too!

Pomegranate Orange Tuttifruity Cola – mix it up

Have you seen those new Coke machines? The one where you can craft your own soda?  You can pick any flavor you like, just about – and make up your own combinations. You can mix flavors and get something new. Or you can get the same thing every time.

I know what I like. I like it a lot. I get it over and over again.

It’s easy to do the same thing with our music.  Once we finally learn a tune (once we have taken smaller bites!) we can really settle in and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Sometimes, we have so much fun playing a tune we have (finally!) gotten that we practically play it to death. In fact, sometime we will play it until other people are ready to pull their own ears off – just because we are so enjoying that feeling you get when you finally have it down!

We often will do the same thing with our arrangements. We will use the same basic patterns, chord structures, phrasing, and expression. After all, we know we like, we know we can do, we know were comfortable with.

But sometimes “same old same old” just isn’t good enough anymore. Every once in a while we need to mix it up. We have to leave the flavor of the month, whatever it is that makes us so very comfortable, and try something new.  Set some time aside in your practice to come up with some new flavors – you might find something surprising…that you like even better!

Pomegranate Orange Tuttifruity Cola – mix it up

Have you seen those new Coke machines? The one where you can craft your own soda?  You can pick any flavor you like, just about – and make up your own combinations. You can mix flavors and get something new. Or you can get the same thing every time.

I know what I like. I like it a lot. I get it over and over again.

It’s easy to do the same thing with our music.  Once we finally learn a tune (once we have taken smaller bites!) we can really settle in and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Sometimes, we have so much fun playing a tune we have (finally!) gotten that we practically play it to death. In fact, sometime we will play it until other people are ready to pull their own ears off – just because we are so enjoying that feeling you get when you finally have it down!

We often will do the same thing with our arrangements. We will use the same basic patterns, chord structures, phrasing, and expression. After all, we know we like, we know we can do, we know were comfortable with.

But sometimes “same old same old” just isn’t good enough anymore. Every once in a while we need to mix it up. We have to leave the flavor of the month, whatever it is that makes us so very comfortable, and try something new.  Set some time aside in your practice to come up with some new flavors – you might find something surprising…that you like even better!

Where do good ideas come from?

It’s that time of year when you need a good idea – at the holidays we play the same music over and over.  It’s the same music everyone else is playing for the same holiday celebrated every year.  It is tradition but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.  So it is essential that we do something to make the tunes fresh – so our listeners can bear to hear them again and so we can bear to play them again.  But where do those good ideas come from?
 


Everyone knows that good ideas come from the shower!

There’s something about taking a shower that seems to steam open the pores of creativity.  Actually while it isn’t the shower itself, there are a number of elements that you can recreate to get to the same outcome:

1. Easy tasks that are repetitive and require no thinking.  These tasks allow your mind to wander into more interesting areas – and that seems to help you come up with ideas.  You can do the same thing taking a walk, knitting, or practicing scales.  Set yourself up to let your mind wander – wash dishes (or your car), take that walk, or get in the shower!

2. Quiet (ok the shower isn’t really all that quiet, but it is relatively quiet).  Be quiet in quiet – turn off the radio while driving, be outdoors, or find another way to have some quiet to let your mind be quiet – the quiet seems to attract new ideas.

3. Time alone – ‘nough said.  Even the most lovely people can be a distraction (caveat – sometimes they can also be an inspiration – there are no rigidities here!)

4. No expectations – you don’t go into the shower thinking that by the end of the shower you will have developed a completed composition (or solved world hunger).  Be fanciful – in effect you can have your own brainstorming session with no idea rejected until a later phase.

So, if you need help to generate good ideas for arrangements for Christmas music, generate a virtual shower: and (this is important) capture the outcomes (so you can build on them).  If you are actually in your shower, you can use a grease pencil or water based marker to write on the tile or just keep singing a motif to yourself!

Where do good ideas come from?

It’s that time of year when you need a good idea – at the holidays we play the same music over and over.  It’s the same music everyone else is playing for the same holiday celebrated every year.  It is tradition but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.  So it is essential that we do something to make the tunes fresh – so our listeners can bear to hear them again and so we can bear to play them again.  But where do those good ideas come from?
 


Everyone knows that good ideas come from the shower!

There’s something about taking a shower that seems to steam open the pores of creativity.  Actually while it isn’t the shower itself, there are a number of elements that you can recreate to get to the same outcome:

1. Easy tasks that are repetitive and require no thinking.  These tasks allow your mind to wander into more interesting areas – and that seems to help you come up with ideas.  You can do the same thing taking a walk, knitting, or practicing scales.  Set yourself up to let your mind wander – wash dishes (or your car), take that walk, or get in the shower!

2. Quiet (ok the shower isn’t really all that quiet, but it is relatively quiet).  Be quiet in quiet – turn off the radio while driving, be outdoors, or find another way to have some quiet to let your mind be quiet – the quiet seems to attract new ideas.

3. Time alone – ‘nough said.  Even the most lovely people can be a distraction (caveat – sometimes they can also be an inspiration – there are no rigidities here!)

4. No expectations – you don’t go into the shower thinking that by the end of the shower you will have developed a completed composition (or solved world hunger).  Be fanciful – in effect you can have your own brainstorming session with no idea rejected until a later phase.

So, if you need help to generate good ideas for arrangements for Christmas music, generate a virtual shower: and (this is important) capture the outcomes (so you can build on them).  If you are actually in your shower, you can use a grease pencil or water based marker to write on the tile or just keep singing a motif to yourself!

You know how I find good ideas from everywhere and just about anywhere.  The other day, I was reading the Harvard Business Review blog (because I’m a geek). Miniya Chatterji had a blog post.  I can’t remember what the overall point of that post was, but for me the takeaway was this quote,

“in the world where there are no precedents, you have to trust your own judgment.”


What a great point – the trusting your own judgment part.  We often believe that there are a lot of precedents in our world and there are.  But it seems that we tend to give those precedents too much weight. 

We should focus on our capabilities and on sharing our music with other people.  Those people who are simply ready to listen.  They are not critics waiting to pounce on our flaws.  They are open to whatever you choose to share.  And that’s where your judgment comes in.

Here are three ways to shift your focus away from judging yourself and your music and find yourself wanting:

  1. Play what sounds good (don’t say “duh” – you’d be amazed how many people don’t do this!)

  2. Record your ideas, review those ideas, and keep the good ones

  3. Look up from your harp, see the faces of your audience and note that they are enjoying your music.

So don’t be afraid – set your own precedents, suspend your judgments and share your music!

You know how I find good ideas from everywhere and just about anywhere.  The other day, I was reading the Harvard Business Review blog (because I’m a geek). Miniya Chatterji had a blog post.  I can’t remember what the overall point of that post was, but for me the takeaway was this quote,

“in the world where there are no precedents, you have to trust your own judgment.”


What a great point – the trusting your own judgment part.  We often believe that there are a lot of precedents in our world and there are.  But it seems that we tend to give those precedents too much weight. 

We should focus on our capabilities and on sharing our music with other people.  Those people who are simply ready to listen.  They are not critics waiting to pounce on our flaws.  They are open to whatever you choose to share.  And that’s where your judgment comes in.

Here are three ways to shift your focus away from judging yourself and your music and find yourself wanting:

  1. Play what sounds good (don’t say “duh” – you’d be amazed how many people don’t do this!)
  2. Record your ideas, review those ideas, and keep the good ones
  3. Look up from your harp, see the faces of your audience and note that they are enjoying your music.

So don’t be afraid – set your own precedents, suspend your judgments and share your music!

The Perfect Piece 2

So last week I mentioned the Perfect Piece – the post on crazyforewe.blogspot.comthat really got me thinking.  But then I didn’t tell you what it got me thinking…so this week, I’ll share that with you – Ellen included a quote from a very well-known knitting designer, Sally Melville, who said that a “perfect piece” is something that is easy, artistic, and wonderful to wear.

And isn’t that true – think about the tunes you love – what about them makes you love them?  How are they perfect?  They achieve that perfection because they have some or all of these characteristics Sally mentions.  They are usually easy (when I say easy, I mean that even if they are technically challenging, the fall into your hands).  Or they beg you to give up their artistry through the story that you hear when you listen to the tune.  And they are wonderful to wear – you can’t help but share those tunes with anyone who will listen. 

As in knitting, where Sally also indicated that it’s not the complicated garments that are perfect, so with our music – it is the simple, it is the elegant, it is pleasure without fuss.  These gems are only made more brilliant by what we put into them.  We, the harp player, bring the life into the music – we set the beauty free.

Remember that when someone asks you to play, or you are playing for yourself.  Play the perfect piece.  Let those ideas bubble up and come out of your head through your fingers.  Enjoy the perfect piece – and revel in the perfect peace it might add to your day.

The Perfect Piece 2

So last week I mentioned the Perfect Piece – the post on crazyforewe.blogspot.comthat really got me thinking.  But then I didn’t tell you what it got me thinking…so this week, I’ll share that with you – Ellen included a quote from a very well-known knitting designer, Sally Melville, who said that a “perfect piece” is something that is easy, artistic, and wonderful to wear.

And isn’t that true – think about the tunes you love – what about them makes you love them?  How are they perfect?  They achieve that perfection because they have some or all of these characteristics Sally mentions.  They are usually easy (when I say easy, I mean that even if they are technically challenging, the fall into your hands).  Or they beg you to give up their artistry through the story that you hear when you listen to the tune.  And they are wonderful to wear – you can’t help but share those tunes with anyone who will listen. 

As in knitting, where Sally also indicated that it’s not the complicated garments that are perfect, so with our music – it is the simple, it is the elegant, it is pleasure without fuss.  These gems are only made more brilliant by what we put into them.  We, the harp player, bring the life into the music – we set the beauty free.

Remember that when someone asks you to play, or you are playing for yourself.  Play the perfect piece.  Let those ideas bubble up and come out of your head through your fingers.  Enjoy the perfect piece – and revel in the perfect peace it might add to your day.