When we start out it is very difficult to figure out how to begin work on a piece. If you are lucky there will be a burst of inspiration. Quite often that is followed by a blank stare. What do I do next? Where do I go? How will I ever finish? It is common and very easy to slip into a depression at this point to where you stop work and never finish.. We all go through this…everyone.
How does one combat this? The key is learning how to approach the process and to learn how you behave in the midst of this process. The better you understand yourself and your process, the better chance you have of being effective.
Once you decide on the original idea….commit to it. This is crucial. Defining your goals in real terms, language etc gives the structure needed to get to the end. I’m reminded of an Igor Stravinsky quote: “the more restrictions I place on myself, the freer I become”. At first glance this may seem counter-intuitive. In fact, it is just the opposite. Without definition it is impossible for your listener to understand what you are doing. If you look at a great painting, the intent of the artist will be clear. The mystery will come from your interpretation….what you think of the work. Great art provokes a response. Music is no different. Limiting the scope of what you are attempting will train your mind to focus. And, the creative mind will look for ways to take these few symbols or characters and make something new.
Now it is time to go to work. Sitting at the desk is mental exercise…not unlike going to the gym and working out. Instead of lifting weights you will be in a constant problem solving state.
As you work on a piece you will get distracted, stop and start, come back to it another day. You will find no limit to number of distractions you will potentially face. Take a minute and jot your goal down on a piece of paper or index card. Defining your goals, committing to an idea will give you an object to refer to as time passes…reminding you of where you are going.
I’m also a HUGE fan of the idea of getting to the end. It is impossible to evaluate a work without having something complete to judge. One of the huge advantages of midi is that enables you to switch gears and become an audience instead of a participant. Listening to what you’ve done with a critical ear…judging your work not from your ego (aren’t I cool?) but from an objective and analytical point of view (how does this help me achieve my goal?) is the key to growth.
Steps to take:
Commit to an idea
Limit your possibilities
Define your goals
Putting in the time
Judging your work objectively
Understanding your process and training yourself to think in these terms will move you forward as an artist…if you do the work. That much I can guarantee.
Like any muscle, the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes.
…For The Holidays- “We Three Kings”
I’m enjoying this process …but I have to tell you it is much more difficult than I had expected. That being said I hope you appreciate my efforts.
The Holiday Season means different things to everyone.
For children itâ€™s filled with excitement and anticipation-
Parents, while being stressed out, most always delight in the smiles and joy of their children.
For grandparents itâ€™s a time for reflection of days gone by-wistful, warm, sad, regretful, proudâ€¦a sea of emotions.
I decided that I would do an album of Holiday and Christmas music that I felt strongly aboutâ€¦emotions that I could personally relate to
And share with you
While contemplating what to do it occurred to me that I should present this in a way that made you, the listener, feel like I was in your living room playing in the background while friends and family gathered.
Iâ€™ll be posting a new track every few days or week until Thanksgiving when the album will be available for download.
Thanks again for listening
If you send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org I will reply with a link for you to download this track.
I got an email the other day from a talented young guy who wanted to know the “rules” about writing for big band and orchestra. The following is my email response:
Based on your questions I would suggest that you look at classic lit. Buy yourself a pocket score to LaValse by Ravel and a good recording. If you are really motivated do a 6-10 stave piano reduction of the score. Use your ears and really listen to how the sections interact. There are no hard and fast rules…each situation is different which means you have to look at it from a different perspective. Never forget you are writing music to generate an emotional response from the listener. I’d say look at rules as a way to approach learning…not an end all.
Big band has its own classic literature
Duke Ellington-Sophisticated Lady, Mood Indigo, Satin Doll
Benny Goodman-Sing Sing Sing
anything by Count Basie in the late 50-s early 60’s preferably billy byers or quincy jones arrangements
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis of the late 60’s early 70’s.
you have to remember that benny goodman and swing was the heavy metal cutting edge music of its day.
Listen to all of it.
Identify rhythm,melody and harmony. Musicians play music from left to right….not vertically. A flute player is concerned about the line/counterpoint they are playing….not so much what chord it is.
Do takedowns of what you hear.
This could easily take you 1-2 years but after a while you’ll begin to see the relationships.
My education was similar to this approach but mostly listening to great music and trying to figure out what everyone was doing.
You asked…so there it is.
I’m open to emails from all so fire away.
So what’s the big deal about conducting?
I’ve always felt that the technique was secondary to attitude-
a conductor is giving a performance-for the orchestra
a conductor is the focal point of the orchestra
confidence breeds a good performance-uncertainty will bring the opposite
be clear and consistent with the information you give your players- they will rely upon you to always be there when they have a question-while playing or rehearsing
basic technique will get you by in most circumstances but without a confident attitude it really doesn’t matter how much technique you have.
You are their leader….act like one.
I met a friend for drinks last night and invariably the conversation turned to the creative process and what that entails. I was fortunate to have as a mentor a very experienced arranger/musician. His name was Billy Byers. I was 17 years old and green to the gills. I trusted him implicitly an made myself available to help in whatever capacity in return.
Most all of us at some point have experienced the same anxiety over: “How do I begin?”
Let me share a few pearls of wisdom Billy imparted to me:
“Don’t wait for inspiration-just start”
“If you sit there long enough it will get finished”
“It only takes a little longer to do it right”
Creativity-IMHO- comes from training yourself to concentrate your focus and attention on the task at hand. If you let your mind wander-(what’s in the fridge?, I didn’t take out the garbage, what is so and so doing,etc, etc,) it is impossible to come up with any ideas because you are thinking of something else. “Don’t wait for inspiration just start”. This is not a game of perfect…it’s about volume. It’s about trial and error, revisions, and taking risks to increase your knowledge and experience.The only way you can be objective about your work is to physically get it out of your body…take a break…and then, go back to it with fresh eyes and mind and see what you think.
There was only one Mozart…everyone second guesses their choices when creating something. I would like to think that he went through the editing process in his head BEFORE he ever put pen to paper. And even he made revisions later in his life.
The second part of this idea is that you MUST become an objective critic of your own work. It’s the only way you will grow and actually get better.
So, the deal is this- put your ideas out there, get to the end, step away, be objective about it and either change or leave it alone.
No matter what your endeavor-music, art, photography, mashing, writing, coding-whatever, the art of inspiration is the same as practicing your instrument. No real mystery here…just hard work.
The only way to get better is to just do it, often, with as much passion and disciplined, focused attention as you can muster.
More on the other quotes soon.
In these uncertain times I often think back on how I got to this place and date in my life.
I guess this all goes back to my Mom. Why is this relevant to music?
Being and living the life of an artist in these times is uncertain at the least and extremely challenging at best. It is the lessons learned in childhood that shape how and what you will become later in life.
Mom would use these phrases, among others, to reassure when I had my doubts:
“Be the best you can be-that is all you can ask of yourself”
“Giving is the same as receiving”
” Your talent is a gift-honor that gift-don’t take it for granted”
Mom didn’t really understand music but she did understand people and life.
I’ve had many, many challenges in my life. I’ve had to reinvent myself numerous times, push through my uncertainties and face my fears…all in search of being the best musician I could possibly be. My defense was this: “if I always did my best and it didn’t work out I could walk away from the success or failure with a clear conscience…I could do no more.
Now I can’t say I’ve always been successful…but I will say this: Regardless of whether I reached my goal or not, I have always learned something…maybe not what I expected.
In every situation we are faced with a choice: “Do we just get by? Or do we choose the best solution-regardless of the cost personal or emotional?”
Me? I seem to take the latter rather than former….with out regret. The “easy” way out has not been an option.
The reward? It has always served me well to the “best that I can be”-that is all I can ask of myself.