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The Laboratory

"The Laboratory", for the uninitiated, refers to my rehearsal space in the basement of my house.  I like to think of it as a place to experiment.  It is my opinion that music needs to be played with, not just played, to keep it alive.  In this space my friends and I do precisely that and, from time to time, it even gets recorded.  You may notice on some of the CDs on which I appear that there are tracks recorded at "The Laboratory".   I will make a long story short by saying that it sounds more professional than "Randy's basement".   Now you all know, so it's not a secret, but hey...    

I have friends who visit me at The Laboratory because they share my curiosity.  We discuss theory and composition.  We play.  We ask questions.  This page is for them mostly, but it is also for me.   I would love to know what others think of it, so if you have stumbled upon it, read on.   If you have comments, please send them to me at
randy@randysutin.com  Thank you!

 

 

Music

When many of my younger friends who are music students first come here, they usually wish to have some help with their music theory, composition, or improvisation.   They have many questions and, frankly, most of the answers to those questions as well.  I have found the biggest hurdle is that they don't know which questions it is to which they lack the answers.  If you are one of them and are visiting this page because I told you to review this stuff, you will remember this question as the prime directive:

What is music?

First and foremost, there is no one correct answer.  Least likely is it that, of the possible answers, mine will be found to be the most correct.  That won't stop me.  Here is the answer I like that best suits the kind of exploration I like to undertake.

Music is sound that is to be listened to, heard, and felt or thought about which starts at a defined point in time and ends at a defined point in time.  These points in time create the frame that houses the art form.

Notice, this definition makes no attempt to say what is good music or bad music.   Those judgements are to be made based on aesthetic considerations unique to each genre.   Some forms of music nearly ignore parameters of sound that are central to others; no one clear set of rules can be established for good vs. bad which will apply to  all music.   How silly would it be to criticize a Telemann piece for harpsichord because its sound wasn't really  powerful enough to fill a football stadium?   It would be equally hideous to criticize a recording of Hindustani classical music because of its failure to stay within European equal temperment intonation.   So, for now, let's just leave good vs. bad alone until we get to the other end of the discussion and find ourselves embroiled in a particular style.

Also, notice that this is a very open definition that would allow, for instance, the recitation of poetry to qualify.  It is music of the spoken word.

There are some things I do not consider to be music by this definition.   A score for a Beethoven symphony does not qualify, for instance.  That is a grand example of music notation, but not music.  

Also, the sounds emitting from the radio in your dentist's office (along with the muffled screams from the back room) do not qualify unless you have made it your time and space to listen to sounds; if they are there to simply mute your senses or incompetently attempt to block you from thinking about the imminent pain you will endure, my definition has not been met.   If however, you are a sick puppy, and have gone to the dentist intent upon sitting there and listening to the soundscape (screams, drills whining and all), it then becomes music.  Further, it should be noted that most of the recordings played in those settings were definitely created as music, performed as music and much of it is very, very good when you allow it to be itself.   In this setting, however, it is the aesthetic equivalent of a white noise machine (which some dentists also employ).  

If you wrap a piece of fish in a canvas that happens to be the Mona Lisa, its worth as art is negated in my opinion.   Conversely, if you take a piece of plain brown paper in which your fish was wrapped at the deli and place it on a pedestal in an art museum, it becomes art.   It will not be good art, in all likelyhood, but it will be art nonetheless.  


Music Theory

With a definition of music of music in hand, the next logical step is to define music theory.   Again, I make no presumption that my definition is the best. I am quite sure it is not. Nor will the answer to my next question be the best answer, but I will ask the question anyway because it is the next step.

What is music theory?

Music theory is a lexicon of sorts.  It is a system of vocabulary and/or rhetoric which enables the articulate discussion, analysis, criticism and teaching of music.   It provides and explains a framework of musical notation or other means, such as syllabification, used to transmit the teaching of music and/or express a composer's intent.

Music theory is not a set of rules for composition.  It is, rather, the methodology of analysis to determine common elements of the music being examined and a naming system that allows discussion of those elements.  With such a pursuit, one has to start somewhere; many of the familiar theory textbooks choose Bach as a favorite because the pristine perfection of his compositions gives something concrete to a young student on which they can build.   If, in fact, these texts were rules of composition, the resulting choral exercises created by the "A" students would all sound like Bach, which clearly they do not.  There is more to composition than just understanding how to recognize, name, and recreate vertical stuctures similar to those created by the linear creativity of a Baroque master, which is pretty much what those texts will do for you.

The next most difficult hurdle is understanding what the above means when it comes time to do your music theory homework.   In every theory textbook, you can find examples of musical notation which are there to demonstrate the particular concept being taught.   Herein lies the problem.  Musical notation is NOT music.   The textbook is about music, but (prior to the advent of computers) it was really hard to put sounds into something you were reading.   The authors did the next best thing; they included examples of musical notation, assuming the student would be curious and either play them or, if they are blessed with exceptional ears, look at them and immediately infer what the sound they represent would be.   HUGE PROBLEM, FOLKS...  a) the average student hasn't been told to read their theory text at the keyboard  b) the handful with ears that good don't really need the theory textbook that much anyway.

So, I offer a rule for music theory students:

Always read your theory homework at the piano, enter the examples into whatever notation software you have on your computer and play them back, or get somebody else to play and/or record them for you.  Bottom line, if you don't get to hear what they sound like, everything you read is meaningless.

If you abide by this rule, you will soon find that, for instance, a "plagal cadence" is not just a mathematical relationship between the musical constructs which the dots located on lines on a page represent, but rather a phrase used to describe a particular kind of sound that you have heard thousands of times and implicitly recognize.  With that kind of ease in your mind, you can get on to more pressing things like knowing what to do with a plagal cadence in a compositional sense.  You can stop worrying about whether you know what to call it when you hear it.  If you have not heard it, you may well wonder if 4 to 1 is not similar or even equivalent to 8 to 2.

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ok.   Deep cleansing breath everyone.  ommmmmm.
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With this pattern of thinking clearly set as the root of your outlook you must now grow to understand the next somewhat frustrating aspect (but ultimately this is the imperfection that makes it beautiful like a diamond) of music theory.   So here is my next rule for music theory students.

Music is a reflection of the culture from which it springs.  There are as many different kinds of music as there are cultures on this planet.   Within each of those cultures, there exist subcultures with discretely different music resulting.   That said, there can be many different ways to describe the same element of music which occurs in multiple cultures; None are necessarily rendered incorrect by the others.   Similarly, there are some elements of music which are different from one genre to the next which are described using the same terminology or symbology.  

Get used to it.  We live in a pluralistic world.   When employing our music theory skills to discuss music, everything is relative to the genre we discuss and the culture from which it comes.  In your study of music theory, you will have different teachers.   Some will describe the same musical elements using different terminology; others will use the same terminology to describe different elements and neither will be right or wrong.  Learn to hear them for who they are and from their perspective and you will extract the most from them as teachers.

If this seems vague to you and you don't quite get what I am writing about, open your music notation program on your computer.  Set up a blank lead sheet for a tune and start entering some chord symbols.   Tell me how many different options you have for notating a major seventh chord.   Also tell me exactly what the difference between a half-diminished chord and a minor seventh flat five chord is if you can; I think you can't because there is none.   Go back to Bach and look at some photographic images of the original scores of the chorales which are familiar to you as exercises in analysis; you will see yet another set of musical notation conventions than you have grown used to in modern textbooks.  Neither is incorrect.

Well, either that or neither of them are correct.   Truth is, I know of no system of theory or notation which accurately describes all parameters of music.   Many styles of music are carried forth as an oral tradition for that very reason.   Even European music, which is heavily notated by tradition, still required a master teacher to pass on to the students the nuances which are not written but have been developed and passed along over time as common performance practices.  Given all the personal choices you can make, it turns out that a lead sheet is only slightly more vague than the written score for a Chopin Nocturne.

Composition

So, let's say you have memorized every aspect of your theory text.  You are a master of the norms of Common Practice harmony and can create theoretically correct florid counterpoint while balancing a hedgehog on the tip of a broomstick.   What then is the dividing line between this and composition?  What is composition that is not found in the result of these exercises?

Probably very little.  Truth told, by the time you get that far in your studies, your innate sense of what is and isn't good composition will probably guide you there without too much effort.   You will listen to what you have written and, if it doesn't sound like it "makes sense", you will probably correctly infer that it is bad composition.   If you are a jazz musician, the crowd may throw things at you.

It is time for a truly half-baked definition.   I am still working on this one.   Once again, with feeling, if you have comments on this please email me at
randy@randysutin.com


What is composition?

Musical composition is the arrangement and juxtaposition of sounds within the time framework the composer has previously determined to be the start and end of the performance.   It is about the relative relationships of these musical elements as well as the absolute (a sound can be high, for instance, in the absolute as it nears the edge of the human hearing range or relative to another sound; a rhythm is rapid or slow in the absolute as it pushes the limit of our sense of time to feel it or relative to a preestablished pulse).  The key elements of musical composition are linearity, harmony, timbre, pulse, rhythm, dynamics, orchestration, development of germinal gestures, relation to life's soundscape and last but far from least, silence.

I need to work on that one.   It will do for now.   For me, as mostly a jazz musician, it seems fine.

Improvisation/Interpretation

I find it necessary to define these together because my recent thinking has led me to believe that composition, interpretation and improvisation are the three dominant creative forces in a performance of music.  Rather than seeing improvisation as a spontaneous form of composition, I now believe the proper conception is based on a different paradigm, where the three elements exist as three simultaneous, creative building blocks of a musical performance.  They are found in different proportions to one another based on the genre being performed, but I believe they are universally present in all music.

For instance, let's consider European classical music.  The composer creates a set of relationships between notes played on a variety of instruments and notates those ideas in a manner that shows their intended placement in time.  Included may also be instruction about his/her intent with regards to interpretation such as tempo or feel markings, etc.   The performer studies that scores, perhaps even conferring with the composer, and rehearses a set of required physical motions necessary to interpret the piece through control of an instrument or the voice that allow him/her to generate the sound he/she believes best expresses the emotive or intellectual message of the piece best.  When the actual performance comes, situations will arise and further spontaneous adjustments (improvisations) to the interpretation/composition will be performed up to and including cadenzas which are sometimes even newly composed spontaneously by tradition.

In some twentieth century music from the European tradition there is a much wider use of improvisation as both a compositional or interpretive tool.  In Baroque music, the demand for composers to be incredibly prolific by today’s standards, and the difficulty in copying parts often led composers to use much less specific notation such as figured bass; this, too, led to improvised compositional elements at the time of the performance. 

Now, let’s consider jazz.  Frequently (but not always), there is a composition used as a vehicle for the performance.   This composition may consist of no more than a lead sheet with a melody and chord symbols, or it may be an intricate arrangement with planned improvised sections.  As the performer learns the composition, he/she may make interpretive choices in advance regarding the statement of the themes, etc.   There can also be a revisit to the composition phase, in which the performer chooses to alter the melody, harmony or form of original composition.  During the performance, there will be improvised elements of the interpretation as the groove and energy of the moment demands and there will be improvised compositional elements as solos are played.  This improvisation may involve modification of the melody, creation of new variations on the melody, creation of new harmonic/rhythmic/melodic content based on other present musical factors such as structures being played by fellow performers, as well as host of improvised interpretive elements.

With the above in mind, here are my present working definitions…


What is Improvisation?

Improvisation is the spontaneous manipulation of musical elements based on the emotions, energies, and musical factors present during a performance.

And.

What is Interpretation?

Interpretation is the subtle manipulation of phrasing and balance between musical elements and gestures during a performance.

Thus one can create a composition prior to performance, then interpret it.  One can improvise elements that are either of an interpretive or compositional nature.

The more pragmatic question we are left with is what to do about this, both in terms of that which we practice and that which we play as jazz musicians.  Can we, for instance, separate and refine these elements individually as we hone in on our weaknesses in an attempt to strengthen those areas of our knowledge?

I believe that the composition element can be addressed by practicing tunes in ways that honor compositional integrity.  Instead of working from abstract scales and arpeggios that have theoretical relationships to predetermined chord structures, we may wish to instead deconstruct the pieces and practice expanding and contracting germinal melodic fragments of the melody over a host of possible harmonic alterations which we feel we may encounter.  To this end, I feel it is wise to consider the particular musical colleagues that will be involved in the eventual performance and the choices they seem to prefer.  In this way, as we practice playing the composition in a jazz style, we also practice the technique necessary to execute an improvised solo based in genuine melodic development rather than abstract creation based on a set of preconceived changes.

To my way of thinking, a practical application of this concept would be to consider that tunes such as “How High the Moon” and “Ornithology” are now quite different pieces of music, with entirely different emotive, musical messages despite their historical relationship and connection,.  It seems to me that it would be an error in aesthetic judgment, when it comes time to improvise on them, that I should abandon the music and create a solo based on only their common harmonic progression.  So, this form of practicing development of germinal constructs from within each composition will enhance the integrity of the performance.

However, I think it is also flawed practice to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I believe that abstract scales and patterns can also be a useful avenue to compositional integrity, but in a different way.  Coltrane was known to practice often from Slonimsky’s  Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.   This text makes no reference to key or harmonic structure.  It is a technical manual for developing melody and explaining melodic/motivic development.  If you can get the kinds of thought patterns that Slonimsky used to create the thesaurus in your head (even a bit), then get those kinds of patterns to happen under your hands on your instrument, you will have another very powerful tool in your compositional arsenal.  It’s not about memorizing the couple hundred pages of melodic examples in that book, it’s about understanding how Slonimsky derived those melodies by interpolation, extrapolation, etc of notes around a simple interval that may occur somewhere in the harmonic context of a piece of music.  Once you have even a piece of that in your head, you can begin to build your own around whatever sounds present themselves in a performance context.

So, there are at least two ways in which I am now attempting to shape my practice to enhance the compositional elements of that which I do as a jazz improvisor.   But, what about the element of interpretation?

Interpretation is another element which I believe one can make great gains from practicing in an improvised way.   So often, as a young student, I was handed scales or pattern to learn and dutifully did so by repeating them over and over again, until I could control my muscles to make them execute the same way each timeThis VERY important process of learning to control an instrument should not be skipped or trivialized.  However, with that in our back pocket, there is another way of practicing such material which I have found very fruitful.  I turn on my metronome and take a single melodic phrase and see how many different ways I can articulate it.  I practice improvising interpretation in this way, while isolating it from compositional factors (to a degree) for added focus.   I say “to a degree” because my experience leads me to believe that, as I change the articulation of a single melodic line, the implied counterpoint within that line resulting from the new shape of the musical gesture does indicate a change in a compositional element.

IF my new thoughts on the paradigm are going to hold up, though, I need to also address the element of improvisation in my daily practice routine.  Consider this:

Go with the Flow. 

Sound flaky?  Okay. Guilty as charged.  But there is one element of my practice routine that, the older I get, the more I believe has been a lifelong mistake.  I would be practicing scales, arpeggios, a tune, a groove or whatever… as I would be drawn to expand it as if I were playing a solo on a gig, I chastise myself for my lack of focus and insist that I get back to the element I was intending to practice.  Before I get into it, let me say emphatically that I am not advocating that I should accept the unintentionally played parts of my practice routine.  Those are mistakes.  Well played music, in my opinion, is played intentionally whether or not it is improvised.

What I am suggesting however, and have found very fruitful for myself, is that we should be open to the spontaneously occurring ideas that float through our head as we practice scales, arpeggios, melodic patterns, standard tunes, etc.  IF something occurs to me as I am practicing something else, I like to give that temporary priority and let it work itself out as a method of practicing the element of improvisation.  The key to this sort of thing, no doubt, is the ability to come back in bounds and get focused back on what I was doing before I checked out the other path… much easier said than done, in my experience, but well worth it.

Also, I sometimes wish to practice this element of improvisation apart from when it happens spontaneously within the context of practicing other elements..,  the way for me to do that best is to put down my mallets and sit quietly, breathe, and empty out the excess junk between my earlobes, of which there is much.  When that is done and a particular musical thought creeps in, I stand at my instrument and play around with it… then if other things occur, I explore those until I find myself crossing old familiar ground which is not in need of examination.  If I stop being inspired to expand what I am working on, I sit again and clear out.  The process here is to find and feel the energy of our day and the room we are in and practice responding to that in a musical manner.  It is quite the opposite of how we normally practice, where we set upon an idea and focus our minds on the music.  It is, quite literally, about working to achieve a quasi out-of-body experience where one sees oneself performing at the instrument and just plays what the moment wants.

We all have thoughts that float into our heads.   We cannot stop them, but we can learn to control our minds to recognize them as only thoughts and not let them knock us off balance.   We can also learn to value them and let them be our muses without letting that knock us off balance either.  So often, the correct spontaneous thing to do is that which is perfectly in concert moment.  The trick is getting our hearts, mind and ears open fully so that we can know what the moment really is and be part of it without letting our neurotic little brain thingies send us in an entirely skewed direction.

Yes, opening up like that has been, in my experience, potentially very detrimental in a club setting.  You will hear and feel everything in the room, the conversations, the upset waitresses, and the nervous lady being hit up by the skeezy dude in the cheap suit…  That’s the bad news.  You will also hear and feel the other musicians on stage with you much better and have a real tap into what message the room needs to hear at any point in time.

Of course, playing purely from that energy can make for a strange, Sun Ra-like performance if you are trying to play “A Train”.  

I believe that the main thing to remember is that a performance of jazz is primarily an aural practice.  Given that you have done your technical homework with regards to playing your instrument, and learning any predetermined compositional or interpretive elements, the main skill is hearing.  It is also  important to remember the established conventions in some styles of jazz regarding which elements get improvised and which do not.  The rule there is "When in Rome do as the Romans do."

If you are, for instance, playing a standard tune, I think it unwise (unless you reaaaaallly know the other guys on the bandstand well and they are going to be with you on this one) to improvise on the structure of the tune, adding or subtracting a few bars here and there.  Generally, it is not okay to do so when playing standards, but if you know the guys, that ‘s the ground rules, and are all listening it may be okay.  

For me personally, the greatest lesson in that was working with the late Eddie Green.  In particular, I learned this playing his arrangement of Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So".   I loved it because Eddie played the A section as a modal romp that went on and on until you couldn't stand the pressure any more and then the bridge would happen.    Like I said, if you know the guys and that's the ground rules, it is beautiful.   We all felt it and it happened.   It wasn't in any particular place other than exactly where it belonged.   Sometimes we would play seven or eight A sections to get to the bridge.

Try that with a typical wedding band and it's train wreck time, folks.  Kids, don't try that at home.

Like I said... when in Rome.

I believe that the main way to improve your hearing, to achieve the above, is to transcribe music.  So do this as much as possible.  Transcribe, analyze.  While I understand there are many divergent opinions on this, my vote is that you don't worry so much about ever playing the whole solos completely (although I highly recommend using excerpts and phrases as technical exercises.. this is the link between translating sound into what you do when you improvise), just keep transcribing so you recognize sounds as they happen.  With that, your instincts will kick in and you can just play and interpret that which you compose as you hear it.

Anyway, so in my world, theory is not a set of rules and improvisation may or may not have some rules, depending on the situation you are in.  Lately I have been working a lot on through composed improvisation.  It defines its rules as it develops in many ways.  But that is not to say that, as a jazz musician, I am without rules entirely.  Actually...

I have been collecting "rules" of improvisation from teachers and masters I have crossed paths with for the last thirty or so years.  Many of these were probably been passed down from others, but I will credit them here with the individuals with whom I most associate them.  Here are my top ten in no particular order:

1.  Keep your ears open  - Rudy Jones
2.  When in doubt, lay out   -Ray Shiner
3.  Learn the tunes  -Dr. Jim Miller
4.  Better strong and wrong than light and right.  -Ray Shiner
5.  If you want to play well, play tunes you can play well -Larry Ham
6.  If you don't make some mistakes sometimes, you are not trying hard enough   -Mickey Roker
7.  Play every note, every night, to the best of your ability - Junior Cook
8.  Your sound affects every note you play - Rudy Jones
9.   Be yourself; don't try to be like another musician just because they are hip - Rudy Jones
10. If you are not in the groove, you are not in the game.  -Junior Cook


Peace,
randy

 

 

 


Creativity as a Toxic Concept

 

I have, at various times in my life and music, had what were for me “aha” moments where something I held to be true, even axiomatic, seemingly revealed itself to me to be either false or, at best, incompletely thought through, therefore misguided. Sometimes, this is just a phase and I later find a way to assimilate the newly exposed inconsistencies with my previous understanding. Sometimes not, and this is one of those cases.

For me, this started when I posted some of my rants on theory a while back on Tony’s site www.vibesworkshop.com . Gary Burton, very graciously, took the time to offer a very insightful comment about my definition of improvisation as “spontaneous composition”. As you can see in the above, I worked that all out for myself, for the time being and to my satisfaction, but it led me down a path towards an examination of a parameter of music that is held, nearly axiomatically to be good. My last encounter with my yoga teacher, Erich Shiffmann, left me with but one option on the table. I needed to reexamine how I felt about the concept of creativity.

We are trained and conditioned as musicians believe that creativity is good. It is that holy grail of art we are taught will grant us artistic success. We all learn our craft, how to play our instruments, how to compose music, how to prepare and present a concert. But, even with all that in place and at its best, we are taught that it is "the creative spark" that will set us apart and make us known as the best artists. While I totally understand and agree that the element which is commonly referred to as creativity is an excellent quality, I now believe this is based on a false understanding. Once a clear look is taken at the true source responsible for the appearance of new material within one's artistic creations, it becomes evident that "creator" is not actually the artist. Further, it becomes clear that their skill is just as great and just as worthy of admiration, but it is their perceptive, intuitive, and visionary skills, not their inventiveness that is to be praised. Lastly, the elevation of creativity to such importance and tacking it incorrectly to the artist creates a situation where some students are driven to develop their excellence within their art rather accidentally. Thus, it is revealed that "creativity" is a toxic concept on the direct path to learning how to be an expressive artist.

A good analogy to understand my thinking about this would be to think of someone asking for directions to a location with which they are unfamiliar. If instead of telling them how to get there, you instead instructed them to just start driving and turn down any roads they didn't recognize. After they had driven those roads once or twice, they would recognize them and turn down different paths. Sooner or later, they would eliminate the incorrect streets and finally find themselves on the one they were looking for in the first place. Sure, it would eventually work, but it is not focused, doesn’t really provide a clear path for learning, and leaves you at the end not really understanding how they got where they were going or how to do it again.

It can be seen how we got to the point where we view (what we mistakenly believe to be) the artist’s creativity in such high esteem by looking at a few examples. For the sake of this moment of expression, I would like to use two that I feel are rather universally accepted as being highly creative: Miles Davis, and Jimi Hendrix. Both produced lasting work that were, in their time, seemingly ground breaking. Their sounds were so seemingly different from what had come before them that we labeled them with the word "creative". It truly appeared as though that was the case because there was something perceived in their artistic output that had not been felt prior to witnessing their work. It seemed as though they had created something new.

And so, we witness this excellence, search for its key elements, and try to emulate it in our own work.

We see the artist as the creator and this newness as the good, thus we think we must be artists who create something new. If we create works that are technically excellent and skillfully executed but have little which has not been experienced in the past, then our work is deemed to be of less value. As a result, one of the driving forces as we learned to ply our trade is to take that which has been done and sometimes view it almost as though it were the enemy. If we are to reproduce that sort of product, then we tell ourselves that we will be doomed to artistic failure, or at the least being no more than competent craftsman. We are taught to learn that stuff, but then do something "different" that is "creative". That places us in a very awkward spot based in a flawed understanding. Here's why.

Music is, to me, an artistic form of communication. It allows the expression of feelings through its medium. It sets up patterns of energy and motion that may or may not resonate with the audience or viewer. When that resonance happens, those people feel the work of the artist and it hits them deeply. When the resonance fails to occur, the work seems cold and disaffected, thus the audience doesn't get what is being communicated by the artist.

For me, the greatest artists are the greatest communicators who have both a lot to say and are excellent at saying it in a way that is articulate to their audience. They have a message and they are talented at perceiving where those resonances are in their audience, thus enabling them to clearly express it in a way that resonates and is heard and felt deeply within. For me, that is the truer nature of the phenomenon we incorrectly call creativity. I say "incorrectly" because I don't think it is us, the artists who are doing the creation at all.

The world about us does one thing constantly. It changes. You can't stop the eternal morph of everything around us. You can, however, get in that flow and ride the wave. The world is constantly new. So too, are the resonances which artists are attempting to access. It is those resonances that are shifting and becoming new. Sometimes our music/art hits those resonant points and sometimes it doesn't. Artists just keep doing what they have always been doing in this new, shifting world that happens every second.

Thus, the artists we label "creative" don't really create anything new at all. What their special talent, sensitivity, and supreme artistry really is rooted in is their ability to ride the wave. It is their special ability to be in tune and aware of the universal flow that has earned them this label. True, their work is constantly new and always different from that which precedes it, but that is not because they have created anything at all. It is because everything around them is always new and different and they have the added awareness that enables them to tap into that new reality and allow it to manifest through their medium.

Jimi Hendrix played no chord or melody that had not been played before him. The individual elements of his craft were all there in place, studied by him as he learned this form of communication, and practiced until they flowed forth from his heart to hands to the ears of his audience. But it was the fact that he tapped into the flow of the 60s as he did that enabled him to ride that wave and create art that resonated as it did. But he did not create the new resonant pattern; he merely manifested a statement which was in tune with that which already existed in the world in his way of musical expression.

Miles and (let me add one more name here) Picasso are, for me, even clearer examples of such motion. Because they both had clear stylistic periods in their work, one can look at their "creative output" and see a progression to new and different stylistic eras to such a high degree that their early and late works are nothing alike. We are taught to hold such artists in the highest of regards as such. They are truly to be honored for their genius.

But, again, they were both deeply schooled in the past. Neither Miles nor Picasso played or painted any colors or lines that had never been played or painted before. Neither created anything new, they just tapped their guidance and put the old elements together in the way they and others always had done, but they did it in a context that responded to the new times in which they lived. This does not take away one iota of my respect for their mastery, their expression or their ability. What they did was, in a very specific way, tap into the changes in the energy flow is the world around them and channel or give voice to those patterns through their art. In doing so, their work was deeply felt by many and will have lasting value as truly classic artistic expression. They were supreme masters, but of something different that that which we traditionally give them credit.

If they had not tapped into those resonances and let their artistry stand still, they would have been deemed less creative, but that wouldn’t be the real reason that their artistry would have been of a lesser value. It would, in time, have not resonated as well and not been received with as deep an emotional response because it would have fallen out of relevance.

This all may seem to be a subtle difference but I believe it really is huge. You see, if we forge forward creating art in ways that reflect a repulsion to the act of treading old ground as a supreme principle, our artistic success will be entirely scattershot. Of thousands of attempts to create something new and different, one or two will resonate and we will congratulate ourselves on the correctness of the process but we will not be properly focused.

Also, I think it is important during the learning phase to understand common practice or "normal" artistic expression. Something being common practice or normal does not necessarily make it good or even relevant, but it bears that connotation for a valid reason. Sure, lots of “normal” music is not good and/or is only relevant to musicians who create it. But, we must be very careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater on this point. More often, a musical element became normal or common practice because it was excellent and well received, thus copied widely.

There has always been a push for artists to strike out for the new just for the sake of being new. The manner in which composition and theory are frequently taught feeds into this. By setting up theory to be a set of rules for composition rather than a lexicon that allows us to have articulate conversations about past practice, we create a mechanical and scholarly approach that pays little attention to the element of expression. This is not to say there is no place in the process for such thought; One of the functions of music theory can be to catalogue that which has been done to show us where the holes are that can be filled. There is no harm in examining those holes and, in the woodshed, checking out what it feels like to fill them. But using that process as the single guiding light for artistic creation often ends badly.

Shoenberg tried this approach in the early 20th century and soon found it to be little more than a theoretical exercise. He later admitted that his early approach, which employed a highly mathematical method of composing music that was assured (by virtue of this somewhat artificially injected compositional approach) to not resemble that which had preceded it, did not create his best and most artistically satisfying music. It was later in his compositional career when he sat back and noticed which parts of his music were working (resonating with the current audiences) and continued down that path to his ultimate fame as a wonderfully "creative" composer. Thus, his true skill was his ability to ride that wave and perceive the resonance combined with his wisdom to follow that path.

To my new way of thinking, my preferred path to follow is one of awareness of the global and local motion around me. Yes, I continue to learn artistic expressions of the patterns of the past, in fact, now hold them in higher regard. They are the patterns that resonated with that which came before that which now is. Thus, they contain the causal building blocks of the current most resonant patterns. They will not only continue to resonate in their own way in this new time; they will acts as guides to the new resonances. But, as I wish to be labeled "creative" in a meaningful way, I no longer simply learn these patterns so I can later shun that which has been done and go for that which is different.

Instead, I attempt to tune into that which is resonating with the world and the audiences as I play. I am attempting to approach music as an expression of love and caring, as a healing ceremony for my audience. I try to find their needs energetically and fill them.

I am NOT suggesting that I should dumb it down to make it comprehensible. Let me be perfectly clear on that point. Sure, we all play to a lot of audiences that hear at a third grade level. I am not saying I have to use that vocabulary or speak in short sentences about simple topics for them. I am saying that, if I want to have the positive piece of the connotation connected with the word "creative" as an artist, that receptive resonances are the holy grail to follow. They will constantly change in subtle ways; that is certain, because that is the nature of existence. I do have the choice to NOT follow the third grade dumb resonances; instead I try to follow the adult resonances with their convoluted drama about life, love, war, the demise of our planet's ecosystem and all that sort of highly interesting stuff.

In making this subtle shift from shunning past practice to awareness of the present setting, music can be highly sincere and heartfelt, but it doesn't have to be deemed to lack creativity. The main difference for me is that I will no longer be able to stroke my ego with pride in my creation. I didn't do it. The responsible party was God or whatever supreme power or order to whom you may give credit for the motion and constant morph of life. All I did was employ awareness of and sensitivity to this power to reflect the new pattern and try to set off the new resonance.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, (and not in the quality of my work, but rather the nature of its conception) I find myself in good company of such folks a DaVinci and Beethoven, who frequently credited God for their gifts. And, yes, if my music is ever deemed to be “creative”, I will take credit for it. I will take the credit because there is no harm in it. But, I now believe that created nothing at all.

When I see this quality in others, I now prefer the term "visionary" for this form of supreme artistic expression. I now believe that being creative, for the expressed sake of doing that which has not been done in the past, is an ego based, toxic mindset which frequently leads us to reject many good options and choices as we create music.