06/2/15
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Enhancing Musical Creativity with Meditation (guest post)

By Doug Hanvey

As a music teacher, and former instructor of an undergraduate class on mindfulness meditation (at Indiana University Bloomington from 2007 to 2014), I am fascinated by the many possible applications of meditation to music. One of these applications is creativity.

The Source of Creativity

Albert Einstein said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” Like most geniuses, Einstein understood that the source of creativity is beyond the mind. And, of course, what is beyond the mind is mysterious – at least to the mind!

Musicians can upgrade their creativity by becoming more familiar and comfortable with the mysterious place from which all thought and creativity arise. Meditation is a proven way of doing this.

Now, I realize that by using terms such as “beyond the mind” and “space of awareness,” I can be accused of New Age philosophizing that has no practical relevance to everyday life. Yet, as evidenced by Einstein’s appreciation thereof (not to mention that of many other artists and scientists), getting comfortable with the space beyond thoughts is as practical and useful as tying one’s own shoes, particularly for creative activities like improvising.

Meditation is a superb practice for any creative musician. Let me tell you about two types of meditation, both of which I’ve practiced extensively, and both of which I’ve found to be extremely powerful for boosting creativity.

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10/23/14

Classical Improv Jam #2 – (video) Drone + Harmonic Series

This time Lin and I trade solos over a drone; the soloist’s notes are limited to the notes of the natural horn, i.e. the harmonic series.

08/16/13

Getting Real (Book)

RealBook_1736

(Photo credit: ray.gauss)

I like to improvise, but I am not a jazz player on the horn. Nevertheless, it is a very good idea for any improviser to learn from any/every source and jazz is certainly a source that we should steal, uh, learn from at every opportunity. One basic resource for the jazz player over the years has been the so-called Real Book, which was for a long time an illegal compendium of lead sheets – basic melody and chords of jazz standards (and some not-so-standards). They were illegal because they included the (copyrighted) tunes. Fake books (real/fake? Get it?) that just gave the chords to songs without the tunes avoided this sticky bit of legality.

Real Books were hard to find for most people for a long time – you had to know a guy who knew a guy who sold them from the back of his station wagon in parking lots on odd Thursdays. Real Books were the necessary samizdat resources of learning jazz. If you know jazz, you could get together with anybody and play all night and beyond – somebody just had to call out the page in the RB and everybody could play, whether they were familiar with the tune or not.

Although you might be able to fault the usual Real Book for choices (lots of tunes you never heard of before) and mistakes in chords and melody, you can’t quibble over quantity. Lots of stuff here! RBs are thus handy but quite bulky to schlep around, which is possibly a good reason to learn the tunes by heart as quickly as possible.

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12/31/12

Improvisation Principles 2

English: Guiding principles of the adventure l...

Practice inventing motifs of 3-4 notes. Work toward the ability to transpose them (and play in sequence) fluently diatonically and chromatically.

Learn to transform short motifs in a variety of ways (augmentation, diminution, backwards, inverted, change rhythms, change mode (e.g. major to minor) and so on).

Use short thematic material or motifs that you (or your audience) might like to (and be able to) whistle.

Lower your expectations. Go for quantity. Holding out for perfection is a great way to strangle your creativity. Start with something (anything) and then make something out of it.

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12/28/12

Improvisation Principles 1

Improvisation, c.1915-1916

Improvisation, c.1915-1916

Assorted principles and suggestions for classical improvisers (first installment):

•Imitate. Copy what you hear, either from yourself or others.

•Don’t be afraid to repeat something. Over and 0ver and over.

•Repeat something, but after the third time or so, start making changes, however small.

•Mean what you say, say what you mean (not what you think someone wants to hear or what you think will impress them or what someone else might say).

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04/7/12

Start Your Day with a D.A.!

Imagine that you were not allowed to speak unless you were quoting Socrates, Cicero, Aristotle, Winston Churchill, Lincoln, etc., not even “Please pass the salt” unless you were quoting. Imagine that you were an English major but were not allowed to write any of your own thoughts, no essays, not even an email; you could only copy down quotes from Twain, Dickens, Faulkner, Joyce, Cervantes, Goethe, etc . Imagine that you went to art school but were never trained or encouraged to do anything but reproduce famous paintings, never, never paint or sculpt anything that you thought up, ever. Just copy Picasso, Renoir, Degas, Ingres, Leonardo. Imagine if you went to music school and never played anything but the notes of some distant (and likely deceased) composer, never received encouragement or training to make your own music…

Oh, wait. That is, in fact, how it is in music school. No creating. Just recreating. Nothing wrong with re-creating – unless it’s the only show in town. Any garage band worth its salt composes its own songs. Why is it that your averate terminal-degreed music student can’t write a convincing piece for their own instrument? Isn’t something missing?

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