Sunday, November 3, 2013


Welcome to the blog!

Creativity (or our American population's lack of it) seems to be a hot topic lately. The largest companies are realizing that graduates may be coming to work with higher IQs than ever before, but their creative ability is sorely lacking. Tests for creativity like the Torrance test reveal that today's children have Creativity Quotients that are the lowest ever. Meanwhile, CEOs of companies have selected "creativity" as the most crucial factor for future success.

Despite the dropping creativity in the general population, creativity is all the rage in the blogosphere. Austin Kleon's blog post "Steal Like an Artist" was taken and published into a book that sold many copies. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book "Flow: The Psychology of an Optimal Experience" has become a popular tome for creativity buffs. Creativity is a regular topic from the contributors at TED. Maybe it is the pliability of the internet as a medium to express ideas not just in a written form? Mashing up text, images, videos, sounds, and interactivity seems to have created a renaissance of creative thought from people who would have never thought they were creative before.

Meanwhile, true divergent thinking is rarely addressed in the American classroom at any level. Part of the issue is people relegating creative intelligences to just the arts. Creativity is for all disciplines, but that would be a subject for another blog.

So why address the issue of creativity in music, if music is inherently creative? Because, I have encountered musicians, visual artists, and writers who tell me "I am not creative". This is odd because these same people "create" many unique and engaging pieces of art. Nonetheless, something makes them feel deficient when it comes to creativity. Why?

I think the issue is that "creativity" is so hard to define. The model of the mad artist who drips with creative ideas but can hardly function in the real world is an outdated one. Yet, we still cling to the image of the tortured genius just sitting and waiting for the lightning to strike. While the Archimedes moments are a very real phenomenon I believe that creative intelligence can be developed just like any other mental skill.

This blog is my attempt at exploring these techniques for my benefit. It is my quest to find that deep well where artists drink. I am no expert by any means. But I know that feeling when I am in the "zone". You know it too. The walls fade away and all that is left is you and your craft. You have felt this before. Csikszentmihalyi describes this as "Flow". In his words it is  "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz . Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

Maybe you regularly are in this state or maybe you haven't been there for a while? When I began to draw as a child, I went through the techniques in Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". Now, I know the left/right brain paradigm is an outdated one, but this book was able to send me into that "right brain/zone/flow" state. Going through the preliminary exercises (gesturing, upside down drawing, contour drawing, and positive/negative space) were enchanting. For someone who has never been in a "flow" state when creating it can be a revelation.

A technique from Edwards' book: copying the upside down drawing of Stravinsky in order to silence the "left brain"

As I explored music through the years, I noticed I rarely entered that same state that I would as a visual artist. The notes on the page, the technique, the rhythmic counting, coordination can be very daunting. There was a lot to be exact about for the music to come out right. If anything, creativity was something that seemed to be an optional thing added at the end of mastery: to add some spice to a performance.

I never was aware of the musical equivalent of Edwards' books but I have found bits and pieces along the way. And as I explored I realized there were exercises that one can create to bring about this state of flow for any musician: beginning to advanced, jazz to rock, classical to hip hop, amateur to professional.

In this blog I will explore some of these methods and hope you would be willing to contribute some as well. Not all of these techniques may work for you. Some will seem downright silly and maybe even a waste of your practice time. You may be right. That would be up for you to decide.

We will explore all areas of music: composition, improvisation, performance, rhythm, melody, harmony, form, texture, analysis. Creativity can be found across that whole spectrum. I also will review some books and musician's works to analyze this creative process in action.

Let's go.

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