I had the privilege of presenting six improvisation workshops at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho in February. The Lewiston Tribune reported on my “How to Practice Creativity” workshop.
Musicians take part in workshop during Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival
By CHELSEA EMBREE of the Tribune Feb 25, 2017
Saxophonist and educator Steve Treseler of Seattle (background, left) listens to students work on his ideas for improvising jazz during a workshop Friday at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho
MOSCOW – Drew Lyall knew he had to do something.
The 18-year-old from Kimberley, British Columbia, approached the piano at the front of the crowded room in the University of Idaho’s Teaching and Learning Center. He had been instructed to improvise a tune using only the piano’s A notes.
Lyall admitted later that there was “a bit of fear” involved, but he played anyway.
The experiment was part of a Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival workshop on practicing creativity Friday morning. Steve Treseler, a professional saxophonist and teacher at Seattle Pacific University, led the workshop, where he encouraged students to take creative risks and explore new ways of making music.
Lyall was grateful for the experience.
“I’m always keen to jump into a situation like that,” he said. “It’s just a little bit more experience of being in a situation that you aren’t well prepared for. The more often you do that, then the better you are when you’re in situations like that that really matter.”
Treseler focused on three creative practices Friday morning – experimentation, play and limitations.
Artists experiment in much the same way as scientists, learning as much from hypotheses that prove false as those that prove true, Treseler said.
“This might not work, but I’m going to try it anyway,” he said. “Having that kind of mindset is huge.”
Play, he said, refers to a childlike perspective of the task at hand. The goal is not to improve or to be the best.
“The goal of play is to just keep playing,” Treseler said.
Though counterintuitive, Treseler said limitations can inspire creativity. He passed out “creativity menus” to the musician-packed audience, including limitations like Lyall’s to play only one note.
There was one trio that was ready for the challenge. Trombonist Jay Panchal, 16, saxophonist Peter Lee, 16, and drummer Nivedan Kaushal, 17, came forward and promptly put themselves at the mercy of the crowd to pick two limitations from the menu.
The audience implored them to play in constant vibrato and in an 11/4 time meter.
Panchal told Kaushal that they could keep up that tempo if Kaushal could – and the trio from Nanaimo, British Columbia, played.
“That puts you out of your comfort zone,” Treseler said as they finished. “… This is the right kind of experimental mindset.”
Kaushal told the audience he had to “really focus” as he drummed. Afterward, he added that it was “cool” to be able to try anything he wanted.
“It’s one of the fears to get over, actually, just getting up front,” Kaushal said. “Let’s be honest – you’re never going to see anyone here again. Why not completely mess up if it means learning something?”
The trio was most excited, though, when pianist Lyall joined them for another improvisation game. The newly formed quartet played their music in a call-and-response format, with each instrument using only three pitches.
“I really enjoy playing with people I’ve never played with before,” Panchal said. “… Being thrown up there and seeing what happens when you mix different groups together was so cool.”
“The cool thing is it actually works,” Lee added. “It just works out.”
© Copyright 2017 Lewiston Morning Tribune, TPC Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.
I created a Creativity Triggers for Musicians Facebook group to connect readers and creative musicians all over the world.
Of course, our most important connections are playing music together in real life. The value of a digital community is that we can:
– Connect with musicians across the globe
– Share music
– Ask and answer questions
– Find collaborators
– Share insight and resources
To create and perform great music, we need to connect with other people. Our creative practices are often stuffed into a practice room, isolating us from our peers. If we can break out of that sense of isolation, we can create more and connect with wider audiences.
– Kaley Lane Eaton, composer, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist
Download a free digital copy of my new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians. See you in the Facebook group.
Download a free digital copy of my new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians.
Creativity isn’t a mysterious or magical gift. It’s a practice.
Creativity Triggers for Musicians will help you express your unused creativity, break through barriers, and create an abundance of original music.
– Eight creative practices that underpin idea generation in any creative discipline.
– Creativity Triggers: frameworks for improvisation that draw from creative practices. These are similar to improv theater games and creative writing prompts.
This is a preview of new book Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Reserve a free digital copy.
Practicing can be a game, the goal is a deeper knowing of musical sound. One strategy is to draw the greatest variety of music from the smallest amount of material . . . [These] games are the kind master and beginner can play with skill.
– W. A. Mathieu, The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music
This chapter introduces Creativity Triggers, frameworks for improvisation that draw from the eight creative practices in Chapter One. Creativity Triggers are similar to creative writing prompts and improv theater games—these exercises help us narrow our focus and generate new ideas through experimentation and play.
When my wife and I were planning our wedding, our minister could sense we didn’t have a clear vision for our ceremony. She offered us her “Chinese Takeout Menu of Wedding Ceremonies,” which listed options for openings, readings, vows, and closings. This menu was a huge relief and helped us put together a personal and meaningful ceremony.
The Creative Limitation Menus list limitations for structuring improvised pieces. The challenge is to create interesting music within a narrow set of musical restrictions. Unlike a restaurant menu, you are free to change menu items and add your own.
In Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch suggests, “two rules are more than enough. If we have a rule concerning harmony and another concerning rhythms, if we have a rule concerning mood and another concerning the use of silence, we don’t need any more. The unconscious has infinite repertoires of structure already; all it needs is a little external structure on which to crystallize.”
The magic comes from experimenting with the musical elements that aren’t restricted. For instance, if your two limitations are “choose two pitches” and “slow pulse,” you can drastically alter the dynamics, rhythmic values, articulation, and tone color.
Three Movement Piece
Choose three sets of limitations to structure a three movement improvisation.
Think of a person, place, emotion, object, or story to serve as the theme for an improvised piece. Choose limitations that will effectively express your theme.
Choose limitations randomly.
Improvise with a drum groove from the Drumgenius mobile app. The app features 400 jazz, rock, and Latin American drum loops.
When creative writers “free write,” they write continuously without editing, judging, or censoring. Similarly, we can “free play” music. Set a timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes and play continuously. Record your free play because you may find material to develop in future improvisations or compositions
Experiment with mood, rhythm, and/or tone color limitations to play extreme interpretations of a notated piece.
Much more in Chapter Two of Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Reserve a free digital copy.
Reflecting on our performances makes us stronger musicians and collaborators. You can ask and answer the following questions:
Listen and reflect with a detached and compassionate curiosity.
Gearing up to release my new eBook, Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Below is part of the introduction. Reserve your free copy.
Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
– Sister Corita Kent and John Cage, “Ten Rules for Teachers and Students”
This is challenging practice because as artists, we are constantly assessing and judging our work.
Theater games help actors create new material and build trust. We can experience the same benefits from creative musical games.
Improvisation is the source of paralyzing fear and for many musicians, and community-building games help ease fears about the creative process. The novelty, unpredictability, and attainable challenges help drive our attention into the present moment.
Group activities engage everyone in the ensemble. The jazz education model of teaching improvisation puts musicians on the spot one at a time—musicians who aren’t playing tend to check out mentally, and many inexperienced soloists get freaked out when put on the spot.
Introduce Creative Practices
Games allow us to experience profound creative practices: experimentation, creative risks, and playing within self-imposed limitations. Although some of the icebreaker games are silly, the practices help us improvise and compose in other areas.
Creative games and activities are the foundation of the Game Symphony Workshop.
When refer to various activities of life as “games,” we do not mean to imply that these activities are frivolous or make no difference. . .Half the fun of playing games like baseball—or the kind that come in a box—is that they challenge us to adapt and hone our skills. . .Naming your activities as a game breaks their hold on you and puts you in charge. Just look carefully at the cover of the box, and if the rules do not light up your life, put it away, take out another one you like better, and play the new game wholeheartedly. Remember, it’s all invented.
Roz Zander, The Art of Possibility
Here are ten of my favorite games for musicians who may be new to improvisation:
The ‘card came’ removed my usual block of being terrified to make s*** up (is it good?) and I felt really free. It was just inside my comfort zone and I was pleased with my own contribution.
– Kendal Seager, violin
Game Symphony Workshop participant
Earlier this month a group of classically-trained adult musicians came together to launch the Game Symphony Workshop. The program is designed to unlock and unblock creativity, ease fears, build community, and generate new music.