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:
If you do something and you think, “That really seems like me and I don’t think anyone else does that,” then you’ve got to jump on that with both feet and do it over and over again until it becomes something that really works. That can take a long time or it can happen in a day. There’s that moment when you’re like, “Yeah, that’s what I do, right there.”
– Ethan Iverson, pianist in The Bad Plus*
Finding an artistic voice is personally fulfilling and the key to standing out in a noisy world. The musical landscape is more crowded than ever, and the only artists we pay attention to are remarkable and unmistakable—like The Bad Plus.
In the 21st century, average is boring.
Flow becomes an alternative path to mastery, sans the misery. Forget 10,000 hours of delayed gratification. Flow junkies turn instant gratification into their North Star—putting in far more hours of “practice time” by gleefully harnessing their hedonic impulse.
– Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
We’ve been telling ourselves the wrong story about practicing music.
Practicing is like a job. We need to subject ourselves to tedious work in isolation to achieve future results. The most successful musicians have the work ethic to slog through the most hours. Those who succumb to instant gratification are lazy, undisciplined, and destined for mediocrity.
Sound familiar? This story is the source of frustration, guilt, and self-doubt among countless musicians.
We can tell ourselves a different story. This new story is more joyful, fulfilling, and effective for attaining mastery.
Surfer at Mavericks. Photo courtesy of Flickr/jacobovs
This week marks the one year anniversary of the Creative Music Blog! I want to share some exciting plans for the future and reflect on successes from the past year.
Launching this blog last September was part of a larger shift in strategy for how I earn a living as a musician. It also marked a major inflection point in my life. The practice of writing and sharing articles every week has connected me with a worldwide audience and opened doors for new projects and career opportunities.
Your next creative breakthrough may be all in your head.
“Hora Decubitus” (a.k.a.”E’s Flat Ah’s Flat Too”) comes from my favorite Charles Mingus record, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus from 1963. The tune is a E-flat minor blues with a harmonic twist. Each chorus of the melody adds a new layer of counterpoint. I love to teach this tune by ear in my large group improvisation workshops. Below is my transcription of the horn parts. Enjoy!
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
Stop trying to beat everyone else. True success is creating work that no one else can replicate. Don’t aim to be the best—aim to be the only.
When you’re truly unmistakable, the competition becomes completely irrelevant. You’re not the best option, you’re the only option
– Srini Rao, Unmistakable: Why Only Is Better Than Best
Keith Jarrett doesn’t have any competition. If you want to hear Keith’s play live, there is no substitute for the man himself. Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Bill Frisell, Roy Hargrove, and Pat Metheny are have carved out their own categories. They are unmistakable.
Are these musicians objectively the “best” at what they do? It’s an irrelevant question. These renowned artists have stepped out of the world of measurement into a universe of possibility.
Graphic novel author and illustrator Kazu Kibuishi wrote a succinct description of the creative process that resonated with artists all over the world:
It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quality and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.
Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Courtesy of Flickr/Gwenn Seemel