“As improvisers, our highest art form is to be simply taking dictation from the muses.”
Concept: Where our musical ideas come from, no one knows for sure. There are many theories. It could be that we are tapping into the collective consciousness of all musical ideas ever thought, or maybe just all ideas we personally have ever heard? Some might suggest that these magical ideas come from outside of us, like from angels, spirits, or even telepathic space aliens! I’ve suggested that it could be “all of the above!” My good friend, accordionist Michael Ward-Bergman has recently suggested to me that our musical ideas could be coming from the audience’s expectations of what they’d like to hear! I see no reason why this concept couldn’t be part of the answer.
Hearing in three different time zones.
I have taught many to be aware of the concept that in our brains, we “hear” in three different time-zones: past, present, and future simultaneously! We hear what we hear, with our physical ears, as we hear it, of course (present), but we also hear that idea still bouncing around in our heads for a bit too (past)… but the cool, and most useful to an improviser part is, if we carefully listen (and train ourselves to follow it) that we actually can hear what we expect or hope to hear or play, AHEAD of time, before it actually happens too! As improviser/creators, we are actually bringing the future into reality continually! Kind of cool if you think about it that way.
Exercises – work with these ideas and concepts by level.
Jammer Level: Don’t think, just do. This is your assignment for now. There will be other stuff to know and think a bit about later, but for you, at this level of experience, you need to work on the concept that is most missing in the average human’s daily life… that of just not thinking too much about what you are doing, and trying to trust your inner guidance system that you are slowly developing a connection to.
Gigger Level: As you play today, try not to think too hard about anything, or make anyone song or note more important that the other. Loosen your mental grip on the notion that what you play has to be amazing, great, or perfect. Those can be psychological traps that hinder your creativity. I have a friend who graduated from the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, CA a number of years back. He told me of the exercise they had students do there to help this idea: improvise non-stop 16th notes for a whole song! This could/should/would be quite monotonous for you (and the audience), but after doing this for a week or two, no one note will ever become more important than another again! Try it! …for a time… then do the opposite for a time by playing only ONE quarter note per chord or measure!
Artist Level: Practice trusting your inner voice or gut in every decision today, no matter how small. Stay aware of this voice always. Need to turn left or right? Inwardly imagine your inner guidance system showing you which choice will be the best possible outcome (fastest, less traffic or danger, most enjoyable, etc…) that is custom tailored just for you and you only, in this moment (Me? I “see” the air as thicker, yet clearer and more sparkly at the better choice, and go with that). Cooking oatmeal for breakfast?… don’t measure it out today, put some oats in the bowl, and “feel” when to stop adding water. There are literally hundreds of ways to practice this inner obedience mode in every day. This will slowly change you, and it will come out in your improvising as “authority!”
A story of my experience: One time, while playing a “happy hour” bar gig with a band of friends, in the break, the drummer came up to me and said: “I don’t know what it is, but every time Geoff Perry plays, all heads turn!” I thought it a very flattering compliment of course, but did not let it inflate my ego or anything. You see, I know the secret… the secret of having and developing this intangible thing called “authority” is simply to listen, trust, be obedient to, and act on the ideas that come a split second before you play them. In my 30 plus years of honing this ability, they are always the best ideas, and most likely the exact ideas the audience needs to hear at that precise moment, in that exact song, on that exact day! I’ve tried imposing my own ideas and thoughts into my improvising, but it always comes out sounding and feeling somehow worse, and less inspired to all within earshot.
This concept is not just a musical one, but arguably at the core of EVERY skill! I’ve heard a post game interview of a winning football quarter back saying that he had a great day and could “visualize and put that ball anywhere he wanted on the field that day.” Sports persons will talk of being “in the zone.” Dancers will say that it was almost as if angels were guiding every move. I know a competition Western Gun Slinger who told me the same thing, that they are at their best when they can pre-visualize each shot on the fly. This very idea was part of the movie “Little Big Man” when the actor Dustin Hoffman learned to “shoot before he shot” in becoming a outlaw gunslinger. Think on these concepts and see how they effect your improvisations and the feelings they give you and your listeners!
Check out the “Obedience to the Master” wit & wisdom lesson from the Fiddle Jam book for more on this concept.
PS: If you can’t tell, this is one of my favorite subjects to talk about! Geoff