Improv, creativity, and a podcast that helped me understand the process better
March 28, 2021 at 1:41 pm #46744
Improv can be such a scary thing. I’ve always struggled with it. One thing I love about Fiddlehed is how Jason encourages us to play with improv from the very beginning. It’s an element of practice and not a big deal!!!! I listened to this podcast yesterday on my way to work and it’s helped me understand why its important to be able to practice and follow a script….but also to be able to connect with the creativity that lies beyond the script and be open to the sheer magic of the creative process. This podcast talks about creativity within speeches – only specifically mentions music in passing once – but the lessons are there for our fiddling playing too. I highly recommend giving it a listen. https://timharford.com/2021/02/cautionary-tales-martin-luther-king-jr-the-jewelry-genius-and-the-art-of-public-speaking/
I’m trying to incorporate improv into my practice as a regular thing but it’s hard. I feel like I’m bad at it, but mostly I think I avoid it because it’s scary.
March 29, 2021 at 10:47 am #46754jason kleinbergKeymaster
How is creativity expressed in non-artistic fields?
How have you been creative in your own everyday life?
April 4, 2021 at 1:28 pm #46898
In non artistic fields (although, I think at this point there is no such thing! but for the sake of argument, things like science and math) I think creativity is very important. Anytime there is a limit and you cannot always draw a straight line from A to Z, you must use creative thinking in order to solve a problem.
Here are some random thoughts from a Sunday afternoon that aren’t thought through very clearly, but jump to mind.
– In vetmed, when you need a treatment or diagnosis, but money is limited and so “best medicine” can’t be achieved. For me, this is often a tool that needs to be improvised, or it might be something that broke that needs to patched up until a part that comes in. Or it is related to some part of the anatomy that the text book neglects to say exactly how that bandage is supposed to be bandaged and due to the location and nature of the wound, you have to come up with something special exactly for that animal.
– In coding websites, sometimes the exact tool you want doesn’t exist, so you have to create a code or series of codes to accomplish something elegant. Put pieces together that work together as a whole in order to create your vision of what your website is going to look like and function.
– In teaching something like math (Calculus was my first love before finding biology and medicine, and I did a lot of tutoring) you have to know multiple ways to explain or think about something. I think that’s the frustration of adults who see a way of teaching math as fact based instead of math as a creative exercise. It IS creative. It isn’t just a series of facts to memorize. It’s understanding how numbers work, how they function in the real world, and how they relate to each other. Math and music are so similar – in both subjects you are kinda just having to jump into the middle because there isn’t really a beginning and an end. Just a whole language and system that you have to bite off one chunk at a time. Do you start by learning sound and scales, or do you learn by learning a song with fingers and then going to scales? Do you learn the scales within the scales that are actually functional within a tune, or do you learn strict scales with notes one after each other? do you play by ear and then learn how to read music or the other way around? With Math, do you learn your 1+1 and your 2-1 arthritic math, or do you learn the principles that underlye these really simple math problems first and then go back to this? There’s no right way to do it, and what you can do with music and math is only limited by your imagination, and therefore your creativity.
– every science experiment I’ve ever been part of required an inordinate amount of creativity (I used to be in research). Figuring out how to get an answer and test your hypothesis (ie the “big question” of your experiment) isn’t spelled out in any book. You are in uncharted territory and trying to adapt other people’s work and your real life experience to something that can be measured.
– Writing. There’s a million words and ways of saying something. How you choose your words, sentences, and structure of your writing is very much a creative process. Yes, grammar, spelling are what we learn in school, but there’s this other nebulous quality to writing and that is STYLE. And style and “voice” is very much creative. There’s a million “technically” right ways to write a story, but what audience are you trying to reach? How do you want lead them down the tulip path? What is your message? What will keep them reading? What is the purpose of the writing? Take any post on my blog and there is at least 5 other ways I could have written any particular post – and I often do. I’m a freelance writer that publishes in magazines as well as for my personal blog, and I often pull old posts off my blog and rewrite them for magazines. They may speak about the same subjects, but they are completely different articles because of…creativity. Working within the “limits” of my audience and the purpose of my message.
I could go on and on…but speaking of writing, I have a magazine article editorial deadline ASAP and I really should be getting this article done on EHV in horses…….LOL.
May 25, 2021 at 12:59 am #47652kate.kakaduParticipant
I was always terrified of improvisation, I just couldn’t work out how it worked because when I tried to do it I always failed. I was completely hit and miss; some notes sounded good, others terrible, I just didn’t understand how to do it and concluded that there is a secret musical ability required. But in my head I could come up with something, or even hum something, or sing in harmony to a song, I just didn’t know what I was doing. I understood some musical theory, and that chords are important, and scales, but I’ve never had it explained to me how it all works. My brother showed me the circle of fifths, but when he started to explain it I just went cross eyed.
I needed a scaffold, as well as a context to learn how to improvise. A motivation recently is I’ve started playing with a ukulele club and the only thing that they have are the chords with the words. For me to play along (to some songs that I was completely unfamiliar with) I realised I had to learn what notes were in each chord and that gave me the initial scaffold and focus for playing along. I began by harmonising using the chord notes on the violin, and then being able to work out the melody by ear. When it came to an instrumental, I began to mix chord notes with melody, and sometimes it would sound good. But I still was not confident because I still didn’t really know what I was doing to make it good.
I realised that I need some theoretical knowledge and I recently started an online course with Christian Howe, who cleared up some of my misconceptions. I didn’t understand that the chords that are played in a song are chosen because they share the same notes in a scale. I thought that if you went from a C chord to a G chord, that you were shifting from a C scale to a G scale, so I would suddenly throw in a F#! He also goes into detail about the role of chord notes, and scale notes and how they work together in the song, and how voice leading is used to transition notes from one chord to another so it doesn’t jar the ear. He explains it well and provides scaffolded activities that allow you to create music with in a given chord progression. Understanding how a song works has helped me become more confident being creative over the same chords, because there are parameters.
So, expanding on your maths analogy, you can learn your times tables (equivalent of musical scales) by rote and it will help you with solving basic maths problems (or playing and reading someone else’s music), but to recognise the patterns in times tables, and relationships of numbers (or scales and their relationships with chords) suddenly it allows you to create your own music and be confident to experiment using the structures that are there. Improvisation is not just ‘making up’ music, it is playing with patterns within parameters. I just needed someone to point that out. I like cooking, so another analogy is that we can follow a recipe to recreate the exact replica of someone else’s meal, or, as we get more confident in the kitchen, we are able to adjust flavours and ingredients to make a version that suits our tastes.
I’m on a journey of discovery because of this; I decided to see if I could find patterns in scales, and realised that knowing the whole step and half step patterns of a major scale are helpful to learn, and I was able to play with scales up and down the fingerboard. If you would have said to me a year ago that I would voluntarily spend 2 hours playing scales, I would have said you were mad, but now I’m starting to see their relevance and relationships. On that day I also discovered that the strings on a violin are a fifth apart, which is like a visual reminder of the circle of fifths, that I’m also starting to see the purpose of!
On that note, better head off and cook dinner!
June 9, 2021 at 5:57 am #47822
Kate – I’m just now seeing your reply. Your scaffold analogy is exactly the what my brain needs too. And I was JUST talking to someone else in real life about cooking and how improv is similar….you have to learn the basics of flavor, how salt and acid work together, what substitutions work and which don’t…and it’s so similar to music!!!!! It’s just amazing to me how much cross over there is between different areas of life that as a younger person I thought lived in completely different bubbles.
I think that being more creative in one area (such as cooking) can definitely help my confidence to be creative and improvise in other areas too. It gets my brain used to the exercise of going off script…but in a way that works and follows certain “guidelines”. It’s not that smoked paprika can’t go into chocolate chip cookies, it’s just that other things may need to be adjusted and the flavor supported and set up by your other ingredients. It’s not that some weird note or progression can’t work in a song….it’s just that you need to support and set up that transition if that’s what you really want to do with the song. Otherwise stick with something that follows the rules a little more and maybe add the equivalent of almond extract instead of vanilla to that song!
OK. Maybe I’m hungry since I can’t stop thinking about food now. LOL.
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