“It is just like the hands to tell their stories without shame” – Linda Hogan

April 23, 2016

Sometimes there is a bit of shame, in the last few weeks I have been practicing and recording improvisations. When you are trying ideas for the first time peculiar things happen. Today for example, playing along with my eyes closed I could have sworn my fingers were at the 2nd fret but they were really at the 5th. Other times I began to play a line that was clear for the first few notes then got fuzzy, resulting in lots of clicks and confusion. At times I have taken the Miles Davis approach – “there are no mistakes”. I just repeat the click and try to make it a feature of the passage. Sometimes this works but presently I tend to giggle at those areas because no matter what Miles said, I know them to be the result of physical miscues.

Improvising with others is easier: they can surprise you into new sounds, textures and ways of doing things. They can take the lead, or offer accompaniments that help find new ways of looking at things. Conversing is improvising and follows many of the same rules and strategies. Coherent thought proceeds with codes because sharing information is a necessity. Rhyme, rhythm and reason are some of the ways we create meaning and remember things and all of them feature prominently in musical thought.

Sometimes it is vital to push beyond the comfort zone. In a guided writing workshop I attended the prompts were followed by a free writing period of about 10 minutes. After the first flurry of words, which lasted about five minutes, the writing slowed and one had to dig deeper to find things to say. This was where interesting things came up such as metaphors, alternative ways of viewing the prompt and turning the initial responses back on themselves. Musically speaking I find these zones challenging because one has to push an idea further and it is so hard to judge how far to push it before it gets dull. This is so much easier to decide afterwards.

Improvising alone is a way of conversing by yourself – a few notes of melody - then some kinds of bass line to support it. Pushing the idea along until it is exhausted for today, then moving to another, then another. It is something I have always wanted to do and my hands keep telling me stories.

Nasrudin was repairing the tiles on his roof when a stranger knocked the door. “What do you want?” Nasrudin shouted down.

“You need to come down,” said the stranger, “So I can tell you without shouting.”

Nasrudin grimaced but slowly climbed down the ladder, and when they were face to face, Nasrudin asked, “What is this important thing that I had to down to hear?”

“Could you give a little money to this poor old man?” said the stranger.

Nasrudin sighed and started to climb back up the ladder waving the stranger up as well. The stranger asked why he should follow him and Nasrudin said that he must do so if he wanted an answer to the question. Grimacing, the stranger followed. When they were both on the roof, Nasrudin said, “No.”