Thursday, November 19, 2015

Out of the box

I’ve taught workshops and sessions on improvisation, and one of the most valuable things I can tell people is to be creative.  Creativity is like a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it.

There are two different concepts I want to get to in this post.

The first idea is really trying to stretch your creative muscle by going to new and unusual places (for you).  Say you have a shime in front of you and a pair of bachi.  If you’re told to improvise with it, what would you do?  Most people – a high majority, I’d say – would play on the shime with their bachi.  And why not?  There’s nothing wrong with that.

But what about playing the stand that the drum is on?  Or the floor?  Or on yourself?  What about playing the drum with your hands?  Or the stand with your hands?  Or the floor?  Or yourself?  What about no percussion at all and using your voice to improv, say with either kiai, kuchishoga, or song?  What about doing a visual improv with motions and movements?  What about lifting the shime off the stand and holding it while you either play it or just move around?

For some of you, I may have just blown your minds.  For others, you may be thinking that all of that is dumb.

Regardless, if you can at least THINK about these possibilities, you’re starting to use that creative muscle.  Would I ever take a shime and roll it across the floor like I was bowling?  Probably not, but there’s a new idea that I might get other ideas from, and one of those might be something to pursue.  If you discount too many ideas in your head, then that creative muscle atrophies.  Remember, there’s a huge difference in thinking about something and doing it.

The second idea is sort of contrary to the first, but not completely so.  Imagine you have in front of you, a set of twelve drums.  Some are down on betta, some naname.  Some are lower toned, some are higher. Some shime as well.  You have your pick from six different types of beaters, from oak bachi to bamboo slats to timpani mallets.  You’re told to improvise.  What do you do?

I would say that a large majority of people would go NUTS.  Why not?  Sooooo manyyyyy drumsssss.  It’s fun!  But what about taking the most familiar pair of beaters (probably the oak bachi), and playing a solo on just one drum?  In a way, that’s thinking outside of the box, isn’t it?  And again, even if you don’t actually do a solo on just one drum, at least thinking about it means you’re using that creative muscle.

Creativity can be complex or daunting but it can also be simple and comforting.  The trick is to let your mind be flexible.  You can’t think of ALL the possibilities, but you can start with some!

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