I’ve never been much of a visual artist. Drawing, painting, and even coloring has never been my forte. I can appreciate the final product and even have an emotional connection with it but envisioning it from the start has always escaped me.
Recently, I’ve been watching Blown Away, a reality TV show about glass blowers. I am truly blown away at how they first envision their piece and draw it out and then actually create it. It made me realize that the difference between these amazing artists and me, is that I’ve always been one who colors within the lines.
In coloring books, I use colors that mimic actual life colors of a subject that is already laid out for me. In music, I learn a tune exactly the way I hear it, depicting each nugget of ornamentation and trying to mimic it exactly like the person playing it.
The only difference is with music, sometimes I hear other things within the tune that is not being played. I sometimes can hear something wonderful but have yet to be able to express it. Though learning by ear is a great skill to master, mimicking other artists takes the creativity out of the art. True talent shows when you can express what’s in your heart and to do that, I need to color outside the lines.
Learning to improvise
I think the first step in this process is to not only learn my instrument inside out but to learn how to improvise. I need to be able to take what I hear in my head and automatically put my fingers to the fingerboard and draw the bow to pull it out. This, however, has never been an easy process for me. I’ve learned to rely on only what I hear.
I think part of the process is, I need to learn to be more playful in my music and take more chances. I need to trust what I already know, trust the music in my head and have the confidence to try it out.
So today, I sat and played only 2 notes for 20 minutes. Two, long and glorious notes for 20 minutes (I apologize to my neighbors and my poor dog who left the room). I figured if a bongo player can make music with two drums, I can make music with two notes. I used the F and F# because these notes I usually play slightly out of tune, so I figured I needed the practice. I played both notes a few times very slowly to reacquaint myself with different pressures on the bow. I then played around with some different rhythms and bowing techniques and tried to be as playful as possible.
My plan is to eventually practice with more than two notes but I think by starting with only 2 notes I give myself permission to be playful and not worry about the melody at all. It also helps reiterate where my fingers should be for optimal intonation. Tomorrow, I’ll use 3 and 4 notes and add to the mix from there.
The key for me is to remember to trust what I already know and play around with melodies and rhythms and give myself more freedom to color outside the lines.