In the creative realm, effortless freedom resides only within a framework. Which is to say, with too many options we are frozen like deer in the headlights. The creative process is one we are engaged in on a minute to minute basis as human beings. I hear a lot of people say they “aren’t creative” or that they tried and failed, which now proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they are “not creative”. But when we talk to each other, we aren’t reading from a script. We are improvising words all day long, but we do so within some very strict confines. We have an idea to communicate, we have to obey a modicum of grammar rules, we have to obey certain moral codes, and we also manage to share an emotional tone as well. If someone handed you a pile of words cut out of magazines, in a language you don’t speak, and told you to create something meaningful…chances are you’d eventually determine that you aren’t creative too.
On Sunday April 17th from 2-4pm I will be leading a workshop about “modal improvisation for guitarists” at Berkeley’s Jazz School.
“Modal” is defined as:
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a mode.
2. Grammar Of, relating to, or expressing the mood of a verb.
In the musical paradigm, definition one basically means playing within a given key or tonality. The 2nd definition, for our purposes, I would edit to read “of, relating to, or expressing a mood”. So, what we have are modes (musical tonalities) that each specifically relate to a human emotion.
The jam band scene has exploited this simple structure of improvisation for decades to hundreds of thousands of adoring and stoned fans. Basically, if you know a few scale positions you can pretty much shut your brain down and spin/dance your way down epic pathways of endless and meandering solos. Unless you’ve found yourself at a MMW concert though (or a small handful “jam” bands that have actually done some homework), you’d be lucky to find any educated musicians in attendance to drink from the cup of spontaneous composition. All tangents aside though, the purpose of this discussion is to shed some light on the intricacies of this art form, what it’s goals are, and what separates the mundane from the astounding.