« Forums | General Chat »
   New Post
   Search

The Creative Process

I was inspired by AfroDJMac's interview of Tim Webb, and I thought I'd share some of the things I posted to invite a conversation about role of music theory and the creative process.

In the interview they discussed the creative process and the topic of music theory came up. Tim expressed the idea that some artists may make music that seems to "show off" their knowledge. I think we've heard examples of artists whose music is complex, complicated, and requires some additional skills to compose, produce and perform.

In creative work, we all work at our own skill level, or levels, I should say. We have levels of knowledge, level of skill, comfort, experience, curiosity, tolerance of complexity, patience, etc. etc.

As music creators we all tap into some combination of: inspiration, experimentation, improvisation, editing, trial-and-error, theory knowledge, prior experience, habits, individual tastes, random action, happy accidents, and various other processes.

I think we ALL use music theory, in a broad sense. Music Theory is some combination of the language we use to label pitches, scales, chords, beats, note values, etc. While many self-taught mobile music artists have developed their own systems to understand music, there is a language about how we work with the elements of music. I suspect that ALL self-taught music makers have their own way of understanding music, chords, rhythm, melody, and scale. Even the most rabid avante-guarde modular synth sound designer has an internal language for mapping what they do with sound on a conceptual level.

There can be a negative connotation about having a deep knowledge of theory, and the use of theory. The idea is that a student of music theory is somehow divorced from the creative, artistic, spontaneous, passion of their craft. There are also artists who struggle for an artistically "pure" motivation that is not driven by understanding or experience or pre-conceived notion.

Realistically, most of us are striking a balance between pulling from our preconceived ideas about music structure (i.e. music theory), our personal musical experiences, trial-and-error (i.e., noodling/improv), allowing inspiration, welcoming happy accidents, and non-realtime sculpting of raw/rough content, etc.

If we just follow our noses, we might end up producing that which as been produced a million times by others (the low-hanging fruit of simple triads, and 4/4 time). If we strive to scratch a hard-to-reach itch, we may need to use some knowledge of theory to point us in a direction, or perhaps more importantly to help us know what to avoid.

I think some artists are just better at composing something creative and musically well-crafted than others. It's obviously a matter of opinion and taste, but artists like Imogen Heap, RadioHead and Bjork seem so good at finding some unusual yet gorgeous sound and impeccable content (melody, chords, rhythm).

OTOH, an artist like Jacob Collier has achieved the pinnacle of musical knowledge and skill; yet his music somehow lacks an important raw quality. I listen to him, and enjoy his work very much, but it's hard to describe how this musical goliath doesn't quite touch the sweet spot for me. No disrespect, though. He's a master.

I do lots of work that involves putting down rough shapes and then doing many hours of painstaking editing of MIDI tracks. I try to find shapes & sounds that get to something a little hard to reach. Ultimately, for me, it is something really specific-- as I sometimes struggle with a single phrase for hours. The result is satisfying, but I find I often avoid creative work (like now).

What are some of your creative process ideas?
What percentage of all musicians (regardless of their level of theory knowledge) use iPads to create new music?

What percentage of musicians who use iPads self-identify as "non-theory" or even "anti-theory" artists?

It's probably not an easily estimated number. I raise those questions because I suspect that some artists are drawn to mobile-touch-screen devices for music making because they are, by design, meant to have a certain turn-key immediacy.
On July 15, 2018 - @stub said:
There can be a negative connotation about having a deep knowledge of theory, and the use of theory. The idea is that a student of music theory is somehow divorced from the creative, artistic, spontaneous, passion of their craft. There are also artists who struggle for an artistically "pure" motivation that is not driven by understanding or experience or pre-conceived notion.

This was my point of view for a while. I felt like as soon as I started studying music theory, music became less fun. It was no longer spontaneous, and seemed to be missing an element of exploration and discovery.

As I've matured I've become less anti-theory. I'm still not pro-theory, I don't think everyone needs to learn it, but I see the value it brings to musicians.
I get your point. There is a significant difference between learning that "opens doors"; on the one hand, and learning that "builds walls through which doors must later be opened.".

One advantage to being self-taught is that you can taste the various elements and concepts and see which ones will, at least temporarily, kill your buzz. The advantage to having a teacher is that he or she might motivate you to push past that temporary place of killed-buzz to some of the riches that lie beyond that moment.

That said, there are some areas of music theory that are useful for composition, some for performance, and some for philosophical purposes, and some areas are fully useless. Finding what is useful is perhaps up to each individual.
Got into a conversation about time-signatures and music tech on another forum. It was inspired by Patterning 2's use of a time-signature to define the basic structure of a pattern, and the length in DIVIDE mode.

I was griping about how time-signatures seem to promote a bias that cycles of 4 beats are inherently more valid than other beat groupings. For example, a Whole Note is four beats-- so if it is "whole" it must be "complete" or "perfect". And this is frequently how it is taught.

Another more accurate way to think about time-signatures is that they simply describe the relationship between a measure and a whole note. The bottom number says how the whole note is sliced up, and the top number is how many slices are in a measure.

If the fraction described by the time-signature equals 1 (1/1, 2/2, 4/4, 8/8) then a whole measure is a whole note. If the fraction is smaller than one, a whole note won't fit into a measure, and if it is greater than one, than more than a whole note will fit into the measure.

Usually, the bottom number gives a hint about "a slice equals a beat" but with 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8, we usually think of the dotted quarter as a beat. Because we don't have a way of cutting the whole note into slices of 3/8's, we just accept some quirks.
August 08, 2018  | favorite_border stub
comment

  Post a New Comment

You are not currently logged in. Would you like to login or register?
Enter your information below to add a new comment anonymously.

I'm not a racist, but...
Usernames need to be at least 2 characters!
I'm not a racist, but...
Please don't use weird characters in usernames!
{[ Ctrl.useravailable[Ctrl.userselector] ]}
{[ Ctrl.useravailabletext[Ctrl.userselector] ]}
Wow, that's a short email address!

Comment:

Do not use HTML in your comments. Tags: [b] Bold Text [/b] [i] Italic Text [/i]
Links will be generated if you include http:// or https:// at the beginning of a URL.
Submit