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?
July 15, 2018 |
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