Sometimes nothing feels better than picking up an instrument and moving my fingers over the strings. The tactile sensation of pushing the strings down onto the fret and pushing the notes into the air, can in and of itself brings a sense of peace into my soul, and for a little while nothing else matters. Ironically enough, I don’t even have to play an existing piece of music for this to happen. Sometimes these moments come in quiet doodling, essentially a stream of consciousness playing out across the fret-board as I listen to the sounds and feel each string under my fingers. I guess what this amounts to is being in the moment, and then each one that follows until my brain and spirit are loose enough to start concentrating on moving onto the work that needs to be done. Sometimes what comes out is simply random notes or phrases, but sometimes ideas come from this accessing of my subconscious that can be transformed into solid ideas for pieces in the future.
Of course there is the danger of spending too much time doing this and not getting anything else done that might be construed as progress, and this is a legitimate concern. Just like any other activity that could be seen as self-indulgent, the key here is to move forward, not simply exist in an ethereal world. But, being in the moment where I am simply experiencing these moments of inner joy and peace do carry over into when I am ready to go to work. I’m much more focused on what needs to get done, and I’m happier doing it, not perceiving it as something I have to do and instead feeling an appreciation for what each moment’s work brings. Not bad for ten to fifteen minutes of meandering.
Another interesting thing about this is that while I’m wandering around the fingerboard, I start to put things together in ways that make sense. The spontaneous improvisations start to come together in a manner that is music with purpose, as opposed to disconnected notes and phrases. This can be quite satisfying creatively. The process of creating something out of nothing, on the spot, and having it sound like a piece of music; of sitting down with an instrument, a blank mind, and beginning to play one note that leads to several, then to development and conclusion; this is something that does take skills that have already been established, and also takes something else, practice, a practice in creativity. This spontaneous creation is something that fulfills a basic creative need in me, and when I do it well, I get immense internal returns from it.
From my experiences doing these essentially musical meditation sessions before moving on to my more conventional working on the pieces practice regimen, and as I find the end results improving musically, I do sometimes wonder if there would be value in bringing this concept into the performance hall. This is something that could either be good, or absolutely awful, so if I were to do so I would want to ensure that what I was perceiving as good while I was playing, indeed sounded good when listening. Simply recording these sessions and listening to them with a stern critical ear would be a good test of this, as well as having others listen to the recordings with the understanding that they would be brutally honest in their assessment and reception of the moments as an audience. If the response is positive, then I might go ahead and try it but I would probably want to avoid scheduling an entire concert based upon free form improvisation.
At this point, I don’t intend to go the full free form route. Maybe at a later date I’ll introduce some into the program, but this is something that I do for me, in the moment, that helps me with my inner relationship with music and my instruments. It serves the purpose of keeping me centered and positively focused on doing the work that we all do as musicians, and for me that’s a pretty important plus, so I will continue with my daily bouts of spontaneity. I love the feeling of my fingers moving over the fingerboard, pushing big fat bass strings to the fret, or thinner nylon and steel guitar strings, pulling them with my right hand and hearing the sound as they vibrate into life. That moment when the note sprouts and then blossoms into a music phrase, then followed by the next, brings a quiet joy into my daily routine that I never want to be without.