“It is all about being open and paying attention to the music in your head. I think most people have original music playing in their heads from time to time.” ~Tommy Shaw (Styx)
We are all too familiar with the phrase “I can’t.” So sweet to the tongue, it lingers just beneath the surface of our vocabulary and emerges only to extract us from those sticky situations we so desperately yearn to escape. I can’t. You can’t. We can’t. When the going gets tough, these words, like jagged little pills, are too often gulped down for a quick exit, which, indeed, can prove to be quite problematic. If I may be so blunt, the words “I can’t” are mere copouts, an adherence to our fears which only serves our inability to be open to the “what ifs” of the universe. In the end, what is prescribed is a life of safe and stoic bottom-dwelling that never strives above and beyond for possibility. When you say “I can’t,” what you really mean is that you won’t.
So now, we’re faced with the facts, a little less sugar coated, but the facts nonetheless. When you look at the phrase “I can’t” as the more politically correct “I won’t” suddenly it becomes increasingly more toxic. Why? Because no longer are you rendered free of responsibility for your actions. Moreover, the words “will not” suggests a pre-meditated decision or an active motivation not to rather than insinuating that there is an actual physical inability to accomplish the task at hand. Needless to say, this type of mentality is lethal to a musician whose entire artistic career is based on being open to new and exciting possibilities. If this sounds like you, than it’s time for a change.
“To be open is to live with a sense of curiosity, where every moment is an opportunity for learning, where existing ideas, mental models and beliefs are temporary and flexible. The world is seen as alive, dynamic and full of opportunity”(creatingminds.org). In other words, an open mind provides more opportunity; and, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t opportunity exactly what a musician is after? Opportunity allows for creativity and creativity allows for opportunity. I’ll let you in on a little secret: openness does foster the imagination. If you’re open to new and exciting ideas and you welcome these ideas with open arms, the possibilities are indeed endless.
I’m speaking directly of those instances where, as musicians, we are faced with difficult choices regarding how we play the music we do. Composition is one of the most difficult things to agree on as a band. Every member has his/her own original idea as to how they hear the song developing, and, thus, the creative process may turn out to be a bit of work. Should it be faster, slower, syncopated, or Purdie-shuffled, what? Well, the only way to know which option is best is to try all of the options presented. You and your band mates will probably have differentiating ideas, and that’s okay! The main thing is to try all options, no matter how mind-blowing or foolish you may initially perceive them to be (Options equals opportunity). Being open-minded means tolerating all ideas, good or bad, so do exactly that. Don’t shoot down so-and-so’s ideas because they differ from your own. Just try it! What’s the harm in trying something once? If your initial reaction to said idea was inaccurate, wouldn’t you want to know? In reality, it may work out to be the most fantabulous creation ever heard by an ear-drum, and you might never have known had you not given it the chance. Yet, even if your initial reaction was correct and that specific idea does not work out, then you’ve really only wasted a trivial five minutes of your life, and what is five minutes in the name of art?
Case in point: Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain.” Good song, right? We all love it! You’d be hard-pressed to find a living soul who does not like that song. It grooves in an imaginative way (For me, it doesn’t get any better than that song at 3:42). The sultry chemistry of Bonham’s drum parts showcasing both his “signature hard-hitting power style and his subtle and intricate nuances such as grace notes and agile drum fills” is simply amazing. Yet, originally the song was thought to be pretty straight forward; that was until Bonham’s brilliant and innovative rhythmic addition. He was not afraid to try new things, and be thought foolish, which sometimes he was.
“There were times when I blundered and got the dreaded look from the lads. But that was a good sign. It showed I’d attempted something I’d not tried before.”~ John Bonham
Creativity, folks, that’s the ticket! Guaranteed, Bonham did not know the meaning of “I can’t.” Just think what would have happened to “Fool in the Rain” if he just played it straight ahead. Sometimes we are afraid to play new things because of how we think people might react. We are afraid of shut downs. We are afraid that it might not work as well as we had hoped. Yada yada yada…there’s always a “what if.” Why not replace that “what if” with a “why not?!” You may surprise yourself with what you can do.
Everyone has an original soundtrack in their head, so who’s to say which is right and which is wrong, right? (Confused yet?) Don’t be responsible for dampening the original music of another, just try it and be open to the ideas of others. I guarantee you will not regret it.
Jill Mitchell is an artist/musician, singer, author, vocal coach and co-creator of Drum Geek.