A Point of View

Possibly the Most Important Aspect of Music Creation

‘Option Anxiety’ – that’s what it’s often called – the horrifying recognition that everything is available to you. It plagues composers, improvisors and writers, and it happens any time they don’t have enough discipline to impose limits on their output. The results of failing to define the boundaries of a composition or improvised solo is music that sounds like pots and pans falling downstairs.

The best advice often comes in small packages. One phrase can say it all. In this case, the phrase related to arranging, and went something like this:

“If you are going to arrange a piece of music, it is vital that you have a ‘point of view’ with relation to the piece. Without it, nothing will come together.”

(Mike Crotty … arranger extraordinaire)

That point of view can be anything from soup to nuts. It can be formal to outrageous, funny to heart stopping; it doesn’t matter. Once it has been defined, it will create a ‘raison d’etre’ (ahh … the French!) for the entire piece.

This, of course, applies equally to composition and improvisation. It is also a organizational principle that informs any number of philosophies relating to perception, the nature of reality and all that. But I digress! Let’s take a look at this as it relates to improvising.

‘Positioning yourself’ as you approach a solo can often help you deliver a coherent narrative. It can be something as simple as silently voicing ‘lyrical’, ‘busy’, or ‘fluid’; to imagining a shape, a graded dissonance or angular motion. Once that suggestion rings you have a basis for what follows.

One tried and true framework for improvising is to simply cop a little of the style of a favourite player. Whispering ‘play like Miles’, ‘like Wes’, ‘like Coltrane’ or like Metheny’ just before you play can have some startling results. These guys will actually ‘visit’ you for a minute, and might even set you on the path of a great solo. Now I don’t mean quoting a bunch of Methe-ny licks at the head of your solo to start it off. That’s just plain foolish and it will get you no-where.

No, what you want to do is connect with the feel, the tone, the ‘point of view’ of the guy – just for a minute There’s absolutely nothing wrong with standing on the shoulders of your he-roes. Dead or alive, these guys are all around us and they wanna help. Fact is, if you are ac-tually committed to ‘playing’ you don’t stand a chance in hell of sounding like any of them anyway. You will always end up sounding like you.