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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Acting Like A Madman Improves Your Playing

...also jumping up and down, singing badly and becoming a rebel

“Freedom, flexibility, living in the moment, and a commitment to giving...” Wow, sounds like the earnest declaration of a new pseudo-religion, or the mission statement for a hippy commune, even a new political manifesto. And if none of these, at the very least the four elements could form the pillars of a new society in which I for one would like to live. Inevitably they would clash with the established norms of a more conventional way of life, and if you doubt that reflect for a moment on the very first word: freedom. There is scarcely a more emotional word in language. The very sound of it - freeeee - dom - starts with a long cry and ends with a dull thud (an accurate and unfortunate reflection of what happens in real life!)

But I digress, the quote is not about religion or hippies or politics, it is the conclusion by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CMPCP) from an investigation into how musicians find creative inspiration. In association with other institutions which include the Royal College of Music the project has shown that musicians may be at their most inspired when they step away from their instruments and think about music in different ways. These include singing to yourself, hearing the music in your head, and imagining other characters dancing to the music. Yes I know, this all sounds one small step from the proverbial madman hearing voices in his head, but why not if it all helps to lead us to moments of elation? In the privacy of your home with no one to watch and point a finger of ridicule you could sing out loudly and badly and dance around the room arms outstretched with imaginary characters from a Royal Baroque household. And all for a good cause: to achieve greater expression.

The researchers concluded “that musicians begin to make a piece their own when they feel free and flexible enough to be spontaneous and take risks, and to trust themselves rather than simply rely on external validation from a teacher or others.” This I like very much, but notice how that f-word again – freedom – means not accepting the received wisdom from teachers, whence the early stirrings of important clashes and changes which are not always to the liking, to put it mildly, of institutions and societies.

”Performers also consistently talked about “being in the zone” or in a “flow” state.” This is really as important as it is elusive. When it happens it is an out-of-body experience, and pardon me for saying so, but this is beginning to sound like the hippy way of life of yesteryear with which these concepts are associated. As you see, there is something to learn from the most surprising sources.

”Finally, the participants in the project consistently showed that they were at their most creative when they were playing to, or imagining, an audience, to whom they saw themselves “giving” the music and their performance.” At last, we have reference to actually playing the instrument as a means to improved creativity in performance!

This is an important and fascinating study showing a way forward to becoming more creative which involves both positive and negative forces. The negative includes freeing yourself from the strictures of the printed score, not accepting teacher's word for it, and doing a lot less practice on the instrument.

The positive benefits are many: greater insights and better communication skills. And those are worthy of serious consideration.

6th October, 2013, London

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