Developing a Creative Atmosphere

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I was just sitting here thinking about some of my college days.  It’s almost hard to remember what it was like being immersed into music 24/7 around other musicians for so long.  Granted, I’m still pretty much 24/7 in my music, but it’s much different now.  It’s easy to have something good and simple and take it for granted.  Back then I had stress and worries, but it was more about homework, exams, and having some extra money for pizza.  Now stress and worry equals a mortgage, car payment, paying bills…you know; being a ‘responsible’ adult!  :-)

Some really great groups and ideas have been born throughout history because of a group of musicians being around each other, pushing each other constantly.  Not only does this happen in colleges all across the country, but professionals do it in a different way, as well.  Look at Miles Davis.  He was great in his own right, but sometimes people do not give the due credit to the musicians that were around him.  Miles changed the face of jazz not just once, but multiple times.  He did it because he was smart enough to know that having uber talented people around him would not only elevate his music, but his own playing as well.  One of my favorite groups, Steps Ahead, was born from a group of jam sessions.  Further, a new trend that seems to be emerging is drummers setting up 4 or 5 kits in a room and jamming together, trading licks.

All of this tends to center around one key element: always try to play with other players that are better than you. It’s hard, because once again you have to let the ego take a side step.  But guess what – you’ll learn a lot from playing with guys with more experience and possibly talent than you.  It may not even mean that they have more talent, rather it’s that they are just a little more mature (musically) than you are.  Also, I don’t think that you can ever really outgrow this concept either.  Vinnie Colaiuta may be one of the greatest drummers alive right now, but I’ll guarantee (and I’m sure he’d agree) that there are still things that he learns from other drummers and musicians.

Now you’re not always going to be the weakest link in the chain.  It’s OK to play with guys that you feel are not at your “level.”  In fact, sometimes you learn more about your playing by teaching something to someone else.  Teaching causes you to do a lot of self reflection (at least I find this to be true in my case).  Often times I look at something and think: “OK, how did I learn how to do this?” or “How can I relay this concept to someone in a cogent, easy to understand way?”  The mere act of discussing a particular concept, even if it sparks debate, will ‘sharpen your iron,’ so to speak, and cause you to really think about what it is that you’re doing.  However, sometimes you don’t need to think at all and just shut up and play!!!

Technology can be our friend or foe.  The absolutely amazing advances in the past 10 years have literally changed the face of music.  This will show my age a bit, but when I was in college, the internet was just something that people were starting to talk about.  We certainly didn’t have any email addresses back then.  Now you can jump online and view tens of thousands perhaps millions of drumming related videos and of course websites and other media.  You can simply be overloaded with information on just about anything that you want to explore.  With facebook and other social media sites, you can link up with friends, peers, and even your musical heroes and have some sort of connection with them on a daily basis.  You can record music right on your desktop without the aid of any other musician being involved.  You can publish music on the internet for potentially millions of people to hear without signing one dotted line on a record contract.

All good stuff?  Maybe… the downside of some of this, in my opinion, is that we’ve lost some of our community, or rather the sense of community.  It’s really easy to feel as if you’re involved and interacting with people on a daily basis just by logging on to facebook and reading statuses and posting/replying to friends.  Although there’s nothing wrong with that, musicians need to remember that you still cannot replace the extremely invaluable experience of playing live music with other musicians.  You cannot replicate it.  It’s not just about getting a “goody-goody” feeling inside, but about interacting, learning, growing, creating, and networking.  That’s what it is all about!

So hopefully this will inspire some of you to get out a little more and get involved.  Don’t just be content with sitting at the computer or playing along with another Jamey Abersold record.  There is a time and place for that, but community is what a musician requires…it’s the lifeblood!!!  Don’t hire musicians for your gigs or in your band that are less players than you thinking that you’ll stand out more. You won’t.  And more importantly, you will not grow and mature musically.  I’m curious if anyone out there has some interesting ways that you get involved either in jam sessions or ways to interact regularly with other musicians (other than gigging)?  What’s your story?

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One Response to "Developing a Creative Atmosphere"
  1. 08/02/2011 04:51

    Tod Ellsworth

    Great blog, Chris. I have learned some of the same things in my journey. A big reason I was in Nashville for so long, was to constantly be around some great players. I knew from day one that was the place to be. To learn, grow, or as I like to say, get my tail kicked. Peace.

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