Accidental Musical Improvisation Luck

Improvisation is Good for the Mind and Soul

This past week I found myself a little “adrift” musically. I’ve been concentrating on writing songs using bass against a drum box pattern, and for about 6 weeks that seemed almost magical.

Then I hit a wall this week. The “flow” stopped.

A year ago last March, I got back into music. It wasn’t a Covid thing, it was more that my 15 years “Chasing DX” was over, kaputski. Chasing DX means trying to make a radio contact with a new country or island – and following an official list. Anyway, that pursuit died about 2016, but I finally realized it in March 2020. Then, in August of last year, I sold all Ham Radio gear and purchased musical instruments. My call sign is KY6R.

I had played guitar and keyboards back in the 80’s and pretty much gave it up when the kids came along, and when musically, I felt like I hit a wall. This time around, I decided to do something different.

I purchased guitar, keyboard, mandolin, violin, bass, lap steel, and yes, a Theremini by Moog. I also purchased a few synthesizer modules and a couple of drum boxes.

My “theory” was that if I hit a wall trying to write songs using one instrument, I could switch to another. That has turned out to be VERY good indeed. Now, when I feel like I’m stuck, I try writing the first part in a song using a different instrument.

With the bass, I started becoming so confident with it that I was filling every moment with bass notes. I left no “air” for anything else. I did complete the last two songs this way, especially this last one. I did not like either song until today – when I realized that I’ve been doing a lot of musical improvisation lately, for months, without it being a conscious decision.

I’ve been studying music theory and paying close attention to the circle of 4ths and 5ths, chords and intervals. The piano is the best for this, but I’ve also worked on playing “up the neck” on bass and guitar. I’ve only practiced bowing on the violin, and really need to start fingering technique. On the piano, I need to try to write a dong using “both hands”. I have recently figured out the mandolin, but I’m also a long way away from mastering that. Same for lap steel. This means there are lots of opportunities to keep the flow alive.

However, by some accidental improvisational luck, I have stumbled into the “Zen” of an instrument (i.e the mandolin is highly percussive, taughtly strung more like a piano than a guitar, and that its best to try playing simple notes low on the fretboard. I had tried approaching it like a guitar before and I was wondering why I even bought the thing. Now I love it and feel free. I’m reimagining each instrument – and getting to know them as if they are living things. Its quite cool.

So, when I have a song idea that seems “stuck”, like MacGyver, I improvise. Even if the result is just ” ho hum”, the mental exercise is always highly educational. And even more importantly, fun.

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