Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - June 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Blank Page is Magic

"How can I make music without knowing where the chord tones are?"

I've opened the editor here to start writing without a plan.

 The moment I typed the title to this post, I realized an angle.

 When you pick up an instrument, you either have a preconceived reason to do so or not.  You either know what you're going to play - either something you've already learned, or you intend to execute an idea.

 Or you don't. You just pick it up and see what happens.

 Some people have a mental block about "ok, I'm holding a guitar, what now?".   Or more specifically, after having "learned" a tonal pattern, they face a blank page.

 Good 'ol chaos math intervenes.  I never really understood the value of chaos theory until a few years ago, because it would seem the people that make best use of it do so willy nilly by default.  Blithely unaware that they are indeed constantly rolling the dice in a myriad of ways they don't perceive.

 Meanwhile I've come to the conclusion that the Universe - quite literally - for human experience/interaction has to maintain a chaotic balance. 

 I'm OCD.  I know it, friends know it, but they may not know the manner in which it manifests itself.  It's not being a "control freak"; it's not consciously allowing the Random and Non-linear to have a toe hold on you.  My perspective has always been "well, of course I know that's impossible, a form of perfectionism, but at the same time it makes complete sense to try to eliminate it when possible".

 The Universe/Matrix/God/Whatever doesn't like that.  Because chaos reigns over "this".  Without it we're a step-wise procedural formula.  I have been wrecking the equation most of my life.

 Ironically I never have done that with guitar.  I do not mind not having a "plan" when playing guitar.  It's part of the fun, I've always allowed creativity to run free.  It's very easy to me.  You can't get hurt, it doesn't cost anything. 

 It's also magic.

 Hidden variables in the equation getting multiplied by other hidden variables.  Which rapidly expands into many more options than my pathetic human mind can't consciously grasp in an instant.  The subconscious takes over. 

 As a satisfyingly clever zen reference, when I started this post the only thing I had in mind was "blank page. Let me see what happens".  That was the title.  Until two paragraphs above - and I added "is magic" to it. 

 Had I not started writing I would not have gotten to this title, and it's ensuing point. 

 About... 1 in 3-4 people I teach do not need any prodding to start using concepts I show them in guitar lessons.  They jump on it and start trying things.

 1 of those 4 or so will face the Blank Page and freeze.  Some people will refuse to try at all, "I can't improvise!", "I don't know what to do?", "how do I know if it's right?"

 "Use the Force."

 Just start.  Because your subconscious will pick up the ball and notice New and Novel (to you) Variables you didn't realize were there UNTIL you gave it the (in computer programming nomenclature) seed value to start with.  If you play a "bad" note, big deal - better in the guitar lesson than in front of an audience, right?  It's part of my job to hear bad notes, right?

 But if I hear no notes at all, I can't help.

 Yes, some people play based entirely on what I would call "procedural math".  A preset, where there is no blank page. 

 Some people also make "paintings" by matching colors to numbers, hoping what they do looks like the horse on the box.  I don't call that "painting" myself, but for entertainment there is nothing wrong with it.  Probably unlikely to ever become a real painter going that route, but a lot of people have fun doing it that way. 

 Which is fine, but magic will never, ever happen with that process.