You are good man. I was just talking about the art side of things and tech talk not really meshing together in that section.
That may very well be. Again, I don’t claim to be any kind of incredible interviewer. I think of it more like field work. I’m there to get the information and stay out of the way while doing so.
Re: creativity, I will admit I hate the phrase “hear in your head”. I have written lots and lots of music over the years. And very infrequently would I say I “heard” any of it in my mind first, and then recorded it. In fact, most of the things I walk around humming are pretty banal actually. The vast majority of the most interesting stuff I have come up with came from hands-on tooling around - playing something and going, hey that sounds cool, let’s try more of that. Somtimes on guitar, sometimes on keyboard. Different ideas spring from each, because the mechanics are so different.
We talk about this in Andy Wood’s workshops. I asked him how he writes tunes. He said the number one source of ideas was “gear related”. As in, turning on an amp to a sound that inspires him and getting an idea from that.
There may very well be people who imagine some melody in their mind, and work it all the way through to a completed piece. Mozart is said to have worked this way. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. It does conveniently fit with the “greatest prodigy ever” mythos that has grown up around him. So I think it’s worth being a little skeptical any time you hear stories of the greats and what they did or didn’t do.
But even if that’s true, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Mozart probably could not have written the intro to “Mean Street” by imagining it first. Considering the complex interplay of mechanical tinkering and music that is going on there, I doubt you can hear that without accidentally doing it first. Eddie is famous for that type of creative exploration. I take nothing away from him. On the contrary, it is one of his many gifts.
Maybe I’m reading too much into phrasing here. But when you have great players implying they’re walking around tuned to a mental radio with incredible ideas just pouring out of it all the time, I think it is potentially sending the wrong message about how creativity actually works. Sometimes the pedestrian hands-on things are where the ideas come from.
I’d love to find out how singer-songwriter types, or at least people who write music but don’t think of themselves as devotees of a particular instrument, do the same, particularly for vocal lines. I’m fairly convinced that you’re correct on this and that creativity doesn’t exist in some Platonic sense, so the development of that skill seems worth thinking about.
I suspect it’s complicated. I would think there is always an instrument involved, even if it’s just campfire strumming on an acoustic - edit: or for that matter, just your voice. And I suspect that exerts an influence on the kind of music you eventually write. Mike Stern said this in our interview. If you’re a technical player, you’ll write more technical music. He was talking about Jim Hall and how wasn’t as technique-y but had great ideas.
I also suspect that the kind of instrumentation a person is familiar with also influences the “mental radio”. Someone may feel they’re being super off-the-cuff creative, but what they come up with will likely fit into categories they are already familiar with or have written before. If you learned music by listening to typical bass / chord type arrangements in rock you’re probably not going to wake up dreaming in counterpoint.
These are just hypotheses, and things that could be tested. Maybe a bunch of it has been. But if we hand-wave all the process away and go “it’s imagination”, that to me is similar to where we were in picking technique when the old guard was like “it works differently for everyone”.
A bit of a tangent, but this is why I hate this weird idea a lot of rock guitarists have that “I’ve learned all the modes of the major scale and how to build chords off of them, I Know Theory now.” The boxes you can’t see are the ones you don’t know how to deliberately break out of (and I’m sure there are plenty of boxes I can’t see, this doesn’t just apply to Those Other Guys).
I know I go on about the “hearing in your head” stuff, but I don’t mean it to be an alternative to there being a process.
Martin Miller is one of the most systematic players out there and he will have students try to sing lines out of “nowhere” as part of improv training.
“Imagination” can only ever be a synthesis of stuff you’ve already got, and you’ve got to get it in there somehow before it can come out. For some people hearing stuff is enough, and for some people working it out on the instrument first is essential.
Here’s a view:
Sure! How else would a singer improvise.
Just to be clear, what I’m referencing with the “music in your head” thing is a specific type of comment, which comes up all the time in interviews with musicians, where they refer to their improvising or songwriting as being something they do in their mind first.
Even if we take those statements with a grain of salt, the repetitive nature of the stuff you find when you transcribe even stone-cold legendary improvisers suggests that this is not really what’s happening. Or if it is, then the internal “hearing” Hal Galper is referring to is playing back pre-recorded stuff a good portion of the time.
Which is fine! I can love someone’s creative output even if some aspect of what they do is repetitive, and even if I can tell they got the idea from some unromantic thing like the way the guitar is designed. Eric Johnson playing fives, or Frank Gambale playing those amazing fourths sweeps, is hearing a familiar voice that I love. But telling me that this simply comes out of nowhere from the music in their heads isn’t super helpful to someone who is learning.
And just to be double clear, I am not at all doubting there is an imaginative component to this. How could there not be? I just think we would probably all like to know more about how the imagination part works, and what role it plays in conjunction with the mechanical.
Any timeline on the Oz Noy, Frank Gambale, and the 2nd Martin Miller interview?
Yes, I’d like to know this too, and also an ETA on the Joe Stump interview.
I think it’s safe to assume the Oz Noy, Frank Gambale, Martin Miller and Joe Stump interviews will talk about technique more so than the Mika Tyyska one did?
For sure. But it depends on what you mean by ‘technique’. In Martin’s case, getting his updated thoughts on his picking motion was the main point of him coming in again. And you’ve already seen a clip of Joe’s interview which is a discussion of economy mechanics. But we also spend a lot of time in that interview on metal harmony/modes, because that’s what Joe likes to talk about. Obviously in Frank’s case he likes to talk about sweeping so we did a lot of that. But we also spend a certain amount of time on fretboard access for improv soloing, which again, is what he is great at and knows.
So these are all different. It all depends on the player and what they like to talk about. Mika a songwriter and he thinks a lot about tone and gear so that’s what we talked about there.
Frank is coming soon, next week or so.
Sounds wonderful. Can’t wait to see Frank’s interview!!!
As I’ve spent a lot of time on sight singing related skills lately, and currently enrolled in a course on playing by ear, I can attest to the addictive nature of audiation as it develops. I find myself demanding I’ve a clear picture of what comes out of my hands. So while I have often groaned in response to that phrase myself, I have to say, I’ve come around 180 degrees as my ear and functional voice technique advance.
This is not to discount the spectrum of composition and instant composition styles in use out there and through the ages.
Oberlin professor, jazz guitarist Bobby Ferrazza impressed upon me the different levels of hearing that may be pursued and/or required. The biggest takeaway being that most of the time we are perceiving the shape of a thing, not the thing as a whole, and that only as one goes deeper with intent does the detail fill in.
Not essential for all musical styles, but pretty darn important to my happiness as a musician right now. Creativity married with fundamental music skills.
My two cents. Cheers.
This seems overly literal. Again, to use the EVH example, I don’t see how you could ever write something like the intro to “Mean Street” by requiring that you hear it first.
I think we’re mixing a couple different questions here. The question of what type of mental imagery is occuring during different musical activities is a specific question. For example, is it possible that a really good sight reader gets an actual mental image/sound of a note just by seeing it on the staff? This seems totally reasonable to me. They do it all day, the recall is nearly instantaneous for them. Is it also possible that a great improviser who plays a certain pattern all the time gets to a point where they hear an actual mental recording of that pattern either before playing it or while they are playing it? Totally. Seems totally reasonable to me.
On the other hand there is the question of how does creativity work, are there different ways that it works, and so on. When a great improviser says they “hear” the music in their mind, but then they go ahead and play the same pattern they’ve played thousands of times before, that’s not a great example of originality. That to me is more of an example of the first question, imaging.
If however, upon playing that pattern, the player then has a spontaneous reaction where they play a little melodic phrase right after it that is not a memorized thing, and a little different to what they have played before, that would seem to be a better example of originality. And I would suggest that it may very well be a reaction to what is going on around them, and actually not something they “heard” in their mind first. And to know for sure, I would suggest that we test people. Like try to determine what mental process is actually happening when they do this. Are they firing a pre-recorded circuit, or is some other brain area lighting up that has more to do with sensory input? These are things that we can test.
To be clear, I have no problem with either of these phenomena. If they exist, then they both describe real things that are happening out there, and we should know about them. The problem I have is when things are described the way they don’t work. When someone says they get all their creative ideas in their mind, but those ideas are clearly memorized sequences from their physical vocabulary, that’s misleading to someone who is trying to learn how improvisation works.
And songwriting / composition could very well be an entirely different process altogether. Improv has to be real-time, so of course it’s going to be built on chunked units. Songwriting as an offline process could operate totally differently. Is it more response-driven? Is it more “metal hearing” driven? Again, things that can probably be tested. Or perhaps have already been tested!
I wouldn’t. In learning what Eddie played though, I’d be very curious about the lines obfuscated by the novelty of the technique.
As for overly literal, yes it would be if it was a rule, but I’m expressing an experience of dissatisfaction of noodling in my own playing that’s being remedied by a moment of (and please excuse the term) mindfulness in considering the sound of what I’m to play. It’s a discovery that’s accompanied something working, not a prescription.
I would too, though where commonly neglected skill sets are concerned, the “is it happening” question can get tiring. For example, folks arguing over perfect pitch when certain languages (and in one case, with a larger sample set than the population of the U.S.) basically require it.
Be it dance or music, improvisational ability depends to some extent on existing vocabulary. I’d suggest that some of that vocabulary assimilation is more readily accomplished through audiation than noodling. I don’t know how similar the process is, but the pattern identification that is behind chunking on the fretboard also happens in the mind when audiating. Melodic fragments light up when perceived.
Adam Neely underwent some recent neuroscience experimentation. He might have an angle on who to pursue these questions with. The caveat being, we may be answering different questions.
Subtle perceptions are fascinating, and with what brainpower I’ve left in life, I’m enjoying developing the same.
One test is whether the player can reasonably repeat what they just played, and whether that recall is based on finger memory, mental scaffolding more directly related to the musicality of the line just played, or something else. If I’m asked to recall something, I’ve more ability to repeat it than I used to, and I believe that’s more closely tied to my ability to hear and sing a line than much else.
We’re really talking about a suite of skills. To be clear, I still groan at the affectation of “I want to play what is in my head,” because most of the time I hear it, it’s just that, an affectation. What I’m relating is from my daily practice and in how I find myself expressing musical ideas to others (in person, not on a forum) now, versus how I might have expressed the same, years ago.
Good stuff. Thanks for sharing many ideas, Troy. Hard to answer every question you’ve raised, but I do consider it all.
Best typo ever
PS: please don’t correct it now