It Might Get Loud. Schickele Mix. Can you teach creativity? How does one practice developing your own style?
JCHYou know that opening to “It Might Get Loud” where Jack White makes a guitar with a nail and a board?
RCKnow it well. I love that. I don’t like The White Stripes that much, but I love that opening.
Finding your own style, voice, mojo, force, whatever is the most important thing any practitioner of any creative art can do for the simple reason that it drives everything else. It shows you (SORRRRRRRRY) the path you need to walk down. Or rather, it gives you a business plan; a structure to become as good as you can be in as efficient a manner as possible
JCHRight. It’s the classic rebuff to everyone with G.A.S.
RC Gear Acquisition Syndrome for the unenlightened.
JCH Or those who don’t play a musical instrument.
JCHIt’s a challenge. It says that you have this ‘thing’ inside that is gonna get out, whether you use a guitar or a trombone or a nail on a plank of wood. You have something to say. And sadly I think that very few of my students, or even people I work with, really understand this.
RCSo what does that even mean?
JCHOK, if this were a business show, I guess you’d call it your ‘value proposition’; what is it that makes you ‘special’.
RCYou’re special (mimics Mr. Rogers.)
JCHBelieve it, chief. Look, a performer has to have a ginormous arrogance. You have to believe that you have something special. To be a real artist means not that you can play a piece well; that’s like being a doctor who gets gratification from being able to perform a certain operation. There is a lot more to it. Take a classical artist. It takes real balls to say that the world needs another recording of The Moonlight Sonata. To do another version of the Moonlight Sonata you HAVE to believe that YOU have something unique to say; something that has never been done. You hear Vladimir Horowitz’s version and go… “Nahhh…. that’s not the way to do it. I have a better way!”
But regardless of genre, you simply have to have some of that self-knowledge in order to be good. See what makes that bit with the nail and the block of wood is that it really sums up Jack White. The guy has talent. He’s just creative as hell. But he knows himself so well. He has this niche of playing and singing and writing and it fits him to a ‘t’. That bit tells you everything you need to know about Jack.
RCNot everybody feels that way. Most of us do just want to get up there and ‘sound competent’ as you might say. We’re not looking to put our own unique ‘spin’ on Stairway To Heaven.
JCHOh I get that. But I keep trying to convince you that when you develop your own voice, it makes whatever you’re trying to do better. Finding your style is simply the best thing you can do for your goals–whatever those goals may be.
RCSo how does anyone find that within themselves?
JCHBINGO! That is the sixty four dollar question, isn’t it? But I tell ya, even after all these years I’m not sure you can. I think we’ve spent a squillion dollars trying to tell parents to ‘Bring out little Tommy’s creativity” and “Everyone has talent!”. But I’m not sure anyone ever really believes it, so I’m not sure anyone really gives it a proper go. Almost none of my students have ever even sincerely tried my exercises to work on this. I think it’s like physical therapy. Everybody goes on about how ‘great’ it is for pain management, but nobody really does them so who knows if they really work! (laughs).
RCOK, but what are the techniques you try to teach that nobody actually does to improve their creativity?
JCHWell, we should carve out another rant or three to discuss tactics, but for now I just want to say that the first thing a musician needs is to figure out their ‘value proposition’. I’m not saying I know the path to everyone’s own enlightenment, but step one is making that quest your primary goal; even more so than technique. I say again: you have to make figuring out what makes you different, special, whatever, a part of your daily practice.
RCYou have to practice finding your style?
JCHWell put. You have to practice exactly that. If you have talent, you have to take organized steps to figuring out what it is and maximizing it. That should be part of your daily exercise. AGAIN, I think it’s as important as any technical exercise. Seriously. But AGAIN, nobody practices them in any proper way so they stumble around getting technically better but not really developing much of a musical ‘soul’.
RCThis has a very Kung Fu vibe to it.
JCHI recognize the hippy-dippy aspect to this, but it’s just true. What makes so many musicians kinda mediocre, in my view, is that they haven’t figured it out. And I think the primary reason why is that they are simply satisfied when the notes they are playing are ‘correct’ or their band mates are saying ‘well done’. They stop at just sounding ‘OK’ because the whole idea of loftier goals just seems too abstract. Like ‘Use The Force’ or something.
RCYes. All that ‘finding your unique voice’ jazz does seem about usable to me as saying ‘Use The Force, Luke’.
JCHRepeat myself, I can, old Padewan. (mimics Yoda.) Finding your own style, voice, mojo, force, whatever is the most important thing any practitioner of any creative art can do for the simple reason that it drives everything else. It shows you (SORRRRRRRRY) the path you need to walk down. Or rather, it gives you a business plan; a structure to become as good as you can be in as efficient a manner as possible.
RCOK, you’ve peaked my interest with that last line. If it gives me structure to improving myself? That I can buy into. Too often when I’ve practiced I’ve felt myself flailing away with no ‘plan’.
And I’m convinced that this works for composers such as yourself. However I’m still not sure it applies to people like me who are crazy happy playing great songs in a great band. But this is a good stopping point for now.
JCHWell, if we’re closing then I think the perfect ending is what Peter Schickele used to say at the end of his radio show Schickele Mix, “It don’t mean a thing if it hasn’t got that certain je ne sais quoi.”
RCI remember that well. And I believe the correct reply is, “You’re looking good. See you next week.”