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Less is More!

Are you like me and feel completely overwhelmed when you have to choose from a menu of at least 20 different coffees or 40 different smoothies, or a seemingly endless number of interesting pages to follow? The paradox of choice! Yes there is actually a talk on this by Barry Schwartz. We are overwhelmed with choice and expectations, and we feel tremendous pressure to make the right choice. 

When you start improvising, no matter how much musical experience you have or don’t have, you will find that restricting yourself to fewer notes will allow you to go deeper into heart centered listening and intention. There is so much more to expressive singing and playing than lots of notes. When we give ourselves time to form an intention, and enjoy each note, everything feels so much better. Allowing ourselves the time and space to play less beckons the imagination.

My best moments improvising are when I give myself time to allow the right note to come to me, and NOT when I’m playing from the back of my head/intellect/I should know this! Staying in the moment, in the unknown yields surprising results. Yes, that can feel really scary, but it is so satisfying when we realize how much we can express musically with so little. On the other side of the coin, if you are playing lots of notes in an improvisation, notice whether you are listening to who is playing with you. 

Too many notes to choose from can be paralyzing. I was coaching a one-on-one improvisation session, when the person at the piano stopped and said “I don’t know where I’m going because it feels like I’m playing too many notes!” I repeated that back to her. She nodded. I asked her to choose one note and explore how much she could do with that one note, we added another note - then another - then another - then we stopped at four notes. Take you time - I said to her - allow silence to be a part of your improvisation. Her improvisation started to take shape, and she was much calmer. She ended it with a smile and said she felt like she could breathe and create. 

When I finish an improvisation, I have learned to savor it and not rush to the next improvisation. In life, I am learning that I can enjoy what I am doing more when I am not pressed to get to the next item on my schedule. 

Singing with freedom also requires a less is more approach. When you choose a song to sing, ask yourself why you want to sing it. Students sometimes choose songs that are beyond their present skill set. I ask them to think of another song that touches them. They answer: I love “this song” but is it really enough? There aren’t any high powerful notes or flashy riffs. My answer - if you love the song that is enough. 

So less is more - this coming week is reading week at Concordia, for me it is a time to leave more room in my schedule to recharge. Nothing fancy is planned, I am just giving myself the gift of time and long walks! 

Thank you for reading!



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