Trying to choose

When I was a kid in band, my teachers would say different versions of something like ,”You have to learn the rules before you can break them.”

Recently I went through a year and a half of drum lessons with Brian Oppel to make sure I still had some perspective, and it occurred to me that there is something a little more subtle going on here. It’s not just that you need to learn the rules–it’s that you need to be able to be aware of your options. The rules are only part of the story; common tone theory, cadences, secondary dominants, rudiments, ghost notes, whatever. Even if you break those rules, you may still be reinventing the wheel. You have to listen to John Zorn, you have to listen to noise music, you have to listen to Asva, you have to listen to Classical and Country and Gamelan and Romani. Or if you listen to those things, then go and listen to Rebecca Black. And that just touches the surface. You also have to seek out all the art that you hate, and you better have a good reason for hating it other than “it’s different” or “it’s stupid”. You’re developing your pallete, so that you are aware of both the rules and the known broken rules. You have to be aware of all the options.

Essentially, the more you can zoom into every little thing that you do and turn every single note or action into a choice, the better you become as an artist. But that’s not enough. You have to practice enough so that each choice is both informed and instinctual, so that you can make choices quickly in the middle of a performance without deep thought. That’s the hard part, only borne from repetition and experience. Choose quickly, and choose often.

Leave a Reply