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Structure vs. freeform in music

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Expressing ourselves musically is a wonderful way to bust bad vibes, but there are plenty of folk who don’t believe it is an option because they have never learned. Maia shares her thoughts about structure and freeform and how she made it up as she went along, discovering a different approach that can open doors for anyone…

 

“Musical traditions are kept alive by the paradoxical need for both openness and protection, the safety of strict forms and the life-giving freedom that comes from spontaneity and experimentation. It is a delicate balance which the greatest civilisations have always recognised.”  Mark Kidel

 

I have reflected with interest on the different approaches to playing music. Do you learn an instrument the traditional way, or do you ‘wing it’, explore music in a completely unstructured way and see what happens? I can see value in both. I believe neither is better than the other; it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges – keeping in mind that individuals’ innate abilities and preferred playing approaches vary greatly and can never be compared.

 

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If you want to master a difficult instrument, play famous compositions and be able to write, play and replicate any pieces you create yourself, or play in an orchestra or band, then learning to read music and learning playing techniques is obviously important.
However, there are many fabulous, world renowned musicians who play very intuitively and can’t read music. When genius is involved rules get thrown out the window! But then, there are also geniuses who go through years of structured learning and use that as the foundation for their beautiful expressions of compositions – and if they choose it, incredible improvisations.
Then there is the line of thought that whatever works for you, whatever feels right for you, that’s a good path to follow. Some would disagree, including great musicians who were forced to practice by their parents, weren’t very committed and resented it at the time but have since come to greatly appreciate their parents’ efforts.
The structured approach enables more options, and yet surely having someone thrive in an unstructured environment is far better than if they gave up music altogether because the structure didn’t work for them.
A key consideration in all of this is, where is the music coming from? If it is purely a mental process, it’s not going to create magic. I believe it is only when the music is being expressed with and through the heart that emotional and spiritual richness will be present and touch the hearts of others. I also believe that what comes from the heart is really coming from the collective consciousness – divine inspiration, call it what you will. When it touches a deep place within in the listener, there’s a whole other realm in play.
Having experienced the structured learning approach I can say that while I appreciate it, it’s not for me. I have spent too much of my life in my head, and structured learning is very much a head process. I also trust that intuition is a good guide. I felt it strongly as a child, and playing by ear seemed to confirm this.
There is an incredible freedom in simply expressing yourself musically. No rules, no right, no wrong – just immersing yourself in it and feeling the joy of it. This has occurred throughout history and across the globe – a calling for human beings of all cultures.
The more I have come to understand sound from a spiritual perspective, combined with my understanding of physics and quantum physics, the more I see the value in free-form sound. Sound as a vibration has a great capacity to bring bodies back into balance and soothe and heal emotions…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Music and sound healing offered from the heart, free of ego, free of interference from the mind, holding this deeper intention, has a huge capacity to remind listeners of their true Self. It helps them rediscover or experience the innate inner peace, stillness and bliss that is always there, but that mostly gets buried under layers and layers of the stress and distractions of life and the resulting busyness of our thinking.
It is a real privilege to witness someone reconnecting with themselves and the profound effect such an experience has on them. This is possible through structured music also if it comes from the heart and is free of ego, but free-form, intuitive music that is responsive to the energy in that moment, with the person or people present, has an effect far beyond what we could ever understand.
While mainstream music has an expectation and requirement for music to be in tune, the right pitch, in the right rhythm and tempo, sound healing has no such requirements. Any sound at any time is considered to be what is perfect in that moment for whatever reason that particular sound has come into existence for. If it sounds discordant, then it is meant to. The purpose of that ‘discordant’ sound might be to bring into existence a certain vibration that is valuable for some healing, clearing or balancing purpose. If you free yourself from comparing it to mainstream music, free yourself from judgement and simply experience it, you can let that experience be whatever it is…and usually there will be a feeling associated with it that you would be glad of.
I initially found it tricky to totally surrender to this ‘Zen’ style of performing when on stage. While I was very happy to be in heart connected, present moment, intuitive, improvising free flow and let whatever sound needs to come through to be there (which is a huge test of transcending the ego), if it doesn’t sound ‘nice’ there is the expectation of an audience to consider. Is it sound healing, or is it music? Sometimes it can be both, other times not!
It was quite a challenge in my first ‘major’ gig – which was major for me in that we had 100 people paying to attend, there were four of us on stage with a plan to play together, and we did not even have one rehearsal all together! I had only had my beautiful integral hang (sound sculpture) for two months, and two of the others on stage had international acclaim. If ever there was a time for me to feel pressure, this was it.
Before the performance I really needed to sit with how best to be. The answer was to fully embrace this new path that I was clearly on, ‘go with the flow’, be totally in the heart, do my very best to be in total surrender and trust (in fact I hand over to Spirit so all I really need to do is stay out of the way) and after that it was none of my business!
The hang, as an intuitive instrument, was pivotal to my being able to do this, and it has taught me so much. I could have been tempted to go into the head to ‘learn more’ and plan ahead as a way to ‘perform better’, but as tempting as it was, I realised that was not a good path for me to go down.
Two pieces of feedback I received after that performance were pivotal to my new awareness of how best to play. The first (which I sought out) was that my playing of the central base note needed to be more consistent. This feedback related to music, and from a musical perspective was fair enough…only that I wasn’t approaching the performance with that intention. The second (which was offered) was that while I was playing, my aura was glowing brilliant white. When I shared that with my friend Grace, who was on stage with me, she said that she also saw (and felt) it, and that it was so beautiful she wanted to cry. This was confirmation for me that I was totally on track.
What I realised from it was that it is important to give people a sense of what to expect if you are totally in a sound healing mode! From then on, I was aware I needed to make it clear when the priority is improvised, intuitive sound vibrations/sound healing, and if it sounds nice, that’s a bonus. Fortunately it sounds nice most of the time, even though from a mainstream music perspective it might not be considered technically good!
Interestingly enough; by letting go in this way, it has flowed back towards music. It has arisen in its own time and its own way, and I believe it could never have done so unless I had allowed it the space. What has arisen is far more wonderful than anything I may have tried to create.
I have enormous respect for musicians who take the mainstream path and would never consider myself in their league – but then again, I am not comparing us, as we take such radically different approaches…and it’s all perfect.
There are more and more beautiful, intuitive instruments being developed all the time, and I believe in the new energy of higher consciousness that we are evolving towards, this type of music will increasingly be played, and the magic it will bring to those who play and those who listen will be an incredible gift to all…and I will continue to love and enjoy and appreciate all sorts of music that touches my heart and adds to my experience of life in a positive way, regardless of how it makes its way into the world!
And then there is singing…and this quote encapsulates much of what I sense with both music and singing…
“The goal of singing is that state where effortless action, the ease of balanced power and flowing connection carry us beyond opinion and judgement to the arrival of the unknown into life through performance. This is a long way from worry about doing it right or being obedient. It is about befriending; about giving up preconceived notions; about being surprised; about openness and connection. All we need is inside us. The issue is to be brave enough to let it out.”
Howard Milner
May you be inspired by what I’ve shared here and never let ‘not knowing how’ get in the way of the potential available to you to experience joy through musical expression.

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