Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is Easier Better?

Last night I made a change in next Sunday's song list for our church's worship team. Not only did I change a song, but I realized that to continue the flow, I needed to transpose the song into a different key.

I could have used one of the many auto-transpose tools that are available to musicians. But instead I chose to manually transpose it, chord by chord, line by line.

Why? I want to keep my transposition/charting/theory skills sharp. There was an easier way, but was it better?

I remember being a wide-eyed freshman during my first week of college, hanging out before Stage Band class in the music department. A few of the older students in the stage band were sitting with our director in his office watching while he was working on some music.

I was intrigued as he lowered the turntable arm onto a Chicago LP, listen for a few measures, lift the arm, and write the music he had heard on score paper, then repeat the process for another instrument. (We did a lot of jazz-rock music, covering groups like BS&T, Billy Preston, early Stevie Wonder, Chicago - most any group with a horn section... Oh, and the LP thing - hey, this was 1974!)

I came away from that moment very impressed with my director, and determined that I was going to develop that skill. I knew very little music theory, and even less about chord structure, but I purposed to learn what was necessary.

With a lot of trial and error, study and practice, over time my ear developed where I could successfully accomplish that process.

I would be at concerts, in worship services, or listening to the radio, and find myself breaking down melody lines, identifying chords, and writing harmonies in my head. It was work, but it was coming naturally.

Then tools (software, websites, services) became available to make the process easier. But did it make the process better?

Many times we are offered helps and tools that are designed to make our lives easier. For creatives, could those tools hinder our creativity?

I remember the scene from the movie Amadeus, as Mozart leaned over his billiards table with his scoring paper strewn over the surface, rolling a pool ball back and forth against the opposite side with one hand while he scored a symphony using a quill and ink with his other. Would his music be as good if he was sitting in front of a 23" screen on his iMac, scoring with software?

Call me old school, but I don't want to surrender to the fast and easy. I want to keep my mind and ears sharp, to hear a chord and dissect it, to be able to transpose on the fly. For me, easier is not always better.

Question: What about you... As a creative, is easier better? Share your thoughts below in comments.

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