NATHAN MILSTEIN, one of the greatest violinists of all time, used to say, “I never practice...but I noodle constantly.” As a violinist, I cannot relate to this statement at all. When I practice the violin, I am regimented, organized, and strict. When learning a new piece of music, I take a slow, methodical approach, patiently building the piece from the ground up, and always with extreme attention to intonation.
I also set an exact amount of time to dedicate to each practice session, two or three hours usually. And once I get started, I make sure to take a break every half an hour to give myself time to breath, and to stretch my middle aged muscles. At the end of one of these overly organized sessions, I feel tired but accomplished, like one might feel after a very long run. I’ve practiced this way for as far back as I can remember, and it’s a process that really works for me.
But, when it comes to songwriting, I am very much like Nathan Milstein. I never practice. I never carve out time to write. I never give myself specific challenges. And I never organize my time. When I think about Milstein’s statement, I imagine that his violin case was always open. Whether he was at home, in his hotel room, or on a train, I believe his violin was always at the ready. In my home, my GUITAR is always out, propped up in the corner of my bedroom, occupying a place on the couch, or on a stand next to my desk, where I do all of my recording. The lid of the family PIANO is always open as well.
When it comes to my unorganized songwriting process, and how it works for me, one example might be, I’ll walk by the guitar, stop and pick it up, and play around with a couple of chords. Then, a few days later I’ll be washing the dishes, and those same chords will pop into my head, and suddenly they have life, they have meaning. At this point I might seek out the guitar, or the piano, to find out if there’s more. It’s a weird, and magical process. Unplanned, and unscripted.
Every artist has a process that works for them. and I will never say that one process is better than another. How could I? My artistic endeavors clearly require very different routines, and I believe there are as many different processes as there are artists in the world. But, there is one very important thing that is consistent among all creative types, and that is proactivity. Living in a creative mental space is great, but the physical act of picking up the violin, guitar, pen and paper, and taking ACTION, that’s the common thread that’s woven into the fabric of every artist. So, when the music presents itself, practice. And when the muse calls, answer.