Are classical musicians creative?
Any musical activity is creative, but we can all agree that there is a difference between performing a piece of music from the page on the one hand and improvising, arranging, or composing on the other.
I love classical music, and yet, after 25 years of exploring improvisation and composition in many styles, my musical life has been enriched by not only the sheer variety of musical situations I now regularly enjoy, but the challenge and reward that comes from putting my creative energy to work and seeing how my artistic voice has grown.
Pursuits in jazz, improvisation, and more have ultimately led me to get more out of classical music as well.
It’s hard for some to break into “creative string playing,” i.e. including improvisation and composition, whether it be in jazz, rock, fiddle styles, etc. One reason is that classical musicians assume they must have access to “insider information” such as tunes, chord progressions, or specialized stylistic vocabulary. This isn’t necessarily true.
To get started going “out of the box” musically, you can use what you know. Classically trained fiddler and jazz violinist, Eli Bishop, was pretty much exclusively a classical string player just four years ago. He didn’t know if he wanted to play fiddle styles, jazz, classical music, or whatever. But one day he had the idea to try to play the bach-double with both parts at once. He ran with that idea, taking what he was familiar with and getting creative with it (see mind-blowing video below).
After 4-5 years of regularly pushing himself out of his comfort zone, Eli is now one of the most advanced jazz violinists his age anywhere in the world. He’s worked closely with Billy Contreras, Buddy Spicher, Rob Thomas, myself, and attended my annual Creative Strings Workshop. Currently on scholarship at Berklee College of Music, he recently sat down with me to do a set of interviews which are being published exclusively for subscribers of my Creative Strings Academy Program
Here’s a video showing Eli playing some jazz during a very informal rendition we did of Scrapple from the Apple:
Eli also loves fiddle styles including Texas Contest Fiddle and Bluegrass and I’m sure his tastes will continue to evolve. What I’m most excited about is how much he’s evolved, from a purely classical player to a well-rounded creative string player. He’s a great model for us to continue to watch.
So how do you get from “A to B”? This video here shows one method I used to get people going into free improvisation from zero to creativity in 5 minutes. Feel free to grab your instrument and try this out.
My recommendation to classical string players who are curious? Simple: take 5 to 10 minutes during practice sessions to doing something “creative.” Take a moment to get out of your comfort zone. Treat your instrument as if it were a crayon and a piece of paper and take time to scribble, mess around, play around, come up with something outside of your box. You don’t have to be a “jazz violinist,” or get locked into any one kind of style, per se. You don’t need to be fluent with tunes or chord progressions to get started exploring, and soon enough your voice will begin to emerge. Whether or not it’s a “jazz violin” thing is unimportant.