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Just Compose "happy Trees" . . .

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If you ever saw Bob Ross (1942-1995, sigh ...) paint a picture on PBS television, then you would never guess that he was a 20-years-in Master Sergeant in the Air Force who once, according to his Wikipedia profile, was in a job that required him to be:  "mean" and "tough," "the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work."   Nope, you'd say, "that's not Bob Ross."  (And Bob didn't think so, either.  Honorably discharged, he left that world behind him, forever.)  Bob Ross was one thing, and one thing only, to many millions of people:  "Just paint 'happy little trees.â„¢' "


It was very sage advice.  Nevermind that Bob had certainly had practiced his art (and that, over 11 years of broadcasting, he had plenty more practice).  Bob Ross not only painted "happy little trees," but he showed you that you could do the same.  If you actually tried it, you found that it worked.


He used the "wet-on-wet" technique, which meant that he never waited for anything to dry.  He used only a few colors, simple strokes to start with.  And, kindly notice, he used a system of what I'll call, "successive refinement."  Once again quoting from Wikipedia's carefully-footnoted sources:  "Each painting would start with simple strokes that appeared to be nothing more than colored smudges. As he added more and more strokes, the blotches transformed into intricate landscapes."  And along the way, he always kept you happy.  Just like ("the Reverend" ... did you know that?) "Mister" [Fred] Rogers, Bob Ross was a fun man to listen to, as well as a man well-worth listening to.  There he was, just on the other side of that slightly-rounded piece of glass, and he was fun to be around.


But there are some points to his technique, and to his approach in general, that I think are really significant to music-making:

  • He started simple.  Big strokes to capture the essential idea of whatever he was doing.  Then, successive refinement to get closer to whatever the picture would turn out to be.
  • If he secretly did know in advance "what the picture would turn out to be," he never showed it – and I don't think he usually did, except in the most general terms.
  • When Bob "screwed up," as he sometimes did, he kept right on painting – incorporating his "discovery" into the work.  There never was a "food-program 'timely cut.'"  (In other words:  he never pulled his finished masterpiece out of the magical oven underneath the counter.)  He basically didn't consider it, whatever he did, to be "wrong."  He had ways of turning wrong into right (often, wrong into "better, yet") – and you could watch him do it.
  • He estimated that he produced between 25,000 and 30,000 paintings in his life, and he donated most of them to PBS stations.  You do the math ...
  • I doubt that he ever suffered from "painter's block."

Yeah, sure.  By the time you've got 20,000 paintings under your belt,  you're going to know how to do a lot of things "instinctively."  Practice does pay.  Yet people didn't love Bob Ross just because he was both a good painter and a funny, compassionate guy.  No, they loved him, and bought millions of dollars' worth of his art supplies, because they became good painters, too.  Bob's technique worked ... for them.


The digital computer is the most sophisticated musical instrument ever conceived, and now you can even fit one in your pocket or strap it onto your arm.  Most of all, it allows you to experiment with music, and yet to do so (if you are so inclined and if you can learn how ...) at a truly professional level.  Or, not.  You can draw any "happy tree" you like, and the computer will instantly and faithfully play it.  But, unlike Bob's paint, you can also pick the tree up and move it, rearrange its branches, then hit "Play" again.  This can be both a good thing and not-so-good.


The good-thing is that you can forget about your present physical limitations as "a player," just as you can ignore your present ability as "a typist."  Even though it certainly is more convenient to be "a virtuoso player," you can still "get music done" even if you most-decidedly are not.  The door is open ... welded open.  It will never, ever again be closed.


The not-so-good is that, you can easily be tempted to stop with that first "big brush stroke" and fixate upon it, trying to get it perfect before you move on to something else.  By which time you're rightly wondering, "what's on TV?"  (heh... "Bob Ross re-runs?") ;)   So, don't do that.  Do what Bob Ross did.  Paint happy little trees.  Roughly.  Quickly.  Then paint another tree and another and another, perhaps without trying to put them all together yet.  Bob never scraped a tree off the canvas and threw it away.  Sometimes he just impulsively(?) added a blob of paint in an unexpected place, and, while then focusing his attention onto something someplace else, an idea came to him.  You should expect the creative process to be like that.


Bob Ross exposed the entire creative process that he used.  (Re-runs of his shows are readily to be had, and are well worth watching still.)


Go, copy it.

But ... do what Bob Ross could never dream of.  He used a paintbrush.  You use a digital computer.  Wow.  What possibilities.


As you do this, a shape, a pattern will begin to emerge.  There will be something that, once you've got a general idea as to how the big-picture is beginning to shape up, you can decide to refine.  You can apply as much knowledge as you do or don't have to that process of refining things.  (And if it really doesn't work, set it aside carefully.  There will also be things that you have no idea what to do with; that you might not, in this piece, wind up doing anything with.)


Never underestimate the power of serendipity.â„¢  It's okay to take credit for a happy discovery.  No one will ever know.


You might put it down and come back to it "next week," as Bob often did.  (And it was always the same version, "next week."  He didn't cheat you.)  You might discover that you've invented something that doesn't [seem to ...] work in this song but that might be perfect for the next one.  Or the next.  Or the next.  


You might do something that, when you press "Play," causes you to recoil in pleasant astonishment.  ("I did that?  I did that?  I did that?")


Or, of course, you might also do ... well, you know.   ;)


But keep going.  Just keep going, regardless.  The world's always ready for another happy little tree.

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The digital computer is the most sophisticated musical instrument ever conceived ...


What I very-specifically mean by that, is that, even though the computer by-itself is obviously not "a musical instrument," it does offer "a way to get to music" that truly is accessible to everyone.  Even if you didn't practice.  Even if you did practice but (sux ...) just weren't very good.


Until now, you were stuck there.


Absolutely yes:  if you are a virtuoso, then there's an entire world out there that only you can reach ... and, more power to you!  God has truly given you a gift.  (Remember ... I live near Nashville, Tennessee.  I see it.   :eek: Heh.)  


"Oh, he's so good ... that's so nice ... I want to break every one of his fingers ..."   ;)


Meanwhile:  for the rest of us, the digital computer really does allow everyone to "paint very 'happy trees,' indeed."


"Until now, really until the 21st century, everything that we could have had access to is:  a 'manual typewriter.'"  Eighty-eight keys in a very heavy frame.  Six strings and a funny-shaped box.  A metal tube with valves.  But, not anymore.  In exactly the same way that it enables anyone to create a flawlessly-presented printed document, whereas previously a desperate grad-student would have had to "hire a 'typist,'" the digital computer, through its unique (and, totally unprecedented) functional characteristics, enables players – who, like it or not, will never be "skilled players" – to create music beyond their own (present) limitations.


(And if someday you are incredibly fortunate, a virtuoso takes your score and ... "ohmygod" ... but that's what virtuosos [can] do.  Goody goody for them.  Meanwhile, you.)


You can "fumble through" describing to the computer what you really want to see, in just the same way that the grad-student gave his manuscript to a typist.  And then, you can press "Play."  What happens next will come out perfectly.  Perfectly right, or as the case may be, perfectly wrong.  But:  "perfectly," nonetheless.


Now, for the totally unique, totally only-the-computer lets-me-do-this(!) part:  you ... play!  ... and then, you press "Play" once again.


Is it "the same as" the avenues that the Virtuosos among us have been able to attain?  N-o.  But, it is another avenue, and basically for the first time in twenty-one centuries.


That's h-u-g-e ... I think.


:)  "Got paint?"

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Hobo, let's just say that I remember them, too.   :)  I saw the very first(!) personal computer appear.  I subscribed to BYTE (may it rest in honored peace), and to Keyboard, and kept years of copies of both.  And, just like the rest of us, I lusted for a Synclavier.


However, we do live in interesting times ... and, really, in this case I am talking about the last half-dozen years or so ... because now we have full music-making power, with no other hardware required, literally "in every pocket."  (Well, at least on every table at Starbucks . . . )  The CPUs in our roughly-thousand-dollar (and dropping fast ...) machines are capable of doing it all.  Arranging the sounds, generating them, mixing them, mastering.  Doing all of this, at a professional level, in pure-software.  Even five years ago, this was more-or-less "inaccessible."  Whereas, today it isn't, and it never will be again.


Sure, we stand on the shoulders of [software] giants, but today we are also at the helm of fairly-giant machines!  (We call them:  "telephones," "tablets," "laptops.")


Certainly, it was a big eye-opener for me to get, first, a copy of MuseScore (astonishing freeware:  you can score anything, and play it back pretty-well in real time), but then, Logic Pro X.  "It is possible to do anything with this piece of software.  You have the tools.  You merely have to discover them :rolleyes: and learn how to use them."  


Or, "let's hear it for GarageBand!"  Every owner of a [recent ...] Macintosh has got a copy, and it's stuffed with features.  PCs are starting to ship with these things, too.


The possibilities are now truly "endless," and none of us have really ever been in such a world before.  So many of the books that we have on our shelves ("bah!  Yes, I said books, and I meant, shelves!") were tacitly written with the point-of-view of:  "well, this is how it's done, and yes, you could, theoretically, kinda sorta do this, if you buy thousands of dollars' worth of gear, and ..."  But now, (splat!) it's dropped in your lap that now you actually can.  Everyone can.


We all live in ... i - n - t - e - r - e - s - t - i - n - g ... times.  "Yippee!! The sun's out!! Let's play!"   :jumping25:

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