Students in the Contemporary Performance Program Perform, Record, and Create with Electronics in MSM’s Electronics Studio

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Just start. Anywhere. Musicians can get stopped early because of an ingrained perfectionism and/or self-consciousness, and we can sometimes be embarrassed not to be great at something the first time around. I was there about 35 years ago — scared to improvise, embarrassed of my own shadow when I tried. I mean, what was I going to PLAY?

What got me past it? Plugging a microphone into a digital delay, hearing my sound come back to me on repeat, and playing against it, realizing that as things unfolded and made more sense to me, it just wasn’t all that different from what Bach might have done on the organ while improvising for church.   

Start by recording yourself more often  — while you’re practicing, improvising, doing whatever — it doesn’t matter. Free softwares include Audacity, Garage Band, Ableton Note (on mobile), or Reaper for multitracking. Of course, a device like a zoom recorder works as well. 

Start with an empty track, or even a track that you love. I love playing with James Brown, and I practice Bach over Hip Hop. Whatever it is, find your sense of play – improvise something, listen, create a new track, and begin again, playing against yourself. 

Careful now, you’ll get hooked! What tends to happen is that once you discover that ability to play with your sound, you begin to hear relationships and realize that what you make has value to you, and it can be developed. You begin to uncover your own music.  

Buy a microphone. Mics don’t have to be expensive, start at any level. If you’re a hacker, buy a children’s toy with sound. Learn all about Circuit Bending. Do you have anything electronic at all with an ⅛ or ¼ inch output that makes sound? Borrow a guitar pedal from a friend, and then record into the softwares mentioned above. 

Most importantly, follow your interests, wherever they may lead. Tune yourself, not just your instrument, to really listen to what makes you and your music-making unique — and follow that — even as you pursue mastery of your instrument or discipline. Technology is the biggest toolkit there is, with perhaps no zipper on the case, more and more fun and interesting tools just keep getting added to the bag.  

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