Personal Creativity Project
Ken Robinson (2013) writes, "Finding your Element involves understanding the powers and passions that you were born with as part of your unique biological inheritance" (p. 22).
This is the journal and analysis of my semester long personal creativity project. My journey with picking up guitar again this year has taught me a lot about myself. I have always loved music. When I was a kid, we had nothing in our living room but plants, a cat playground, and a stereo with a record player, loads of records: The Moody Blues, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and Young), The Doors, Billy Joel and Elton John. I love to sing and know songs. I spent a lot of time, especially when I was younger, listening to music, taking voice lessons, theater lessons, going to concerts and music festivals.
I've wondered if I have talents in music. The usual creativity squelchers described by Davis (2004) have been obstacles to me pursuing musical mastery. For one, there is a status hierarchy (Davis, 2004) and a cultural perception of inequality between male and female musicians, especially guitarists. I have felt insecure about asserting myself in musician circles due to my own fears of negative judgement. I am not sure where this comes from, but I do have a bit of perfectionism, competitiveness, and need for attention that luckily has lessened over the years. I always took myself for a bronze or silver medalist type of performer, or even someone who just didn't show up due to anxiety or laziness. I always got supporting roles in school musicals, and I quit piano at age 12, after half-practicing for six years. I took a year of lessons on a borrowed banjo, but gave it up when I had to give the banjo back. What has gotten in my way? Is playing an instrument or music in general my "Element"? I certainly feel like writing and art put me into what Csikszentmihalyi (2004) calls "Flow"; that is I feel like when I am in the flow of writing, making pottery, or drawing, I feel a satisfaction and happiness with my life. I wanted to find out if playing guitar would also put me in the flow.
I recently bought myself a parlor guitar. At age 16, I taught myself when my stepdad gave me his guitar. I have had a few lessons here and there since I was a teenager. So- I signed myself up for a real music teacher, M. Pope (unlike getting lessons in the past from a guitar player I was dating or wanting to date), and I began weekly lessons. It has been humbling and the teacher is awesome. I have had to unlearn some old tricks and reform my way of playing. Music makes me so happy and I really want to learn guitar for real this time. One of my goals is to feel comfortable playing guitar with kids, other musicians, and maybe in front of an audience. My goals with guitar connect with Theresa Amabile's (1983, 1988; Conti, Coon, & Amabile, 1996) componential model of creative productivity specifically as described in Davis (2004, p. 65). Combined are my domain-relavant skills- musical inclination and ability to strum, play notes, play chords, read music, and sing; my creativity-relavant skills- a constant need to make up songs, sing them, write poetically; and my task motivation- I certainly have at least the willingness to learn. My teacher told me I could be a master guitarist. We will see about that. He took this professional looking photo of me:
The Process and the Practice
I did not realize that I have been holding my guitar with not so good posture. My teacher is strict and he corrects me whenever my thumb is in the wrong place or my elbow sticks out. I practice in his studio with correct posture with tools to help me: a non-slip shelf liner for my leg, tape on the guitar neck where my thumb lives, places for my feet to go...
My guitar is a classical style. It is not as painful on my fingers as learning to play on a steel-string, And it has a smaller body, so it is easier to hold in my lap.
I have enjoyed the process a lot, even if it seems a little slow. I am assigned exercises to practice daily for about 12-20 minutes. I started with simple two chord measures. Luckily, I already knew the finger placement for most of the chords. I was only allowed to practice down strums, and M. Pope is strict about me counting out loud. He could tell that I was not counting out loud at home when I practiced. He gave me a file of simple folk songs to practice. We then moved on to chord progressions, changing the key using a capo, and now I am learning strum patterns using the up strum.
I feel like I have to put my whole concentration into the practice. It feels at times like trying to rub my belly and pat my head at the same time. There is a split focus that deals with posture, hand placement, rhythm, sound, and intention. It can be tiring, and I have found myself slacking in the daily practice over the past few weeks due to life demanding my attention. However, the song leader at my school, H.L. asked me this month to sub for her in our Friday Sing-along. This is the second time I subbed for her, and at the first one I messed up a lot (my own assessment). Performance takes on a whole other level of focus. Even though song-leading is not a true performance, as the kids are singing loudly, there are a lot of parents and teachers chatting and pre-school students walking through to dismissal, H.L. does an amazing job connecting with the audience and engaging them in the song. H and I practiced a lot together, and we had a lot of fun! But when it came to me "performing", I really got confused by all the places I needed to concentrate, and I missed many of the notes on my guitar. It is so loud in the space we have sing along that I am not sure people noticed, but I did. My mistakes caused me to feel even more flustered. But is performance the product of playing guitar? If one does not rise to eminence in a field, then do they actually have talent and creativity in that area? Is the product of creativity more important than the process or the act of doing something even if no one else knows about it? Does the quality of a person's talent lie in the assessment and judgement of others?
Below are two clips of me playing and singing with the kids at our weekly singalong.
Here is a little silly song I made with my kid the other day.
Throughout this semester, I have been humbled by the experience of learning guitar. I know that my element is not yet in performance or in leading music. The times when I am singing and playing music alone or with one or two other people I feel happy. I have stage fright when I am in a performance situation. I become overwhelmed and flustered, even if I spent hours practicing. I have a desire to be able to do it though, but I will need much more practice in order to feel comfortable performing. My desire to perform is small though. What I set out to accomplish is to learn something that I have always wanted to. In that case, I have been successful, and I will continue to learn for enjoyment's sake. It is with this spirit that I feel I can be most creative and find the "flow".
Amabile, T.M. (1983). Social psychology of creativity. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Amabile, T.M. (1988). A model of organizational innovation. In B.M. Staw and L.L. Cummings, eds.,
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Conti, R., H. Coon, and T.M. Amabile. (1996). Evidence to support the componential model of
creativity: Secondary analyses of three studies. Creativity Research Journal. 9:385-389.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004, February). Flow: the secret to happiness. [Video file]. Retrieved
Davis, G. (2004). Creativity is forever. United States: Kendall/Hunt.
Robinson, K. (2013). Finding your element: How to discover your talents and passions and
transform your life. NY: Penguin Books.