We always love hearing about where artists find their inspiration, and though this video of Leonard Cohen runs a little long, he has much to say about the process of cultivating an authentic “voice”. At about 5:26, he tells the story of how he went from fumbling around on the guitar to really “finding his song.”  (You can also simply read the transcript here; start about 6 paragraphs down when he talks about Garcia Lorca.) Cohen recalls visiting his mother in Montreal and happening upon a young Spanish flamenco guitar player. He convinced the guitarist to give him lessons, and the young man showed up at Cohen’s home for three consecutive days. For three days they worked on the same six-chord progression, and Cohen, though he still couldn’t play as beautifully as the guitarist, finally had the building blocks of a song.

The story ends with tragedy, when the guitar player did not show up on the fourth day and Cohen learned that the young man had committed suicide. The guitarist’s few lessons would prove to have great impact on Cohen: the six chords he was taught that summer went on to be the foundation of all of his songs. (And there are many songs.)

For us, it is a key lesson in improvising: once you learn the basics of how something works, you have a solid foundation for improvising indefinitely, whether in music, cooking, carpentry, sewing, running a business – ANYTHING.  Breadth and variation can come from just a few key ingredients. It gives you permission to start with the basics without worrying about originality and complexity—that comes later, naturally.

We think about it like cooking—Sally has a whole book based on the concept of improvising recipes based on some simple essential principles – core recipes – which, once you understand how they work, allow you to improvise using all sorts of ingredients. A few chords, a basic recipe…hundreds of songs and hundreds of meals.

–Sarah M.

Via Open Culture

Related posts:
paul simon + the process of making….’so beautiful or so what’
stephen hawking ps: musicians relearning how to play
itzhak perlman: “making with whatever we have left…”
john cage applying ‘what would happen’ if to music

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