On the Importance of Balance
By Robert Smeets
Being an artist is no easy task and often you have too many things to do with not nearly enough time to do it. It’s easy to get into ruts and routines that will seemingly curb your art or at least slow it’s progress. It’s a lot of hard work, but life doesn’t quite have to be that way. You can have a productive, healthy life and still have time and money to develop your art. I’ve found it very important to work out a good balance through every aspect of your life and art.
It’s not rocket science and it’s nothing new. The ancient Chinese symbol of the Yin and Yang represents balance and has served as an important reminder from those ancient cultures through today. It often seems difficult to dedicate time to create and practice your art while maintaining the rest of your life. Efficiency becomes an important factor in how you balance your life. For me, I’ve found that treating my art as my job was the first step to progress in this area. Your job becomes more than only creating art at first, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s often a good thing. Often, these things that come up that seem like diversions from your art are really opportunities to let your art grow. While you’re out getting the oil changed on your car, you may meet a new friend that inspires you to write a song or think of something in a way you hadn’t thought about before. Or, you may hear something that changes your perspective about life. Or, it may even be something as simple as giving you time to think about what you want to do next. These kinds of things happen all the time, and are important to the development of your art. For me, my life is the art, and the music is only a representation of everything around me. For instance, if stay in my room practicing all day, I may find a few new scales or something to play with, but there’s really not much inspiration there. If I go out for a run, play some basketball, do some yoga, reading, attend a poetry reading, go to a museum, etc… I’ve found that these are the places where my life grows, and hence my art can grow from those experiences. Balance out creating with the rest of your life and you will allow both the space they need to flourish. Putting time in booking gigs, meeting new people, and taking care of these other aspects of your life will allow you to be at ease to create the art that you want to create. As a bonus, often the time away from your instrument will enhance the experience and you will begin to enjoy playing more than before. When you approach the job from this point of view, it’s fun and you find that you have time to enjoy the things you want to enjoy.
Balance is also important in the art itself, as life and art mirror each other. If your art has too much of this and not enough of that, then you get a lop-sided piece of work (which, hey- that may be what you’re going for…). The awareness of how you balance your music melodically, rhythmically, harmonically, etc… are all important factors of creating your piece of music and how you decide to balance those things will enable you to see the piece from more than a single perspective. This will allow you to engage a piece on multiple levels and hopefully increase your awareness of the overall product you are creating. In practice, balance plays an important role in development as well. For instance, if you only practice soloing over a blues in the key of G, you’ll probably get pretty good at that, but not be able to do much else. Balancing out your practice schedule for all of the things you need to work on builds efficiency and helps you progress more quickly. For me, I focus on balancing the maintenance of older tunes and things I once knew versus learning new tunes, practicing new fingerings on the guitar, or learning new harmonies or rhythms. I also work to balance practicing my weaknesses versus maintaining my strengths as a musician. Paying attention to the ways these things are balanced often leads to deeper more meaningful pieces, just as balancing your life allows meaningful experiences every day to enhance your life.
So, there you go. On to your life and art. These are things that I have found useful for my own health and sanity in this business and I’ve found that it’s applicable to (probably) every aspect of my life. But hey, it’s also what makes it exciting and fun to do. Art has everything to do with perception, and anything you can do to enhance your own perception of who you are, what you are doing, and where you are going will most likely help you along the way. Balance is just one way to put it all in perspective. And you’ll probably find that if you go with the flow, it usually it all balances out in the end anyway.
Best to you and good luck in your travels…
One book I’d recommend:
My Favorite Piece of Gear: Korg Pitchblack Guitar Tuner (if you’re not in tune, everything will sound badly).
One Thing I Can’t Live on the Road Without:
Well, aside from my guitar, I have to have my laptop. I can communicate, check email, listen to music, write lyrics, jot down scores, read, watch movies, etc…
BIO: After studies with jazz giants Kurt Rosenwinkel (Verve Recording Artist), Ben Monder (Faculty at New England Conservatory, Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band), Brad Shepik (Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band), Kenny Werner (Pianist, author of Effortless Mastery), and Rick Peckham (Vice Chair of the guitar Department of Berklee College of Music). He performed as a freelancing guitar sideman in many bands of varying styles of music from blues, traditional jazz and big band music, to funk, soul, R&B and hip hop. During his stay in Columbus, Ohio, he had the opportunity to perform with Foley (Formerly with Miles Davis, currently the Bandleader for George Clinton’s P-Funk Allstars and Sly and the Family Stone), Eddie Bayard (Performed with Maceo Parker, Jabo Starks, Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, Clyde Stubblefield, Wynton Marsalis, Delfayo Marsalis, etc…), Bobby Floyd (www.bobbyfloyd.com- cornerstone player for the Jazz Arts Group in Columbus, Ohio), Larry Cook (Bassist, performed with Mavis Staples, Columbus Ohio’s Jazz Arts Group), Tim Cummiskey (www.tc7string.com, Professor of Jazz Studies at the Ohio State University), Polar Ops (Featuring works by RJD2 and Numeric), and Ordinary Peoples to name a few projects.