Hammers and Nails

I was at the March Salon of the New York Com­posers Cir­cle recently, and we got to talk­ing about how the instru­ment you play affects how you com­pose. I have long sus­pected this to be true, as a com­poser whose pri­mary instru­ment is piano will often “sound” a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than a com­poser who plays, say, the dou­ble bass.

Pianists might sense music as left and right, with low notes here and high notes there. The piano lends itself to cer­tain melodic and har­monic pat­terns, etc. A bass player’s instru­ment, on the other hand, is up and down, with a dif­fer­ent hier­ar­chy of high and low notes, offer­ing a unique sense of musi­cal pat­terns that “work.”

Which prompted our direc­tor to bring up a quote of Abra­ham Maslow, the famous psy­chol­o­gist. Maslow said, “If the only tool you know how to use is a ham­mer, then you tend to see every prob­lem as a nail.”

This is pro­found! And it under­scores why it is so impor­tant to stretch your cre­ative bound­aries; learn new instru­ments, hear new music, etc. You don’t want to be locked in to using only one tool. Always be will­ing to try new solu­tions to your musi­cal “problems.”

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.