Árni Karlsson

jazz from the cold north

How Less Is More

Have you ever been at a party and met this very talkative person that talks and talks and is very animated all the time, and when you come home you really don´t remember anything that was said? Then there is this one person that had a thoughtful comment and told a short story that sticks like a bug to your brain. When we compose and play music the same principle applies. Tell a story, and let it be concise. It can be elaborate and full of colour, but give it direction, rise, and finish, and then, shut up and send it into the cosmos. When we make space for our ideas we give them more weight. 

Getting Creative With Your Peripheral Vision

In my early twenties I learned a trick of creatively solving problems that is quite simple. It can be practiced almost any place at any time and after some practice you can do it entirely in your own mind. It can be used on solving mental or emotional problems when you seem stuck and it can also be used to help you come up with new ideas when you need to.

Almost all jobs today rely on creativity at some level. You can be in business, the arts, law practice, production, design, gardening, you name it, and you are required to be creative in problem solving, coming up with new solutions to problems. When we get stuck and have this feeling of giving up having used up our creativity on our challenge then there is a simple trick that can do all the difference. Often the problem lies in the way we see our problems. When we focus on solving things we, quite naturally, focus intensely on the very thing that we want to get ahead with. After focusing for some time we sometimes stop seeing anything that might help us. In that situation there is a great way to get back on track by doing this little exercise here below.

The Trick: Now, stand up and let your arms straight out in front of you as you were pushing someone, and then point your two index fingers up into the air (like you are making an important point). Then focus your vision on your two fingers while you think about a real problem that you have been focusing on for some time and not gotten any real traction with yet. Now, when you feel that you have a good grasp of the problem, continue thinking about it while you let your two fingers go apart to each side bringing your visual attention to the periphery of your visual field while keeping your mind on the problem at all all times. You might find this a bit difficult at first and naturally the “focus” will soften up because when your arms have moved into 180 degrees and if you do this correctly your feeling of the problem will also expand while your breathing deepens. Hold the 180 degree position as long as you can while thinking about your problem from this stance.

When you do this it is almost as lifting the potluck of a bot with boiling water because there is a relief and also a wealth of information that suddenly becomes available that was not there before, some of it might come to your attention right away while other might take more time.

Because this technique is relaxing it is immensely beneficial when you are under stress and have to be creative to get things done quickly in a new way. I have used this technique for expansion on many occasions both while developing songs, or getting ideas for a song, and also when nothing seems to be working in my life and I need ideas to do something new. What happens with continued practice of this method is that you get to place where this is your go-to thought pattern when you are under creative stress and you save both energy and time finding the next solution.

Try this trick out for yourself, note what happens and write me a comment below about your experience.

How To Use Evernote For Composing Music


Keeping your ideas all in one place is essential for effective music composition. Ideas come and go too quickly for us to be able to remember them all. One thing that authors use for idea capturing is to have a notebook ready at all times to write down ideas, dreams, quotes, ads that inspire and whatever that triggers them. This becomes a habit and a constant inspiration for writing. There is a way to do this with melodies by writing down notes in a Moleskine notebook with musical staves for example. This is great to do if your only way to make music is the old way of writing it down and you have thorough training doing that. For most of us though, this is not the case and our music has to be recorded for us to be able to remember vividly how we imagined it. If we do not record it a lot of the original inspiration gets lost on the way and we do not get the intricacies of the sound that we are after, or the reflection of the voice, bends and special effects, timing etc. What comes in handy is to have a recorder. I heard a story from the amazing pianist/composer Larry Goldings, that he used to have a tape recorder on his piano at all times and when he was improvising at home and found a nice melody, chord pattern, or even an idea for a whole song, he would hit record and record it. When it then came a time to make an album he would just listen to his tapes and find plenty of high quality prescreened ideas to work from. I have made this story work for me but with a small and yet significant technological twist. 

There is an incredible app called Evernote that has gathered over 100 million users by now. In it you can store, tag, and organize, and write notes that will then become available on all the devices you own. I use it to gather musical notes the same way Larry Goldings used his tape recorder. I even take pictures into the same note as the one I record into, pictures of inspirational items, and even the score that I have written with the musical idea that I am recording to capture the essence, tempo, and phrasings that can easily get lost in translation. This way, all my ideas get captured in one place and I can find them whenever I need to work on new songs for my records. It also gives me a sense of how many ideas I get for songs and less of a fear of running out of ideas. 

Being under stress of producing ideas is the worst state to get good ideas. It is better to relax with a non-alcoholic beverage by the instrument and explore the instrument. I liken it to rest in the peripheral vision rather than focus, and just let things come to you. It you do not get any good ideas right away, that is normal. Just play and be open to what comes your way. Some of it is crap, some is cliché, and some might be original and need some refinement. When you have something that appeals to you, even though it needs some more work, just hit record in Evernote and capture it. You can always work on it more later. Then keep working in this peripheral space of listening to what comes to you through your instrument. Making this a steady practice has become one of my biggest assets in music making because I never run out of ideas for songs, and the practice itself is a sort of meditation at the same time. 

Tagging is one of the most useful features in Evernote. After having gotten a lot of ideas into your notes then you can open the app and listen to them all while tagging them according to emotion (sad, fun, playful, driven etc.), time written (feb, 2015), tempo (fast, medium, slow, or tempo marking 100, 80, 130) and any other meaningful tags that you might think of depending on what kind of music you are making. Then you can also tag each note in Evernote according to the project that it belongs to if you are composing for different setting and projects. I have used tagging as long as I have used Evernote and it makes a real difference when I search for things perhaps after years of not working on them.

Almost all songs on my last record, Hold, were a result of this method of idea capturing in Evernote. What I enjoy the most is the stress free component of this method because it keeps the act of idea generation/capturing separate from the completely different work of development of a song. This makes the whole process much more enjoyable and effective because you don´t need to be under stress while generating ideas while you keep all your ideas and developments in the same place.