Bringing Music to Life

Bringing Music to Life

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Ideal for amateurs and professionals alike, this innovative, imaginative guide demonstrates how musicians can reach their full potential. Delving deeply into the methodology and inspiration required to energize and enliven music making, this manual offers countless suggestions for creating joy and excitement in performance. A stimulating series of activities and reflections using YouTube video clips clearly illustrates ideas, concepts, and techniques such as breathing, pulse, and movement. This entertaining reference also recounts the author's experiences singing, conducting, and playing with violinist Joshua Bell, Latin musician Tito Puente, symphony conductors Leonard Bernstein and Gustavo Dudamel, and even with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781579997571
Publisher: G I A Publications, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/01/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 276
Product dimensions: 5.72(w) x 8.84(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Barry Green is the director of a young bassist program for the San Francisco Symphony and teaches privately at the University of California–Santa Cruz. He is the former principal bassist of the Cincinnati Symphony and the executive director of the International Society of Bassists. He is the author of The Mastery of Music: Ten Pathways to True Artistry and the coauthor of The Inner Game of Music and The Popular Bass Method. He lives in El Cerrito, California. Don Campbell is the founder of the Institute of Music, Health, and Education and he has worked with musicians such as Jean Houston and Leonard Bernstein. He is the author of Creating for Harmony and The Mozart Effect. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

Bringing Music to Life

By Barry Green

GIA Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 GIA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62277-030-4


Recapturing the Child

I am mentally preparing myself for the five-year-old mind. I want to come down to their physical limitations, and up to their sense of wonder and awe.

— Shinichi Suzuki

Children make music for the sheer fun of it.

Children make music joyfully, instinctively, enthusiastically. They hum to themselves, they whistle, they skip and dance, drum their pencils on the table, and love to find out what sounds pots and pans make. Music comes naturally to them.

There comes a point, however, where music can become a task and even an obligation instead of a free expression of play, and that point may come when "music lessons" begin, or as "practice" becomes a looming necessity, like bad weather on the horizon. That's when the child's sense of music as play begins to shrink, when the enthusiasm begins to wane, and worries creep into the picture.

In my first book, The Inner Game of Music, I suggested some techniques that can help you sidestep the worries and play with the body's natural assurance. The more recent The Mastery of Music showed how different sides of human character from courage to passion can be expressed in music making.

Picasso once said, "All children are artists — the problem is how to remain artists once we grow up." In this third book, we will work together to recapture the child's enthusiasm for music, so that like a child, you can throw yourself body and soul into your music making, without worries, with character, and with a magical ingredient that I can't quite name but will call inspiration for now — with life, with spirit!

It was W. Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis, who provided the Inner Game structure which proved applicable to many other performance disciplines besides tennis, and which led to my writing The Inner Game of Music. I am grateful for the mentoring he gave me as I learned to apply his principles to music. In this book, I will pick up on the exploration of inspiration and creativity which I began in the final two chapters of The Mastery of Music and use exercises like those we explored in The Inner Game of Music. In this book we will rediscover the inspiration that childhood's innocence and joy bring to music making, then move forward into practice techniques and performance skills which can keep that inspiration alive — and this time, I am grateful to the great improvising cellist David Darling for his mentoring and philosophy.

David Darling, together with Music for People (the organization he co-founded), has developed a method of teaching "free improvisation" which has been a jumping-off point for my explorations of how our music making can really come to life — leading to this book, Bringing Music to Life. Like Tim Gallwey's Inner Game principles, David's principles of free improvisation are equally applicable not only to bringing all styles of music alive, but also to other performing arts such as dance and theater.

I began to study with David because I hoped to get a better understanding of the creative process — and thus figure out how to bring spontaneity not just to improvised music, but also to classical music. I have long felt that improvised music, folk music, jazz, rock, pop, and indeed almost any music that is learned and performed by ear has an energy and spirit not often found in those kinds of music we learn from reading sheet music.

At the very highest professional levels, yes, classical music, too, has that energy, that vitality — but for many of us, that sense of life gets lost somewhere along the way, worn down in part by the way we practice and in part by the seriousness of the music itself, of what we might call the "weight of the classics." And that's a great shame, because the great classics became classics because they were so full of life.

I'd very much like to turn that situation around, to make sure that when we're making music, we're always making music alive! And it seems to me that studying free improvisation is a simple, direct, and accessible way for us to enter a spontaneous, childlike musical world where that vital energy is naturally present — where for one thing, there are no "wrong notes" — so we can bring it into all of the music we make.

The Importance of Returning to Our Childhood State

Children love to play — and that goes for playing music as well as for playing other games.

As I have found in my teaching, young children naturally respond to song, dance and rhythms. And we love watching our children perform in youth ensembles or their school concerts. What I find especially enjoyable, though, is watching skilled youth ensembles playing with a sense of reckless abandon while still maintaining their technical proficiency.

It is possible to enjoy music making without the proficiency, to be sure, but it really adds to one's appreciation when it is present, and it often seems that when young musicians can't play very well they don't seem to be having much fun, either. I was reminded of this when I was in Nova Scotia and witnessed the youthful joy that exploded in the workshops David and I taught together on Inspiration in Music!

For me, returning to my own childhood was the critical first step in understanding how important it is for us all to recapture that childlike delight in making music. It was learning David's creative techniques for teaching free improvisation that made the difference for me. There are many paths and disciplines which can facilitate your own return to childhood, and most everyone can benefit from bringing their rediscovered, youthful enthusiasm into the adult world of artistic expression.

My Own Path Back

My own "return to childhood" caught me completely by surprise. I had no clue what was coming, and once it happened, I couldn't stop it. And that first experience remains a beacon for me, a reminder that the child I once was can revisit me at any time if I allow him to.

I was attending a week-long course in the Art of Improvisation led by David Darling in Fredonia, New York. I had chosen to attend this workshop because of my ongoing interest in the process of creativity, something which had fascinated me ever since I wrote the last two chapters of The Mastery of Music.

I had been attending weekly jam sessions as an amateur jazz player, playing numbers out of The Real Book with some highly skilled jazz colleagues, and it occurred to me that free improvisation — where there are no wrong notes and theory isn't so important — might teach me a great deal more about the creative process itself.

Free improvisation offered me a more friendly environment for self-expression than jamming over complex jazz harmonies to tunes I didn't know very well. But that wasn't all. Darling's method of teaching improvisation not only showed me how to "return to my own child" and experience once again the childlike delight that had drawn me into music in the first place — it also helped me make his principles and practices my own so that I could explore and develop their use with other styles of music.

Returning to My Childhood at Music for People

It was the summer of 2004. I was attending David Darling's Art of Improvisation course in Fredonia, New York. I was in a room with more than eighty musicians of all ages, all walks of life, and all levels of musical training, from complete beginners to symphony professionals — myself included!

Now, how in the world could all these people possibly make music together? The magic of my experience at this workshop was that they not only did it, they did it more often, with more vitality, sheer electricity and inspiration than I was used to when playing with highly trained professional musicians. To be honest, I expect that perhaps twenty percent of the times I play with my professional peers and colleagues, whether from the jazz, classical, folk or chamber music traditions, we'll experience one of those moments in music when everything comes together. And yet here I was with a quite varied bunch of amateur improvisers, and that kind of special excitement was at work about eighty percent of the time! Something was drastically different here — but it was no accident!

Here's how it worked.

One of David's keys to improvisation had me spending a whole lot of time away from my bass, getting back into the swing of some things I used to do as a kid. Act, he says, like the child you once were. And I did. I sang, danced around, banged on anything and everything that could make a sound! And I must tell you, I loved acting absolutely crazy (like a kid!) with my voice, hands and bass — then screaming at the top of my lungs. I saw David wear many faces as he was working with us — but the one face I never saw was that of the pompous virtuoso-master teacher. Pomposity just isn't in his playbook.

David's coaching style involves simple imitation. First he sings it, shouts it, plays it, demonstrates it, and then we follow. It is so easy to do. And it really is designed to evoke some amazing and amazed group responses — laughter, love, some pretty high-level exaltation, even some freaking out.

Darling's Mantras

David has what he calls Mantras. He shouts out "Mantra 1" or "Mantra 2" and that's the signal for us all to respond.

Mantra 1 is where everyone has to laugh at themselves, or at least smile. It may sound like nothing special, but believe me, this can be huge. We cannot and must not take ourselves seriously when we do something stupid or funny. Adults get upset, embarrassed and perhaps angry on these occasions — and how can you make music when you're feeling like that? Kids laugh at themselves all the time. When kids stumble or fall down, they don't get mad, they get up and keep on going.

Laughter is a wonderful medicine for the spirit — and for your health too! So that's Mantra 1: laugh at yourself, don't get mad, laugh!

David's Mantra 2 is Oooohh! Imagine holding a baby bird in your hands, a bird so small that your hands are folded right over it — and when you open your hands to take a look at the bird, it chirps ... That's Oooohh! Mantra 2 represents sheer energy, an expression of the awe and amazement we feel when something totally incredible takes place. It is the miracle of life. And that kind of breathtaking is the essence of an awe that we can pass along to our audience when we experience it. If you really understand it right, Mantra 2 really cuts to the core of "returning to the child" — every thing, every moment, every note, every sound is a gift.

It is amazing. It is special. Life is special.

When David says: "Mantra 1," we all make the appropriate response as a group: we laugh! And it's a really wonderful infectious feeling. And Mantra 2 reminds us to appreciate being and playing together, and creating sounds that can make music alive.

Freaking Out

One of the highlights of David's course was learning how to freak out! — how to act like a complete child, but with your instrument or voice! Plain old going crazy was another way he would lead us back into total immersion in the music. Think of a rock star or two. Those folks do this all the time! A football player celebrating a touchdown, an athlete who has just broken the ribbon! They freak out! We need to do this ourselves. It's part of the script for the human body — that sense of abandonment, of release!

It was the most amazing thing to me, when something would start building a musical phrase and we could all let it really go wild. It's really shameful, in my opinion, that the mind holds so much energy in check because of our sense of tradition or reputation, or because we're so keen to "be in control" — when instead, we could just let it hang out.

Egoless Participation

When David set the ground rules for the week, he included egoless participation and talked about listening — in fact, he told us that this was the master skill we would study the most. It's not what we play that counts in music, it's the music we're making together. And I learned that one of the keys to improvisation is not what or when to play, but when not to play. And we learn this by listening.

More of Darling's improvisation techniques can be found in Return to Child by James Oshinsky, the Music for People manual for improvising music (available at

My Own Return

My breakthrough return to childlike enthusiasm and delight took place during an improvisation exercise. In that particular session I felt a very emotional reconnection to my bass while surrounded by many supportive and loving colleagues.

We were improvising in a circle, and each of us in turn was asked to play a solo and end on a sustained note — and this would be the cue for the next person to solo and for the previous one to provide the background for it. So the solo moves around the circle, and the background builds as each person in turn plays. I was near the end of the circle, so when it was my turn to solo there was already a richly textured and sustained chord in the air to serve as the backdrop for my improvisation. It got closer and closer to my turn to solo and my emotions were beginning to overwhelm me — I just had no sound prepared. I felt almost paralyzed.

Interestingly and perhaps not coincidentally, the person soloing immediately before me was the dancer Barbara Feldman-Stein. She was moving around in the center of the circle. It was really beautiful, and I didn't want to play while she was dancing to the soothing sounds of the group. Barbara seemed to be dancing around the circle with her hands a few feet above the floor, as if there was an invisible rail she was resting them on. I wanted to join her, but I didn't know how.

I moved my bass to the center of the room, putting it on its side and sat there next to it on the floor. This allowed me to pluck the strings below the bridge or tap percussive sounds on the side and back of the bass. Quite soon, Barbara joined me in tapping the bass. It felt as though my bass was the focus for this beautiful attention, and I half expected everyone else might join Barbara and myself in the circle with their hands playing percussion sounds on my bass — and all of a sudden I noticed I was there by myself. Even Barbara had somehow disappeared.

While this was going on, there was a beautiful kaleidoscope of sounds in the air — each person there was playing a sustained note, and together they were producing a beautiful harmony, with some added color from the percussion instruments. And under it all was the rich drone of a didgeridoo. The whole texture felt soothing, even loving — and all of a sudden I felt as if the loving was being directed toward me, and wondered whether this was like the rhythm of life that a child hears in the womb.

I didn't really know what to do at this point. I felt unprepared to receive so much attention when I wasn't even really playing my bass. My breathing became very light, and I found myself silently gasping for air as my eyes filled with tears.

I hadn't played any notes to speak of — but my bass and I received a lot of loving attention and musical energy. This rather silent bass solo — just being present in the center of the circle — was the gift of the musical community that surrounded me.

I really didn't understand the emotion that welled up in me. I didn't realize at first that I had experienced a return to childhood in my own way — and that my return of course included this loving connection with my bass and music. It had been a long time since I had felt this way — I had forgotten how much I loved music, my bass and my musical voice.

I found myself embracing the bass as if I had neglected her. So many years had passed since I had felt this love for music, this freedom to express myself with my bass, this love from friends and colleagues. But now I had come back. Through that passage of love and emotion I had returned to the childlike passion I had for music when I first started to play the bass. I was home again.

I didn't know it at the time, but I realize in retrospect the whole process really was a celebration, even though it was also an exhausting, emotional, and somewhat embarrassing experience for me. It was only later, when I heard my friends in the circle expressing their gratitude for what had happened to me that I fully realized it was okay to be so vulnerable.


Excerpted from Bringing Music to Life by Barry Green. Copyright © 2009 GIA Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of GIA Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Don Campbell,
Introduction Jam — Scat — Move — Groove,
PART I: The Methodology,
Chapter 1 Recapturing the Child,
Chapter 2 A Recipe for Inspiration,
Chapter 3 Finding the Pathway,
PART II: The Three Techniques,
Chapter 4 Breath (Voice),
Chapter 5 Pulse (Rhythm),
Chapter 6 Movement (Body),
PART III: Inspiration,
Chapter 7 The Complete Package,
Chapter 8 Being in the Moment - "It's You",
Chapter 9 Chasing the Rainbow,
Acknowledgments (Barry Says, "Thank You"),
About the Author,

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