Brilliance in Simplicity: Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Cobain

Igor Stravinsky’s music could be seen as complex. I think, however, that it’s mostly the result of misunderstanding. It’s true that his work introduced new sounds and ideas, taking music forward and making many see him as a revolutionary. Yet, with all his innovations, he maintained the belief that the more constraints are placed on creation, the more the creators are free to fully let their spirits soar. The more we limit ourselves, the more we are free.

In Stravinsky’s music we see this. His Rite of Spring (probably his most groundbreaking work) demonstrates a clarity of sound through brilliant, yet transparent orchestration. His ideas are expressed without the heavy layering of orchestration presented by past masters.

By setting musical constraints (motives, range, variation, etc) and streamlining his orchestration, Stravinsky kept it simple and allowed himself to fully express his particular brilliance.

Kurt Cobain was the frontman and songwriter for Nirvana, whose second album, Nevermind is seen by many as having the same groundbreaking and revolutionary qualities as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Cobain sought to make every song on Nevermind as simple as a children’s song. His approach to simplicity, though different from Stravinsky’s yielded similar results. He created a body of music that completely changed rock and roll.

Igor Stravinsky and Kurt Cobain are radically different musicians, but they shared a philosophy of simplicity that I believe was an important part of their considerable talent which helped them to achieve artistic transcendence.

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Student Centered Teaching – Guitar

Over the past 20 years I’ve been teaching guitar. I’m a licensed public school teacher, and I’ve found that the traditional methods weren’t enough. I’ve adopted six tenets to make my guitar instruction more effective. I’ve also posted these tenets on my website

First, students need autonomy. Students should be learning exactly what they want to learn with the instructor guiding the process and teaching proper technique to make sure the student avoids injury.

Second, students learn better in community. I work to create communities of practice for students to share and test what they’re learning.

Third, creativity is essential! Students create music, write songs, and are encouraged to find their own rhythm. Studies have shown that creative ability is a stronger indicator of future success than IQ.

Fourth, students should play, not practice. The word “practice” sometimes has a negative connotation attached to it. We are, in most cases, learning guitar for personal enrichment, not to become professional guitarists – if it’s not fun, then we should try something else. Music shouldn’t be another chore that our overburdened kids are saddled with. And the students I’ve had who went on to become professional guitarists love to play!

Fifth, keeping the goal in view, we need to recognize all the successes that lead to it. We need to understand that even though we haven’t reached the main goal, we have made progress that we can be proud of.

Last, it’s important to be able to use everything you learn to enrich your life. Most teachers just focus on technique alone. I work hard to help each student gain confidence, learn more about themselves, and acquire skills that will be useful for the rest of their lives. On top of that, the simple act of learning music has been shown to help people socially, academically, and psychologically.

Following these tenets, I work to teach each student exactly what they want and need to grow as a musician, an artist, and as a person.