Sunday, May 09, 2010

The importance of being confused

There is a time of blissful ignorance before you hear a song for the first time.

Later on, there comes a time when you know the song thoroughly, your own harmony part is second nature, and you can recall the lyrics without effort.


In between these two states there is confusion. And that’s the best place to be!

it’s uncomfortable, but exciting

Most people don’t like the feeling of being confused or lost or uncertain. People like to know where they are, what’s happening next, where they’re going. We like to be in control of the situation, to have things mapped out in easy to understand steps. But art and creativity and learning are not like that!

There will always be a time whilst learning, rehearsing or performing a song when you will feel lost. You can’t control the process because you are just one amongst many and you have ceded control to your musical director in any case.

It can be an uncomfortable feeling, but the more you give yourself up to it, the greater the rewards can be.

trust in the process

It will turn out all right in the end. Honest.

Learning and rehearsing is a process. It doesn’t all happen at once. You start off knowing nothing, and you end up knowing everything, but in between is a weird state of confusion, unfamiliarity, being lost, and out of control. You have to accept that this is a necessary part of the process. Don’t fight it, but believe that you will come out the other side.

embrace the vagueness

This feeling won’t last and it’s one of the most creative and exciting places to inhabit. Make the most of it!

It’s in this state of uncertainty that accidents happen, we discover interesting things, we stumble across new ways of seeing and doing things. Because everything is new (and scary!) in this state, we tend to be more alert and notice all the little things. We struggle to make sense and to make connections, to build structure and understanding.

When we feel that we know something well, it is in danger of becoming habitual and we just go through the motions. We stop noticing things and become unconnected and unfocused.

But when something is new and unfamiliar we tend to be more in the moment, we can make new links and develop new understandings. Not nailing things down too soon and staying open (because we’re not quite sure where we are) means we are far more receptive.

nothing is certain

If it were, you wouldn’t discover anything new or find other ways of doing things. You wouldn’t bother getting out of bed because you would know exactly what the day held in store for you.

“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Voltaire.

If you do not embrace uncertainty and confusion you will be in for a difficult time. You can’t control the process or the future so you will be frustrated. If you think things are certain, then you automatically close off all those possibilities that you can’t (yet) conceive of.

leave the comfort zone

My job is to confuse people, to take them outside of their comfort zone, to get them to live in that weird space of not knowing. People are more alert when wrong-footed.

When we are being creative and artistic we have to step outside the everyday, familiar, predictable world into a different space where anything and everything is possible.

I like to play with that eggy moment in a room full of strangers before a workshop starts. Often I behave as if I am just another punter and chat with people to find out why they’re there. I may not reveal that I am the ‘leader’ for some time.

When teaching I may move the chairs around to unfamiliar places, or group people in an unexpected part of the room, or start the session with a strange and different warm up, or take people outside into the street. Anything to upset the daily routine.

For people who aren’t familiar with the Natural Voice approach, they may find the warm ups we do (very physical, playful, lots of visual imagery, non-technical) very weird.

All this weirdness and unexpectedness and confusion can make people feel very uncomfortable, so it’s important that we put people at ease. One way is to use humour. Another is to emphasise that everyone is being as silly as everyone else – we’re all in the same boat (the ‘leader’ should always join in and be as daft as everyone else).

celebrate the uniqueness of the moment

There is only ever one time before you hear a song or see a play or watch a film for the first time. You can never repeat that.

Similarly, there is only that one time when you are in a room full of strangers not knowing what’s going to happen next. So celebrate it, embrace it, use it to the full. It’s a special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Do you struggle with being in a state of not-knowing or do you embrace it fully? Do you find uncertainty and confusion useful tools? Do drop by and leave a comment and share your experiences.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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