Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Carmen Rothwell


play what you like/like what you play

I will be presenting several solo pieces this Sunday. My aim with these pieces is simply that I want to play what I like and like what I play.

As simple as that goal sounds, I find that I often have difficulty with it. I find myself getting distracted by various other things about my music (is it “in” enough, is it “out” enough, is it appropriate, is it “interesting” in terms of form, timbres, harmonies, melodies, etc.), and soon get frustrated with the material that I generate, unable to hear the potential in my ideas and certainly unable to like many of them. While I think that some of those attributes (and many more) are definitely worth exploring in a rigorous way, I ultimately want to make music that I love. If I let go of worrying about those attributes when improvising, I can open myself up to different possibilities, and end up playing things that I wouldn’t have come up with if I had been so concerned with making a theoretically “good” piece.

When I set an intention to play what I like, in most any setting, a shift happens in my thinking. I don’t need to impress anyone, I don’t need to make a perfect piece, I don’t need to feel self conscious… I don’t need to do anything really. I think I usually end up using more space because of this realization.

Setting an intention to like what I play is especially helpful in situations where I’m already dissatisfied with my playing. I can then play pretty much anything and decide to like it! Or, at least find something about it to like. I can decide to see it through even if I’ve never really liked that particular thing before. This is what ends up expanding the types of material that I generate.

I find these thoughts to be helpful not only in solo playing, but also when applied to other people I might be playing with. If I can shift my ears to hear the group as a whole, I can find something that I like and lean into that sound. If I feel uncomfortable for some reason playing with a group, the decision to like what I hear/play can be extremely helpful in getting me out of my negative space, although this is sometimes quite difficult for me.

I hope that some people find these thoughts to be helpful in their own endeavors, musical and otherwise. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing you all make music that you like at Racer.