Sunday, July 07, 2013

Dots and Music and Life

I need to make a follow-up post about Dots. Yesterday I noticed that playing Dots seemed to help me to endure the hot flashes that take over my life and dampen my spirits (as well as my clothes), but today, now that I have a high score of 375 and understand how to use the tools of the game, the sweat on my fingers becomes annoying and slows me down. So much for a cure. I'll just have to endure, and know that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when I will once again have a thermal system that I can count on.

I have learned some interesting things from playing Dots and how it relates to life and music. Each game is a minute long, and some minutes are more productive than others. Some minutes are definitely more pleasurable than other. Some minutes seem to last a long time, and some minutes seem to last a very short time. Dots offers opportunities from the random configurations of dots that populate the game board, and it is up to me (or you) to take advantage of the "squares" that form. As in life, missed opportunities abound. In Life and in Dots, you see them in retrospect. In Dots you can use tools to eliminate dots from the board ("paid" for by the dots you earn by playing), thus engineering the coveted "squares" to appear. In Life you can set up situations so that they can be advantageous for you, and you "pay" for it by using the "capital" of experience or actual money (that you make by doing actual work, unless you live off royalties, an inheritance, or on investments).

A minute-long game of Dots is like a little life. It begins, flourishes or fails, and then ends. In Music you also work with "lives." Every time you play a piece of music you give it a life. Every time you play a passage, you give it life. When you do it in private, it is a private life; and when you do it in public it is a public life. When you play by yourself, everything that happens is up to you, and when you play with others, everything that happens is a shared responsibility (even when the other person doesn't seem to be listening or engaged). Music also offers the same random opportunities that Dots offers. A passage of Bach, for example, can often be played in many different ways, and each phrase causes changes in the phrases that follow it. I doubt that even the most mechanical of human players can play a movement of solo Bach exactly the same way twice. And anyway, who would want to?

Can playing Dots make a person a better musician? I suppose that has to do with what "better" means. Playing Dots is not a substitute for practicing. I do think that playing Dots can help with sight-reading though, because sight-reading involves observing patterns and playing notes in their proper horizontal and vertical order at a reasonable rate of speed. I think that playing Dots has helped me with sight-reading when I play the piano.

There is a rhythmic flow to Dots when a game goes well, and if you take too much time to enjoy the multitude of visual and aural rewards you get, the game loses momentum and you don't get as high a score you would get if you simply enjoy the ride. The rhythmic aspect of music is obvious, since rhythm is one of the building blocks of music.

Organizing music into long phrases is also kind of similar. So often we musicians look at the trees when we really should be looking at the forest itself. Sometimes, in order to make the real music happen, we need to let the trees take care of themselves (though we need to have everything technical under control before we can step back).

There are people who play Dots competitively. There are people who live Life competitively. There are people who play Music competitively.

There are people who play games for the fun of playing. There are people who live life for the fun of participating. There are people who play music for the same reasons they participate in the game of Life.

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