Does systems thinking apply to the creative process?

According to TutorialsPoint, “Analysis is the process of breaking down a big single entity into multiple fragments. It is a deduction where a bigger concept is broken down to smaller ones. This breaking down into smaller fragments is necessary for improved understanding.”

Synthesis, on the other hand “refers to the process of combining the fragmented parts into an aggregated whole.”

Taking an analytical approach to music can be super helpful. It has allowed me to dig into little pieces of the musical puzzle and look very closely at them. But after some level of mastery is achieved over the individual components, the greater task is to put it all together. This is the goal of systems thinking – to synthesize the parts into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

I remember pretty clearly the process of recording this little piano piece I had written for my brother’s gaming tutorial video. Since the piece wasn’t super easy to remember or play all in one sitting, I had thought I would just go through a couple measures at a time and record them until I got them perfect, then string them all together for the finished song. Being that I recorded with a midi keyboard and could literally drag the notes where they needed to go if I missed a key, I didn’t think it would be a problem.

I was wrong.

No matter how good I got the individual pieces to sound, something just didn’t feel right.

I played it back to my wife for feedback to a lukewarm response. The dynamics were off, she told me.

Now I could hear it too; the sound and dynamics jumped wildly back and forth through the transitions. One part would be really intense, then the next part would be super soft.

I tried manually adjusting the dynamics and volume on the computer, but it still kept coming out sounding disjointed.

Begrudgingly, I went back and determined in my head how the dynamics of each part needed to sound, then recorded everything again one piece at a time.

The whole process took forever, but I finished with something I was ready to show my wife again at around midnight. I watched her closely this time as she listened through my studio headphones. I looked into her eyes as she turned around, careful not to pressure her one way or the other, and I knew without her saying a word. No glow in her eyes, no tears, no unforced smile. She was polite, but I knew. (This is just my personal standard, but if I show my music to my friends and family and it doesn’t give them chills or make them cry, the song isn’t done yet.)

Finally, I gave in. I would just man up, learn the piece by heart, and practice it like a madman for the next week or so until I could get a pretty good performance.

Two weeks later I had this.

It wasn’t until I showed this to my wife that it clicked in my head.

By learning to perform the song as a whole rather than as a collection of parts, the finished product was an order of magnitude better than any of my prior recordings. This wasn’t the best piece I’d ever written, but the end result really was clearly greater than the sum of its parts and something I could be proud of.

Can you think of other examples where systems thinking is applicable to the creative process?

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