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How to Actively Listen to Others

Scott Pierce | 14:34


There's an internet meme that I really like. It's a picture of Miles Davis and there's a quote that's attributed to miles. The quote is, it's not the note you play. That's the wrong note. It's the note you play after that makes that note right or wrong. Now, this being a quote off the internet, I have no idea of Miles Davis ever actually said that. But Herbie Hancock tells a story that I think supports this quote, see Herbie played in miles his band back in the early 60s. And one night at a gig in Germany. 

They were playing the song so what? And in the middle of a song, HERBIE played the wrong chord. He said it was so bad. He picked his hands up off the keyboards, they put him over his ears. Myles pause for just a breath. And he played this fill of notes that made that chord right. And I liked the story even better than the quote because it illustrates the relationship between Herbie and miles in between miles in the music. See, HERBIE was really, really young just starting out his career. 

Miles was well established Miles was already a legend. Miles could have done anything he wanted to do. He could have stopped the performance, said hey, take it from the top, let's get it right this time. Could have humiliated Herbie maybe even wrecked his early early budding career. Miles didn't do that. Miles could have just kept playing the song as it was supposed to be played. As miles had written the song to be played. But the audience knew something was wrong. The band certainly did. Miles didn't do that. Miles took what Herbie played not as a mistake, but as an opportunity to create something new and different. And that is the mark of a master of improvisation. 

We all improvise all of you. Every day. None of us wake up with a script each day that tells us exactly what we're going to say exactly what we're going to do, who we're going to meet where we're going to go. And yet, every day, my brain tries to write that script constantly. And I do improv. I've been doing live improv performances since 2011. I got my start, I went to a workshop, and we did these games and exercises. And I had a blast and I thought if I could learn how to do improv, then I could be funny. I was quickly disabused of this notion. See, improv is not about being funny. Improv is about listening.

It's about being present. It's about accepting. And if I can do these things, if I can listen, be present and accept, then I can help my scene partner, create a scene and that scene will be funny, usually. Now, there are rules to improv. How weird is that? How can there be rules to something you just make up on the fly? But there are, don't deny. Make your scene partner look good. Avoid asking questions. Use details. 

Create a physical environment and play within it. And for God's sake, don't try to be funny. Now, I'm not up here to give you a class in improvisational acting, although I recommend you take one. I'm here to talk about the first rule of improv. Yes. And so yes, and is the core of improv and at its most basic, it means that as an improviser, my job is to Yes, agree to what was just said or done on stage then and add more information to the scene. For instance, it's grandma's 97th birthday this weekend.

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