Keep it simple, stupid!

You may have heard this expression before. I not only like it, I follow it.

I keep most things simple.

Now, the inspiration for this is I was having a conversation about a certain guitarist who relies too much on effect pedals. I won’t say this guitarist’s name but he’s one I’m sure you know.

For most of my work, I use only guitar and amp. No effects. My amp has distortion and reverb on it. That’s it. It’s a simple tube amp.

When I compose music, I usually compose from a guitar but recently I’ve also been composing from the piano.

I’ll compose band + strings or band + string quartet. Limited if any effects.

Even my Classical music is simple. I’ll often do strings + 2 flutes + 2 clarinets. That’s my favorite combo.

I like what Beethoven did with his 3rd symphony, which is one of my favorite pieces of music ever. I’ll have the 2nd movement of that symphony played at my funeral.

The orchestration was simple – strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, and timpani. I’ll compose whole symphonies someday and that will be my orchestra. That’s it. Not some big ass orchestra with tons of weird shit. Just that.

Even my paintings are simple. Like Bob Ross. When I approach a painting, I don’t bring tons of paints. I only bring a few and mix colors.

L to R – Roxy, Diana, Katie
L to R – Sophia and Allie

I barely used any colors. It seems like a lot of colors but that’s me blending and using varying amounts of water to get all those different colors. But I didn’t use that many different paints. I think between both paintings, I used 7 or 8 different paints.

Now I’m not saying you can’t ever make things complex. There’s a time and place for everything. But if you really want to master your craft, get comfortable with simplicity.

Hector Berlioz, one of my 2 orchestration teachers, noted how Beethoven really focused on the string quartet before he died.

That’s only 4 parts. Yet, Beethoven managed to do so much with only 4 parts. Those final string quartets were so much ahead of their time that fans of Classical music didn’t really start appreciating them until recently.

Anyways, if you’re having an artistic block, try cutting things down. Way down. See what you can do with less.

The best drummer I’ve ever played with has a 6 piece kit.

Oh and something entirely different – this morning my wife and I were in the bookstore and I was browsing thru anatomy books. I noticed the models were normal people.

Yuck! I don’t like seeing normal people naked. I’m very particular about who I want to see naked.

Like for instance, in my drawing class, some of the models are overweight or have ghetto ass tattoos or loose skin from being formerly obese. That’s one of the downsides of taking a public class. I don’t get to select the models. The teacher does.

That’s one reason why my paintings are so beautiful – I only paint beautiful women. I don’t paint normal women. I have very high standards for who I’ll paint.

That’s also why I decided to hire only session musicians for the Opium Tales band.

Keep things simple and keep your standards high.


  1. I’m gonna guess The Edge or Morello. There is a funny scene in It Might Get Loud where Jack White essentially bags on The Edge for using effects.

    1. I think the Edge uses pedals to cover up his lack of musical knowledge. Although I’ll readily admit U2 had some pretty good albums in their early days.

      I’ve always hated Rage but Audioslave has some good songs. But then again, their singer was top notch. It’s a shame he killed himself.

      It was actually Kirk Hammett. I told my friend I wanted to take Kirk’s wah pedal and smash it. He uses it way too much and over the years, he relied on it even more.

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