So, You Want to Break Rules?

Overexposure at night on the Oregon Coast – Photo by Dan Steven Erickson

Breaking rules can be frowned upon in our society. You can’t constantly break traffic laws without getting into accidents or getting tickets. If you refuse to pay taxes it might lead to trouble. Breaking the law is not recommended. But what if I told you there are lots of rules you can break without dire consequences?

I have an 18-year-old daughter. She thinks she can do things her way. I remember the days. I did the same things. I drove however I wanted, with or without a license. I thought drinking alcohol was cool and that nobody would care. That’s all good until you get pulled over with open containers and beer breath.

Breaking laws and societal rules can lead to a lot of heartache and trouble. But if you like to be a rebel, there is one place you can break all the rules you want.

So, you want to break the rules.

Go ahead. Break the rules of musical theory. Break the rules of writing verse. Break the rules of color theory. Break the rules of composition.

I stopped trying to fight the system years ago.

A bad system will beat a good person every time. – W. Edwards Deming

Laws and rules of society are generally not made to be broken. You can break them, but you might pay a high price. The rules of art are a completely different matter. Nobody cares if you turn the moon purple or record your voice in slow motion and play it back backward. It’s called creativity.

If you’ve thought about taking up a creative endeavor, you can add another reason to consider it. Creativity allows you to break the rules.

But it’s best to learn them first.

Here’s the part you might not want to hear. You can’t just sit down at a piano with absolutely no musical training and ┬ábang on the keys and expect people to call the result art. That’s not how it works.

If you want to break the rules in your creative ventures, you need to understand them first.

Listen to my work as Anderhill and A Cult of Lies. I compose a lot of weird experimental music. I break a lot of rules of music theory. I incorporate clashing sounds and odd meters into the music. I do things that might be unacceptable by certain standards. But I do all of that already knowing the rules of songwriting and musical composition.

As a poet, I often don’t capitalize and I ignore punctuation in some instances. I steer away from rhyme and meter in much of my poetry. That’s not because I don’t understand proper English or poetics. It’s because I do understand those things, but I don’t believe we always have to follow the rules. I break the rules. Purposefully. It feels good. And it can lead to art that is more creative than the mundane commercial work we see and hear in the world.

There are consequences for breaking rules.

If you speed past a police officer, you’ll probably get a ticket. If you get caught stealing, you could go to jail. There are consequences for breaking rules.

Those consequences are not as severe when it comes to breaking the rules of language and musical theory. There may even be some reward for breaking artistic rules.

The consequences for breaking rules in art are simple. People might not understand what you’re doing. The average person will listen to a short bit of a noise composition and turn it off. You might not gain a large audience as an experimental writer. Abstract art only appeals to a small niche of an audience.

On the other hand, you might find personal satisfaction in trying things that others haven’t. It might make your creative works more original and unique. You could stand out from the crowd and be recognized.

Some great works of music and art became great because rules were broken. Do you think the jazz greats follow music theory all of the time. No. They color outside of the lines. Some great artists become well known because they do break the rules. They’re ┬ábrave enough to try something different.

So, go ahead and break the rules. Just be careful of what rules you break, and understand the rules before you break them. – dse

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Author: Dan Steven Erickson

Dan Steven Erickson is a great undiscovered American songwriter.