Articles, Education

The Value of Restriction (part 1)

 September 9, 2016

By  alswainger

​It's become accepted wisdom that more is better, and where more isn't appropriate then new is better. Advertising depends heavily on it. The less restrictions we have in our lives the more choice we have and that's a good thing. But is that really true?

I've just cancelled a subscription to Sky. Leaving aside the arguments as to who profits from it and their moral dubiousness the service was good. Lots of channels, live pause, the ability to record a huge amount of stuff and even download more stuff that I might have forgotten to record and store.

I not only had access to Sky but Netflix too and all the DVDs I've bought over the years. I should be spectacularly entertained and well informed 24/7.

The reality is that I usually only watch things once, possibly not at all. It takes advantage of my constant craving for novelty - to which I'm a willing and enthusiastic victim. Why watch things again when there's probably something better around the corner that I haven't yet seen? If I don't have time to watch it now then I can store it and abate the worry that I might miss out on the greatest thing I'll ever watch. Once I've done that though the novelty craving kicks in again and I'm onto new things. Which I may or may not get around to...

Admittedly, as I get older I'm better at spotting patterns and digesting things quickly. I don't necessarily need to watch series or films over and over again to enjoy them.  But in part that is down to having had restrictions in the past. Before the whole multi-channel, infinite storage capabilities became the norm I used to watch the videos and DVDs that I'd bought. I couldn't afford as many and so I would watch and re-watch them because I had less facility to endlessly obtain new things. As a result I know the setup and punch line to pretty much every joke on Friends & Seinfeld. I know every nerdy film and TV reference from Spaced and can sing along with the scores from Excalibur, Brazil & Jesus Christ Superstar.

Now that I can fast forward to the action in everything I've recorded I never need to watch another advert. But I also don't know the theme tunes, any of the character's names or the names of the actors that play them. In the past I could have told you all of that and sung along quite happily. I'm saving relatively little time but losing a lot of information in the wake of convenience too. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe I'm able to make people laugh because I learned something from watching the same jokes being set up over and again. Maybe I learned something about dramatic potential and emotional effect from hearing the same pieces of music over and again that feeds into my own compositions...

My friend Kimwei recently posted a vlog on the value of restricting herself to just one guitar. She made a deliberate choice to avoid 'aquisition syndrome' as she refers to it. Too much variety too quickly interfered with what she really wanted to focus on.

My own experience was similar, although not a conscious decision, and I appreciate it in retrospect.

I had the same electric 4-string for about 25 years before I started getting other types of bass (fretless and more recently a 6-string). I'm never as comfortable playing other people's instruments because the dimensions are not the same. Neck width, depth, string distance, pickup placement, string gauge, string type etc all make a subtle but enormous difference. Familiarity or lack of it are a really important consideration in our ability to be able to totally focus on the music or risk being taken out of it by mechanical considerations. As I've added new instruments (including double bass) I've had to approach each one as a 'new' instrument. Learning afresh all the mechanical elements to be able to interact with them fluidly. The upside is that I have a lot more tonal versatility as a result. Because of the clear aural differences I've also been encouraged to spend long periods of time with them. This is probably easier because it's a form of adapting from a really strong initial place though rather than creating confusion by trying to learn several different but similar instruments simultaneously.

So what I'm saying is that it's best not to have too much variety all at once and focus on a small number of things to get the most out of them...? Well, sort of...

See you for part 2!


​Al has performed, recorded and taught all over the country and internationally for more than 25 years.

Highlights include sessions, tours and workshops with :

Peter King, Grice, Paul Jones, P.P. Arnold, Scott Hamilton, Siobhan McCrudden, Gary Bamford, Gilad Atzmon, Mike Outram, Alan Barnes, Ant Law and many more as well as h​is own projects :

Pointless Beauty, Biophosmos, Snow Giants and Mahatmosphere.

As an educator he has taught for schools, colleges and privately for more than 25 years and has a BA (Hons) / PGCE in Music.

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