Nick Kushner is a guitarist/bassist/keyboardist/singer who composes rock, jazz, classical and new age music. Most of my compositions are short guitar instrumentals that I put bass, drums and keyboard parts to. Sometimes I add vocals. But lately, I have been composing many soundtrack compositions. I play a 2012 Carvin CT6, 1974 Fender Strat, 1990 Gibson ES-335, Takamine acoustic, Sigma Martin Classical guitar and a Fender Precision Bass. Drums and keyboard parts are added from Sonar 8.5. I have played in over 10 bands and have performed all over Boston. I am currently gigging with my original funk band The B+ in the Boston area (as of 2022). I hope you enjoy the music!
How I started in music
I started my music career at the age of 7 (1968)in Southern Calif. by begging my parents for a piano. I got lucky and my parents bought me a cheap spinet and signed me up for lessons. My goal was to play Elton John and Beatles music, but my teacher got me doing classical music, scales, technique. I took lessons for 4 years until I was 11 years. My father went bankrupt in the real estate business and we had to sell everything including the piano. We ended up moving to PR. The apartment was too small for a piano, so my father suggested the piano accordion. I reluctantly complied and took lessons for 4 years playing polkas, mazurkas and some Barry Manilow music. Then, at the age of 15, I got into rock and joined a band. I quickly realized that Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water did not sound right with the accordion, and I quickly took up the bass guitar by ear. My musical training made rock seem easy and I really took off. I also picked up the guitar and soon began creating music. The rest is history.
When growing up in Calif in the 60's and early 70's, I listened to easy listening music like Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts, Close to You by The Carpenter's, My Cherie Amour by Stevie Wonder and Yesterday by the Beatles.
When I moved to PR at the age of 12 in 1973, I was later corrupted by high school friends and began listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Tull, Stones and Yes.
While in college, I listened to the Clash, Dead, Talking Heads and The Cars.
After college, I really became interested in jazz (Parker, Coltrane, Davis) and more classical music.
My music has been influenced by the above artists.
The Creative Process Part 1
The Creative Process
By Nick Kushner
It is very difficult to describe the creative process when it comes to making new music. Creativity is something that can not be willed. Whenever I want to create a catchy idea, it never comes. But it will come the more you play your instrument. But how does it come?
A basic understanding of the instrument is usually needed before you can create cool riffs or composition on the guitar. You start out learning scales, chords, patterns. Once you learn your way around the instrument, you need to be very playful and willing to experiment by making changes in the rhythm and choice of notes. You can not be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are actually often the fruit for new ideas. Once in a while, by chance, riffs or melodies appear. But they only appear if your ear can recognize that these riffs or melodies have merit.
This brings up the subject of the ear. The ability to keep pitch while singing is a very important tool for writing music. During the first 8 years of my piano/accordion playing, I never tried to pick out notes from a record. But when I picked up the guitar at age 15, I had the ability to pick out the notes from tunes and find them very quickly on the guitar. While playing piano, I never realized that I had that skill. I imagine that my keyboard training and my singing in the school choir helped to develop my ear. The years the I spent picking out notes and chords from records also allowed me to recognize basic chords (open D, A, G and E) someone was playing just by listening. By listening to certain tunes over and over again, I could actually remember the sound of the chord. One of my favorite compositions was Tchaikovsky's violin concerto in D. My grandpa used to play it over and over when I was a kid. When I want to sing a D note without the aid of any instrument, I just remember how the concerto starts and I can produce a D note. This is a form of perfect pitch.
Once I stumble upon something cool, the idea begs to be developed. My ear wants the idea to go in certain areas. It is much easier to develop an idea than to pull one right out of the air because a defined idea has potential. The potential is inherent in the idea. For example, once you create a blues riff, you can easily modulate it a fourth interval up.
Exposure to new sounds and effects does wonders for the creative process. A wah wah pedal or delay box has inspired many compositions for me. Even by lowering the treble on my guitar to 1 or 2 and selecting different pick ups has inspired me.
After listening to Stanley Jordan, I began experimenting with different tapping techniques and wrote several tunes.
Listening to bebop jazz inspired me to write many jazz songs.
Being in new environments is good for creativity. I wrote Jimi in San Diego on a beach in La Jolla while visiting my ex-boss. I wrote Bob's Basement in my friend's basement.
I usually create music while playing an instrument. But I have written several tunes in my head. In order to do this, you need to be able to keep pitch in your head. You also need a good memory until you can get to a recorder or write it out.
The Creative Process Part 2
Speaking of memory, if I don't record an idea, I usually forget it. I have created so many excellent ideas, usually during jam sessions that are now gone with the wind. Thank God for recording devices. My musical notation skills are OK. But I can't imagine having to notate all my ideas on paper in order to remember them. But if I were forced to do it, I imagine that I could get much better at it. If I record something and don't think about it for 6 months, all I need to do is just listen to the recording and I can figure it out how I did it. But when I write complex chords or fast passages, it really helps to notate the tablature. For guitar, there are several ways of playing the same note, so it helps to know which fret and string were used.
It used to be that if an idea popped into my mind, I felt compelled to develop it and record it. I couldn't bear the thought of losing that great idea forever. But in the 80's, I was so creative that it felt like a curse. I used to dream of the day when I wouldn't have so many ideas. Then I could be more normal and do the things less creative people do. Now that time has come and I look back at those times with fondness. The good thing is that I recorded many un-developed ideas for a friggin lifetime. I recently have been developing several ideas I recorded in 1980. The development process has been tons of fun for me. I have been using many new keyboard sounds that I didn't have access to in 1980. All this development and recording has led to some new tunes. Playing leads to creating for me.
One of my shortcomings is that I'm always in a rush to finish a tune. I do not have much patience for re-writing. I was once forced to not "finish a tune". It was "Three Months to Freedom". At the time, my family was living with my in-laws in between houses and I had the recording equipment packed in a storage facility. This forced me to spend a lot of time with this tune. I ended up developing the idea much more than I normally would.
One thing that really promotes creativity is taking a long break and then going back to it. When things feel fresh, the creative juices flow.
Improvising great solos relies a lot on creativity. The key is to listen to what is going on and feeling the music. The rhythms of other players (especially drummers), can really influence the solo.
I feel like the creative fire burns brightest in the teens and twenties. I was most prolific during this time. I feel like I reached my creative peak in 1987 (age of 25), judging by the number and quality of the new ideas. As I reached my 30's, the frequency of new ideas declined. This also applies to many of the great writers: Paul McCartney, Elton John, Jimmy Page and Stevie Wonder. Why is this the case? I think that it is related to finding yourself, not being settled. From personal experience, creativity coincided with periods of deep turmoil. Soon after my Mom died (when I was 14), I wrote my first compositions. In 1987, I was experiencing severe anxiety related to a breakdown in college.
I believe that creativity is a defense mechanism to distract you from your troubles. It creates an escape so less time is focused on trouble. Take away the trouble and the creativity declines. Once I got married at the age of 32, my creativity declined. But I also spent less time playing so I had fewer opportunities to create. It's hard to know exactly why.
With all my creativity, I feel like I have not made any real ground breaking discoveries in music. I have added to the areas of rock, pop, jazz and blues. I don't think that I have established any new ways of playing. Ravel and Stravinsky created new types of music. Hendrix and Van Halen did things that no other guitarist did before. But at least I made new melodies and riffs and compositions that were my own and were enjoyed by others. For this, I am proud and grateful.