Simplicity is Key
I believe in simplicity. I believe that it is underutilized and that it is an important element in life and can be applied universally.
A big part of my life is music, and ever since I was 12 years old I have harbored a passion for jazz. As a piano player, a big part of jazz is the solo, and for a long time I thought that a good solo consisted of a lot of notes played very quickly. As I listened to more music I began to try and imitate what I was hearing, and often ended up making a fool of myself. This counterproductive pattern continued until the summer of 2004 when I was playing in a group under the direction of Paul Carlon, a saxophone player from New York City. He gave me a few tips that I always bear in mind: understand what you are playing, make a logical melody that people can remember and, most importantly, make it simple! His words really hit home with me.
A year later my eighth grade music teacher, on the subject of composition, first exposed me to the expression KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid. Some of the best music ever composed is very simple; for example the theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony uses four notes. Further proof of this point is the wild popularity of country music. Country music is more popular than any other style of music in the world. Why? Because its lyrics tell a simple story (usually about prison or a train) and it has a simple two or three chord progression. The longest running television show ever is the original Law and Order (a simple court room drama), the most popular car in 2006 was a Toyota Camry (a simple four door sedan), and the fastest growing spectator sport in the United States is a bunch of cars making left turns really fast.
Simplicity is not only seen in pop culture and media, it also has an everyday application. For example, simplicity is essential to a successful academic life. The best essay often contains an original but simple thesis. High school students often make too many assertions or make their assertions unclear by surrounding them with words that are not necessary. As any teenager will tell you, the most painful mistake on a test is when they simply think too hard about a question.
Another everyday application of simplicity is the way we speak. It is often more practical to use short simple words to communicate rather than using longer harder words, no matter how smart they make you look.
I am not trying to say that everyone must do everything simply, I am trying to say that it is essential to lay a simple groundwork before moving on to complexity. To continue with the language example you rarely hear of a baby who’s first word is affidavit or ubiquitous. Another, perhaps more obvious, example is scientific innovation. It would have been impossible for Johannes Kepler to map out the planets’ orbits without Copernicus first discovering that the planets revolved around the sun.
As a conclusion to my jazz piano allegory, I have now begun playing more complex solos which continue to grow musically. I believe that simplicity is necessary before complexity.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.