“Knitting” Tunes

Comparing knitting to playing musicIn this article I would like to compare “doing” music to the art of knitting. What? Have I lost my mind?! No. Far from it. If you’ve read even some of my articles on this blog page you will already know that I enjoy looking at music from interesting angles. The angle of this particular article came to me when my sister recently set up a knitting class. Connie is a professor at–

Des Moines Area Community College,

The college has recently built into its schedule a one hour period during every noon hour where no classes are scheduled. The idea is to give the professors, should they choose to use it, an hour each day to schedule a beneficial activity that costs the student nothing but will benefit both student and non student participants in some way. And so Connie set up a beginning knitting class, and the response has been phenomenal! She and I talked about the possible benefits of knitting (beyond the obvious) at length, and we both agreed that an activity like knitting must have, at the very least, meditative benefits. So Connie went looking for support on our theory. She found it at StitchLinks.com. The physiological and emotional benefits of knitting have been studied at length, and this website has posted a most impressive list of the benefits. Here are just a few of the characteristics and benefits as listed on this site—


Bilateral. (Both hands required)











These are just a few of the benefits of knitting. Who’da thunk it! If you go to the website, you’ll find many more benefits.

What’s interesting about knitting is that the benefits and even the general patterns of movement are also present in playing a musical instrument. That’s why I titled this article, “Knitting Tunes.” And that’s why you see a knitting illustration and a ukulele merged in the single illustration at the head of this article. They really do go together in many ways.

Do you sometimes wonder how our forefathers (and foremothers) endured a life without radio, without TV, without computers and tablets and iPods and iTunes and SUVs? And smart phones—where would we be without smart phones?! Our ancestors led repetitive lives. They plowed long furrows behind the pulling power of a horse. They knitted orderly rows of twisted yarn to make socks, sweaters, mittens, hats, scarves. The work was repetitive, but beautiful creations grew out of this automatic repetitive action that produced far more than straight furrows and orderly rows. This is also true when playing an instrument. We play note after note after note in a simple musical language. And yet we use our imagination to come up with new patterns, new compositional configurations to make tunes no one has heard before. Whether it’s plowing a field, or knitting a new design, or picking out a new tune, the benefits of a repetitive activity that calms us down and allows our imaginations to soar are massive.

So how did our ancestors pass their days of endless repetition without going absolutely insane? They passed them quietly with little noise other than the happy noise of socializing with others, no crushing schedules to follow, no traffic jams, no high pressure jobs, no apartment neighbors above you who are playing their TV so loud that you can’t stand one more second of it. Instead, our ancestors walked in sync with the quiet snorting of their horses as the wooden plow blade turned over the soil, they sat hours and hours with the quiet clicking of knitting needles as they imagined a new creation, and they rhythmically strummed and picked folk tunes as they created new words for old tunes, or new words for brand new tunes of their own creation.

How can we possibly be creative while engaging in a repetitive activity? It makes about as much sense as believing that the repetitive ticking of a clock can be a creative experience. That is exactly the point! That repetitive action allows our mind to find a different place, and when we are in this different place we are free to loose our imaginations—to create. This is what happens when we knit, this is what happens when we use repetitive patterns in creative ways to make a quilt, and this is what happens when we play music. The repetitive action and repetitive patterns allows our brain to calm, to find a place of rest so we can just let our imagination find something novel, something valuable, something worthwhile. To demonstrate this principle, listen to my own rendition of Deep River Blues. Click to play it.

 DEEP RIVER BLUES, arranged and played by Dick Claassen, Cordoba tenor uke

Notice the repetitive nature of the tune. It doesn’t sound repetitive unless you pay special attention to it. The repeated parts are scattered throughout a composition, but in a patterned way, giving the tune structure. The creativity isn’t in the repetition: it’s in the composition itself. I didn’t compose this tune. It’s my own tenor ukulele interpretation of it. When I just sit and play, I come up with something new and unique. When you knit or quilt from someone else’s pattern, (someone else’s composition), you will do this within the pattern, using different colored yarns or different quilt colors and shapes just like I use different “colored” blues licks to give my pattern or composition the power to rise up and give us something new and unique. It’s your sweater; it’s my blues. It’s your quilt; it’s my tune. It’s our interpretation. It’s the design in your knitted socks, and it’s my blues licks in Deep River Blues. You can receive this benefit whether you do any repetitive activity, whether you play the guitar, the banjo, the Native American flute, the ukulele, you name it. It’s all there, waiting for you. If you go to the LISTEN tab at the top of the page, you can hear more of my music as well as the music of my good friend Chris Fuqua. We two have done a whole lot of meditatin’ in our lives!

My sister began this knitting class because she likes to knit. She also knew that the Des Moines chapter of the Animal Rescue League had started an initiative where knitting groups in the area are knitting simple squares for homeless kitties to lie on. The class projects are simple squares, but already many students are ready to break out and do more complex projects in addition to their kitty efforts!

In every activity there is benefit. Choose one that fits your interests and stick with it. It will increase your physical and emotional comfort, your well being, and it will lengthen your life. It sure as heck is lengthening mine! 🙂







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