Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding your own musical voice

At some stage of your development you might start to think about how you want to sound as a guitarist and what sounds and techniques you enjoy and want to focus on. Most players start off wanting to sound like somebody else (eg: want to sound like Steve Vai, or Jimi Hendrix or Slash, etc.). But eventually some players decide that they don’t want to sound like somebody else, instead they want to have their own unique sound that everybody can recognize is their own. In this lesson I will explain a way you can try to discover your own sound and how to develop it.

What Gives A Player Their Sound?
Have you ever noticed when a famous guitarist covers a song by somebody else that the guitar playing can sound completely different even know it’s the same part? When you hear a recording of Jimi Hendrix, you will probably straight away recognize it as Hendrix even if you don’t know the song. This isn’t just because of the guitar and amp he used, but also because of the chords and note choices, the way he played certain techniques and which techniques he didn’t use. This is the same when you hear Slash play a melody or solo or any other unique sounding guitarist. It isn’t just the Les Paul and the Marshall that gives the sound, but everything else combined.

Listen To Your Playing Now
Record yourself improvising and playing whatever you normally play. Listen to the recording and try to hear your own unique qualities. You may notice that you palm mute a lot of single notes when playing a run and like how it sounds or you may do a lot of soft legato. You may notice that you pick the notes really hard which gives a rapid fire sound. Just listen and write down everything you like and don’t like about how you sound now. You may like the way you play legato runs but notice that you don’t like the sound of the pinch harmonics you play. Record yourself improvising as much as you can and come up with a list of things you do you want to develop and things you do that you don’t like and want to stop. Just take a piece of paper with two columns – likes and dislikes. The more you can fill this list the better.
Many people don’t like to criticize their own playing this way but if you want to improve as a player it’s better to criticize your own playing then listen to somebody else criticize it for you!

What Do You Want To Sound Like?
After you listen to your playing and discover what you like about it and more importantly – what you don’t like about it, you can think about what you want to sound like. What type of guitarist do you want to become and what would you want to be known for if you were to become famous? Some people may say they want to be a super fast – sweep picking demon or they want to be known for ultra-heavy riffs and accurate picking. Whatever you come up with write it down. Now think of what you need to do to get there and where you’re at now.
Let’s say you ambition is to be known as a really fast sweep picker, but when you listen to your playing you realize that although you’re already really fast and accurate, it sounds like every other sweep picker you hear. This is when you need to look at how you can develop your playing to sound different to the thousands of other sweep picker experts out there. There are plenty of ways you can do this. You can try finding arpeggio shapes that you’ve never seen anybody else use or use an exotic scale that makes it hard to find decent shapes to sweep across. The idea is to try something you haven’t been doing. For example Yngwie Malmsteen is well known to love using the Harmonic Minor scale. It gives his playing a certain sound. Maybe you love the sound of the Spanish scale or the Oriental scale and that can be your specialty. Try as many different ideas as you can and again record them. Listen to the ideas and find the ideas you like and want to include in your sound.
The basic idea is to listen to how you sound now and figure out what ingredients (scales, chords, techniques, equipment) you need to get the sound you want. This may sound obvious but not many people actually do it. Try to come up with a list of ideas you can include in your playing that will improve your sound.

The End Result?
After all this you should have a very detailed list of things you want to include or keep in your playing as well as things you don’t want in your playing. From here the task is simple: work to develop your list of ‘wants’ and eliminate your list of ‘don’t wants’ from your playing. This may sound tedious, but if you are working towards a sound you like better than you have now, you will definitely enjoy it. You will develop into a unique sounding guitarist regardless if you follow this advice or not, but following these tips will speed up the process and will hopefully help you become the player you want to be sooner. If you work at all these suggestions above, I guarantee you will develop a unique sound and people will start to recognize when you are playing rather than ‘just another guitarist’.


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