Developing Your Inner Guitar Star
What is it about Eric Clapton that makes him so recognisable as a guitar star? When you hear Slash shred through a solo, how can you instantly know it’s Slash? Why does Jimi Hendrix almost always come top of polls as a great guitar star? The simplest way to answer this is down to their musical identity.
What is your musical identity?
You musical identity is something which is intrinsically linked to your own personality. When you meet someone for the first time you will invariably make a generalised judgement on their personality. For example you might meet someone and think they’re shy and quiet. Alternatively you may feel someone is extrovert and the life of the party. You will also notice that the more you meet someone, the more intricacies you notice about them.
This is the same idea when it comes to a musical identity. Often a unique personal identity will come out in someone’s playing. For example a very chatty and friendly person may perform their solos and melodies in a very busy manner. And a slightly more socially awkward and angular person might choose notes and chords which are quite dissonant and tense. Wayne Krantz comes to mind when thinking about the latter musical identity. It didn’t surprise me when seeing him live that he’s quite an odd character.
How do you develop a musical identity?
The key to developing an authentic musical identity is hidden in the subtleties of the way you play. Let me say that your musical identity will morph, change and develop through time much like your personality. But for me one of the best ways to develop a musical identity is to refine the way you listen to music. There is a famous saying which is ‘First you must imitate and then you can innovate‘. If you take this literally as a musician then you’ll be listening and copying musicians and music you like. This notion keeps you connected always to the reason you love music. By copying your heroes you will start to pick up their natural characteristics.
In a guitar sense that might show in the way you phrase your melodies or the tone of your playing. Some times a recognisable part of your playing is something as subtle as your vibrato. Jonny Lang comes to mind when thinking of a memorable vibrato. That guy is one cool guitar star.
Listen, listen and listen again
If subtlety is the real difference between two musicians then for me a truly great musician is someone who knows what to listen for. There are so many elements going on throughout a song – melody, harmony, rhythm, texture etc. If you listen to a song once you may pick up the odd melody or chord progression. You may even be able to play the whole song after one listen…fabulous. But you didn’t hear the song. To absorb the nuances of track or a solo you’ve gotta hear it over and over again. You need to focus in on different musical elements every time you hear the track. So you might just concentrate on a guitar player’s tone the first time. Then you might listen for their phrasing. After that you’ll listen for their note choices etc. If you break it down in this way you will notice these elements creep into your own playing very quickly.
Find your musical identity
You may come to the end of this blog and think…hmm ‘I still don’t really know what a musical identity is or how to develop one’. But if you take anything from this message it’s to improve the way you listen to music. If you need any help developing your musical identity (on guitar) or have aspirations to become a true guitar star then feel free to get in touch. I’d love to help point you in the right direction.