Building on what you’ve accomplished can to take you where you want to go.
Finding the balance between respecting and using what you already know while continuing to break new ground as an artist is essential to a good performance and a happy musical journey. Let's break that balance down.
Embracing what you know
It’s critical we use our strengths as musicians. Take the analogy of a hit song. First of all, this is the song the fans want to hear. And secondly, they'd like it to sound at least something like the original. Artists often get sick of those hit songs and try to embellish them to keep things interesting or to show they’re still progressing as an artist. But fans just want that sound they were originally drawn to.
What’s an artist to do? Embrace the recreation and have faith in its original melody and other elements. And if you’ve been lucky enough to have a successful song, using some of its musical DNA in your future work could lead to more success. Our favorite guitar makers are also a great example of faithfully recreating the hits for the fans. The Gibson ES -175, Gretsch 6120 and Fender Stratocaster, are still in production and in demand by guitar players.
This same thing goes for the licks and other ideas we regularly gravitate to in solos. I've learned not to shy away from these things—they’re a natural parts of my style, I usually execute them well, and they just might be the reason people like my playing. By not fighting our tendencies, we create a style. That leads to being prolific, accurate and consistent.
Listen to two masters of their respective genres: Charlie Parker and Stevie Ray Vaughn. They’re both brilliant improvisors unafraid to play the same phrases in nearly every solo. Embracing what you know when composing can be quite rewarding as well. Instead of squashing a song idea because you think it sounds like all of your others, embrace that part and move forward with the song idea. Like him or not, Joe Satriani is good at this. He puts out a steady stream of albums and many of his songs are similar. I don't see Joe suppressing an idea for fear of repeating himself. AC/DC is another good example of this sort of artistic consistency.
This band has never been afraid of repeating themselves. You always know what you’re going to get with AC/DC
Continuing to grow and push the boundaries of your musicianship
We owe this to our fans as much as performing a recognizable version of a hit song. I believe they want new, innovative music, but we have to offer it with taste, continuity and respect for the music and musical identity you’ve already carved out. I recently saw Yngwie Malmsteen in Kansas City, and was deeply inspired by his performance. As much as I was feeling the neoclassical shred from his performance, my jazz gig the following night wasn’t the place to fully express it.
I love the idea of fusing musical genres, and it can often lead to some very innovative stuff. But I also believe we have to put the performance first, not necessarily jumping at every musical whim. You need to respect your band members as well. They may not be feeling your Indian microtonal slide guitar style in the jazz-trio setting. If you’re growing in a direction that doesn’t fit your current band’s sound, consider sitting in with another band or putting a side project together to express yourself. As you grow musically, do it with respect for the music, the musicians you play with, and your current fanbase.
Yngwie Malmsteen giving an inspiring performance in Kansas City - April 2016
Thinking outside the box can pay big dividends. My hybrid jazz guitar picking technique comes from country guitar players and studying banjo rolls. Many of my concepts for improvising come from saxophone players. I get chord voicings and rhythms from piano players. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If we look at musicianship with an open mind, there are learning opportunities everywhere.
Until next time, keep playing!
Read all Guitar Notes posts here.
Visit www.privatereserveguitars.com or contact Derek White directly at 866-926-1923. He can get you the absolute lowest price on your dream guitar. Connect with Private Reserve Guitars on Facebook and Instagram.
Brian Baggett is Video Presenter for Musician’s Friend Private Reserve Guitars. He curates the Private Reserve guitar collection on video, visits guitar factories and works closely with luthiers and signature artists to gain insight into the greatest guitars being built today. He is also a professional guitarist playing several nights a week in the legendary Kansas City jazz scene. A former jazz guitar professor, Brian continues to teach and has a book and DVD titled Keys To Unlocking the Fretboard. Find Brian on Facebook and twitter.