How to Develop Your Own Style - Part 2
(always simple ... not always easy)
by Tom Hess
As you can see in Part 1 of this article series, the concepts behind developing your own musical style are not very complex; they are simple… but not always easy. In Part 1 the main concepts were centered around “you” and the mental side of originality. In Part 2, I’ll share a more specific concept which can yield powerful results.
Some musicians rely heavily on the crutch of their instrument through improvising. While I do know that creating music in this way is perfectly legitimate and can produce good results in some situations, it is the most difficult process in which we can hope to discover our own originality. Why is this so? Because the guitar (or whatever your instrument may be) has been explored in this exact same way by literally millions of people.
Let me give you an analogy, there is a man who wanted to become very wealthy. There was an old gold mine near his home and every day he went to the mine in search of gold. In the years before him, countless numbers of people had already harvested all the gold from the mine. Occasionally the man might accidentally stumble upon a very tiny crumb of scrap gold. Most of his efforts were in vain each time he tried to mine gold there, yet he continued to go there every day without considering that there might be a far simpler way to acquire the wealth he sought. This is how most people attempt to seek their own “style” or “unique musical voice”.
One of the most effective ways to develop your own style is to ask yourself a very simple question: “What do I want to hear next?”
The next time you are creating something musical, ask yourself, “What do I want to hear next?” and not “What can my fingers play next?” or “What should I do next” This is obviously a simple concept... but again, what is simple is not always easy. Most novice musicians find it very difficult to hear music in their heads on a regular basis. And while even many master composers found/find it difficult to imagine an entire piece of music in their minds before playing a single note, they can generally hear what may be coming next once an idea is started.
As an example, a composer like Beethoven often improvised at the piano and developed a phrase and then could imagine or hear the next phrase in his mind (unlike Mozart, Beethoven was not a composer who generally heard his completed compositions in his head before working them out on an instrument. He constantly revised his music).
Asking what you want to hear next is natural. It is instinctive. Most importantly, it is your true-original-self. Instead of trying to recall a new lick you have been learning or some old technique you do well, your mind’s ear (your musical ear) works with your own creativity to make YOUR music. You become liberated from the limitations of your musical abilities (and the limitations of your instrument) and are now in a truly organic creative state. The result will be that you create what you want to create and not what you create by chance, limitation or dependency. It does not matter if what you hear in your mind’s ear sounds totally different than anything you have heard before or if it sounds like something you’ve heard before. It’s important not to confuse “originality” with “being different than everyone else”. (I discuss this concept in much greater detail in this article: Originality (When And How).
Try this: Take a piece of music you wish and improvise a melody or solo over. Listen without the guitar in your hands and imagine what you want to hear yourself play over this music. Develop a simple phrase at first and repeat it in your mind in order to memorize it. Once you have it secure, find the notes on the guitar and play it. You will probably discover that what you create is different from what you normally create when improvising/writing with the guitar – this is the key!
Some may say, “When I try this, I do not hear or imagine anything.” To combat this, (the void of nothingness) improvise by using your voice. Create simple melodic ideas by humming or singing anything at first. This is similar to mental brainstorming when trying to come up with ideas or solutions to other types of challenges or problems. Using your voice will release you from always relying on the crutch of searching for ideas through your fingers. There is a time for “thinking” and a time for “exploring” and a time for both. The goal here is to sharpen the skills of your musical imagination, non-synthetic creativity and your musical ear. The voice can be a very useful gateway in connecting the inner musical self (your creative musical potential) to the outer musical world (the music that you actually make).
Yes, this might take many attempts before any significant results can be seen. Virtually anyone can learn this technique. EVERYONE has musical potential, even people with many forms of mental handicaps do have the potential to do this and many can and do learn to use it, but it takes practice, persistence and perseverance.
Try what I am suggesting here every day for 4 weeks (15-30 minutes per day). You will begin to see results. Sometimes it’s easier to think in small chunks so work with 3-5 note phrases, then build from there.
Sometimes I hear people say, “Okay, I’ve done what you said and I can hear the ideas in my mind now (even without using my voice), but I can’t get what is in my head onto the guitar”. In these cases the problem usually exists from a lack of other (outward) musical skills such as solid Aural Skills, a real understanding of music theory or physical guitar technique skills. The fastest way to acquire these skills is to find a teacher to help you through them in the most effective ways.
For related articles by Tom Hess:
How to become a better guitarist every time you pick up your guitar - accelerate your guitar playing.