Those of you who know me, understand that I like to write articles… a lot. So, I’ve decided to repost all of my old articles (that aren’t site-exclusive) to this blog over the next couple months or so. It’ll be quite a trip down memory lane. Here is one my first, all the way from the ancient year of 2006!
Are You Unique?
By: Kole Hicks
Have you ever asked yourself or been asked by other people questions like these: “What does my music have that really makes it different and unique from anyone else’s?” or “What sets you apart from every other musician out there trying to make a name for themselves?” Well, if you are like me, then you have not only had these questions come up, but put much time and thought into them while trying to prove and understand what really separates you from everyone else.
However, to truly understand what we wish to learn, we must define its true meaning. In this case, Unique is the word we shall try to understand. The dictionary defines ‘unique’ as: “being the only one of its kind: without an equal or equivalent; unparalleled.” This article will go into depth on how to answer and approach these questions, as well as, how someone can help themselves find their own “uniqueness.”
First of all, let it be known that I am not one of those instructors who will downsize the importance of actual technical practice and tell you that all someone ever needs to learn is how to hold the guitar and have a good time. I am a strong believer that the more you learn and know, the greater your playing skills, composition abilities, and distinctiveness are going to be.
1. “How do I know if I am Unique or have my own sound?”
A brilliant musician, and mentor, Tom Hess, once told me that he first found out that he had his unique style when his other guitarist turned to him one day at practice and said, “Wow, you really have something special bro, no one sounds like you.”
Needless to say, when another musician notices that you have your own sound, then that is a definite sign of uniqueness. However, what about all the people who have never had anyone tell them that their sound is “different”? To this question, I say don’t worry.
First off, every single decision you make, or lick you play in life will write a completely unique chapter in the story of your life. No one else can copy that word for word. The hardships you had to go through or the decisions you have made not only form you as a person, but as an expressive musician and will further your creative abilities uniquely.
Next, if one truly worries about how unique or “different” they sound from another musician, then their head is in the wrong place! One must always remember that the true meaning of music is for self-expression. Worrying about somebody else’s’ playing will only hinder your own. I must point out though, that there is a big difference between wanting to learn and evolve as a musician and getting upset at sounding like a certain musician and then changing for that reason. Changing because some of your licks sound like another person’s is what will waste your time and only hinder your growth. Tom Hess, never worried about sounding different from everybody else, he just kept practicing, learning, and playing what he liked until the one day he was told that he had something “special.”
2. “What can I do to help develop my own sound?”
Now that you have learned to not worry if you currently sound cliche’ or not, I have some advice for you that I have learned and use in my own musical experience.
First of all, it is perfectly fine to reach outside of what you would normally play or hear in search of something new and exciting. It is called musical exploration and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to expand their musical mind. Go through many different genres of music, ranging from Hip Hop and Bluegrass to Classical and Metal, and listen to them all closely. Some of these musical genres you may be disgusted with and that is ok, because you have just eliminated a genre that you do not wish to add to your own personal style and have come that much closer to completing your goal of self realization and self-expression.
However, there will also be genres or parts of genres that you wish to play and learn more about. Studying these elements would be highly beneficial to the development of your unique style. Remember, some of the greatest musicians have listened to and been influenced by music that is much different than their own compositions. Steve Vai was first influenced to start playing music by the musical “West Side Story,” and anyone that listens to Vai’s music knows that they both sound completely different. I have found that improvisation within rhythms, progressions, and keys that are not that well known to you, can help develop that ‘unique’ sound for you.
For example, if you are used to and comfortable improvising in a 4/4 blues progression of: A7 – I7, E7 – V7, A7 – I7, then try something completely different than that. Perhaps try a 6/8 Classical progression of: A – I, Bm – ii, D – IV6, E – V, G#dim – vii*6, A – I. (Suggesting you have the technique and theory knowledge to play in this new progression.)
In conclusion, I want you all to remember two things from this article that will be highly beneficial throughout your musical career. Don’t worry about sounding different from someone else, but if you are on the path of self-expression, I advise you to open your mind and listen to music that you would normally never think about.