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Guitarist Series: Open Mindedness and Inspiration for the Rock and Roll Musician
Sometimes inspiration comes from the oddest sources. The other day, I sat down to jam on guitar for a little while and thought I'd try something new and a little more progressive. I've been very interested in the work what some might call "progressive guitarists" recently, especially Jeff Beck and Frank Zappa, but that day's inspiration came from some thing entirely unexpected. I'd heard a bit of music played on bagpipes of all instruments, and thought that there was a certain style to bagpipe music that might translate well onto guitar if it could be replicated in a way that didn't sound like complete atonal noise... The verdict is still out as to whether that has been achieved yet...
This idea of looking to other instruments is nothing new to guitarists. Ritchie Blackmore famously cited saxophone solos as inspiration, string bending came out of trying to mimic slide guitar technique and the wah pedal came out of hopes to make the guitar sound more "vocal". Still, I think we guitarists (and other musicians) can get too locked into our own clichÃ©s and styles and can gain something from having a musically open mind, especially in terms of our own playing.
When most guitarists started playing, it often began with feverish attempts to play the riffs, licks and solos of our heroes... often horrifically unsuccessfully at first. Most guitarists get pretty good eventually and start to really be able to play their heroes style well, or even in a blended style of different guitarists, but there is that certain step that needs to be taken to get past our heroes and into our own individual style in our musicianship and I think a big part of taking that step is maintaining an open mind musically and being open to inspiration from whatever odd source it may come from.
This idea of taking ideas from other sources and expanding our guitarist inspiration has been written on a lot, but I still think it's important ti keep in mind for even the most experienced guitarist as it might just help making your playing that much more unique, exciting and fun to play.
Here's some of the ways I try to keep a musical open mind and find inspiration in unlikely sources.
Look to Guitarists Outside Your Genre
This is a pretty simple method but often one overlooked, but often times I find techniques used by players completely outside my genre to be things I can apply to my own music. If you're a metal head, take a look at some jazz guitar, a jazz guitarist, some country pickin', a country player, some shred metal. Often times certain techniques attributed to certain styles can be adapted to other styles to tremendous success. Go watch them play if at all possible, to get a grasp on how exactly they get some of the sounds they're getting as often time you can find entirely new techniques that you wouldn't have expected that make those licks that much easier.
Look to Different Instruments and To Sounds that are Not Instrument Based
I find this concept to be one of the most inspirational for me as there are certain techniques that are used on other instruments that can be applied to guitar and either adjusted or modified to create completely unique effects. I find woodwinds and horns to be specifically inspirational as the amount of soul that one can make on these instruments with only changes in lip pressure is something I find absolutely chilling when skillfully applied to guitar. Don't limit yourselves to traditional instruments though, as everyday items can also provide inspiration from the noises they make. Wasn't Jimi Hendrix trying to imitate bombs and machine guns with all the techniques he used on his rendition of the national anthem and didn't many of the original blues rhythms come from everyday sounds like trains?
Improvise in Complete Darkness
Probably somewhat unexpected if you've never tried it, but playing in the dark can be a great way to enhance your playing as it teaches you to play more by feel than by sight or memorization. By improvising in the dark you can create a sonic landscape and start to visualize a bit more of exactly what the sounds you're creating "look like" and in turn inspire you to push those visualizations further. I find that when improvising in the dark I tend to reach for notes I otherwise might not normally find as they're outside standard scale patterns and licks. These "mistakes" can often have such a great result that you'll find you end up using them more and more in your everyday playing. I also find when improvising in the dark I tend to notice more of the nuances of each individual note and technique. This leads me to sometimes improve my technique to enhance those nuances, or just explore them more thoroughly and see how I can put the emphasis on them. You can also build chords by feel in the dark... it's hard and time consuming, but at the end you know those chords and hopefully how and when to use them based on their sonic characteristics.
Make Completely Obscene Noise on Your Guitar
Probably the most fun method of finding inspiration, just sit down and completely throw out everything you know about niceties in music and just make noise and see if anything interesting happens. Often times by just letting whatever happens naturally we find some hidden techniques within our inspiration that we can refine for our particular use. This is probably how feedback was first discovered and most whammy bar moves so go make some noise and see what happens... oh and make it loud...
As I said, all of these techniques have really been talked to death so I'll leave this short list as just the ones I personally, find most useful, but I still think it's important to reiterate. I also think that this kind of musical open mindedness of finding inspiration from less than likely techniques and sources can and should be applied to other instruments and musical ideas as well as it might just lead to some amazingly expressive and unique music.
With all music, it is far to easy to be close minded, get caught up in the clichÃ©s of our genre, in specific styles or in specific sources of inspiration and end up ignoring all other less obvious sources. This should be avoided at all costs because it only leads to stale, typical playing that lacks individuality and creativity... and those two things are really all music is about.
Without individuality and creativity, music would be boring and I highly doubt so many people... like myself... would be so obsessed with it, so strive to keep an open mind in your music and always looking for new inspiration.