As musicians, we tend to gravitate to the music that moves us the most. Though we may change our tastes as we grow and gain experience, whatever we learn will stick to us for the rest of our lives. Moreover, what we learn and gain exposure to is part of our development. The phases we go through builds our style. In order to have a musical style, you must develop a solid musical vocabulary. Read the tips below for some ideas to help develop or refine this area.
1.) Keep a log of what you like to hear. This could be repertoire from a favorite artist, a TV jingle, a ringtone, or something else.
2.) Transcribe small fragments. Keep a list of all you want to transcribe and work on this in your practice session.
3.) Permutate ideas from transcription. Find as many variations as possible.
4.) Find multiple usages for one transcribed fragment. i.e: see how your fragment works over different chords.
5.) Stylize and make what you transcribe your own. This is an important step to take so that you don’t end up becoming a copy cat. It’s okay for people to hear your influences, yet you do not want to become Miles Davis, the sequel.
6.) Compose music. Learn from what you write. This is one of the best ways to develop your personal style.
7.) Experiment with your ideas at jam sessions.
8.) Record yourself at sessions and gigs. This is important to do from time to time because of the way the ear and brain function. Have you ever realized that how you think you sound during a performance sounds much different from listening back on tape? This is because it’s physically impossible to analyze and hear what you perform at the same time. Analyzing will interrupt a natural musical flow. Although the ear can hear many ways, it can only hear one way at a time. Take for instance a symphonic work by Brahms. Every time I listen, something new pops out to my ear. It’s equivalent to how different elements will pop out in a painting by looking at it over and over.
9.) Expand your horizons. Play with as many people and genres as possible. Learn from your peers. Besides composing, this is another great way and easier way to naturally develop your own style.
10.) Listen, listen and listen! Personally, I found that I began to phrase a certain way a few years back. I remember phrasing this way after a jam session. I thought to myself, “I sure didn’t transcribe that, how did I do that?” Then I realized: I internalized the phrasing by listening over and over to a favorite record of mine. See? I didn’t even transcribe a note and I changed the way I phrased by absorbing what I heard in my car stereo.
I’m continuing to find that these methods work the best in my continuous development as a musician. Some fringe benefits include: ear training, better analytical skills and becoming your own musician. Sure method books will help develop a foundation, but many people will reiterate verbatim from the book. Instead musicians should concentrate on offering something unique to their field. After all, you may evolve from being a stylist to becoming an innovator. That would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?