Please tell me that you listen to other artists, bands, and have different genres as a well rounded musician. Don’t just build a bunch of rules for yourself. Be open, be influenced. -dbone
Musically Speaking: Creativity without Influences
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JJ Rocks Article # 202: Creativity without Influences
As I write this article I’m reminded of the song by the band The Who that says’ “who are you… are you… are you… I really want to know”. And when you think about it, that’s a very good question. When you pick up your instrument to play, do you know who you really are? Do you only represent a collection of your favorite musical artist, or are you really in there somewhere? And I’m not talking about when you are writing your own material. Finding yourself within creative compositions is only one aspect of musical originality. Arranging and performing it is another story.
Now there are many articles on being original, but they seem to separate musical invention, and musical education. But in fact, these elements are like two kids on their first date who want nothing more than to hold hands and embrace their differences. And in most cases, they cannot survive without each other. This is an example of a musical Yin Yang balance between who you are, and where you came from. The licks you learn may be the licks you earn, but without personal interpretation and intervallic intervention, you are noting more than an instrumental version of karaoke.
I have heard musicians proclaim “I don’t listen to anybody. I only do my own stuff”. Well I guess they are different than anyone that I have known or read about because most musicians (and other creative people) always talk about their influences. Now of course everyone does not express themselves in the same amount of originality, but in my opinion, it’s the attempt that counts. That’s all that separates the talkers from the walkers, or should I say, the stealers from dealers.
So as you learn things in life that you want to use to construct an example of yourself, just remember that you can be more than just what you eat, you can be a result of endless hours of contemplating on what it was that you consumed, and how you are going to digest it. So musically speaking, it’s very hard to be creative on an empty stomach. That’s why I always listen to someone that I love before I play my guitar and try to be creative.
At first I thought it was a bad idea because I was afraid that I would write something like the artist I was just listening to. But after awhile I realized that I should just be feeding off of their impressions and musical auras. In other words, if I wanted to write a heavy rock song, I wouldn’t listen to Joni Mitchell before trying to write in a genre that portrays an image of an arena full of head bangers. If you wanted to write about the snow, you shouldn’t go to the beach. I think you get what I mean.
The same approach is applied when I just want to play my guitar. If I’m going to a blues jam I wouldn’t listen to classical music on the way. But on the other hand, if I was listening to Eric Clapton, I would try to make sure that I didn’t play any of his licks when I got on stage. There is a huge difference between being influenced by someone and trying to be them. Mimicking to learn is essential, but mimicking to win over an audience is disgraceful. Personally, I try to find my own balance with that.
For instance, while playing the song “Hotel California”, I really enjoy paying respect to Joe Walsh’s solo because of its greatness. But I couldn’t finish it without a few choruses of my own ideas. The same would apply to any other solo or intro that writes its own signature. So I guess the best that I can hope for is to be a musician that is trying to be a link in a musical chain of events that connects influences with inspirations. Creativity without influences is like a baby without a mother.
– JJ Rocks, St. Croix, Virgin Islands