A Voice

I don't feel like I really have my own "voice," or at least not one that's distinctly unique and my own. I tend to be very attracted to copying different aspects of players I like. Should I make a conscious effort to stop doing this, or perhaps even listening to these players? Jim Hall says he prefers to get his inspiration from painters or writers because when he listens to other musicians he starts sounding like them. I've always thought the way it is usually done is to listen to and copy the greats while one is young and in the developmental stages and then abandon, or rise above that imitation in later years to find one's own voice and style.

Unfortunately, though I've been studying guitar seriously for 17 years now, I still really feel like I'm a relative beginner and that I have so much more to learn and especially skills to aquire that it would be silly to abandon studies of other players' styles. I guess I feel like there should come a time when I can listen to Pat Metheny playing "All the Things You Are," or Clint Strong playing rhythm changes and be able to say: "While I'm not Pat or Clint, I can 1) comprehend the thought process that allowed them to play what they did and 2) have similarly developed skill that would allow me to execute a solo with similar harmonic inventiveness, clarity of ideas, and rhythmic and technical precision." Only then would I feel like it's time to move on and develop my own thing.

But I also at the same time fear that this thinking may be warped. It seems like a lot of people with their own distinctive styles have said that fairly early in their lives they kind of gave up trying to sound like such and such player because they didn't think they could do it. I actually heard John Scofield answer the question of how he came up with his style by saying that he copied other peoples' styles and got them wrong. It almost seems a little like uniqueness through laziness (not to knock Scofield).

In terms of copying, one thing I'd like to mention is that by and large when I get into transcribing and picking apart a particular solo, it's usually because there's stuff in the solo that I can't do technique-wise (especially if it's a guitar player's solo). I've never even once transcribed a Bill Frisell solo, even though he is probably just about my biggest all-around influence lately. I've listened to both his playing and his compositions (several of which I have fairly recently transcribed) and thought "now how did he ever think of that?" It is, however, when I listen to a solo and think "now how did he/she do that?" that I'm usually driven to pick up pencil and paper and slow down the tape and all that.

While I feel like my playing (and writing) has been significantly influenced by Bill Frisell, it's been completely through listening (with the exception of the recent tune transcribing) that the information has rubbed off. Everything has been more subliminal, less literal, more of the "big picture". I don't have any Bill Frisell licks under my fingers (though it's arguable whether he even has any licks.) Interestingly enough, I approached John Scofield's music in much the same way; though I transcribed quite a few of his tunes, I only transcribed one actual solo of his and a few signature licks, and people for a long time accused me of being a Sco clone. (For a time there, I even played an ES-335 through a distortion pedal, octave pedal, and Boss chorus with two amps in stereo -- how much more obvious could I have gotten?) I eventually got so freaked out by all those accusations that I almost completely stopped listening to Sco and made a conscious effort to stop sounding like him in any way. I guess that has a lot to do with my next subject:


A Voice / Technique / Feel / Spreading Myself Too Thin
Sounds / Getting Nervous / Guitar / Introduction

As I mentioned in the introduction, the essay was written several years ago (during the summer of 1996). Since that time I feel like a lot of my questions and frustrations have begun to resolve themselves, almost without any conscious effort on my part. I don't know if it was the influence of Mick Goodrick, what he had to say, or simply the fact that I wrote out all these thoughts and was able to discuss them with someone who had been more or less down the same road already, but soon after my lesson with him I felt like I began to see things a lot more clearly, and really DID stop worrying so much about "when will I find my own voice" or "am I talented/good enough to even be trying to do this music/jazz thing?" When I go back and read the things I wrote I find that the answers to most of the questions I was asking fall somewhere in the middle of the possibilities I speculated about, and that again, time and patience seem to have a way of making everything fall imperceptibly into focus.