5 Ways To Find Your Own Voice As A Guitar Player
It may well be that you have no ambition to pen the next legendary rock guitar anthem or scale the heights of improvisational grandeur, but having something supremely ‘personal’ to say on the instrument is one of the most powerful ways we can take ownership of our playing. There is a virtue in not sounding like everyone else! But how do you begin to craft your own signature sound and drive towards becoming a unique player, regardless of your ambition?
1. Work On Your Vibrato
Vibrato is such an important articulation as it helps bridge the gap between technique and expression, leaving your musical fingerprint on every phrase you play. Think of every legendary guitar player, 9 times out of 10, it’s their vibrato that gives them their signature sound. It’s for this reason alone why you should never take vibrato for granted as a throw away technique. It’s not “just a thing guitar players do;” it’s what makes every guitar player unique. Value it like your life!
2. Don’t Always Strive To Be The Best
We’ve all been there - “I’m going to be greatest, most lightning fast axman in the west.” Whilst we may be being ambitious which surely only seems positive, such an outlook can be detrimental to your individual progression as an overall musician. Remember, just because you can nail that 32nd note, 8 bar sweep picking run, doesn’t necessarily mean that people want to hear it or moreover; you’re ever going to be able to use it in context. Many things we think will sound great, to the average listener often get lost in translation (not everyone speaks the language of shred). Learn to be listenable over being “the best,” it’ll make you a better musician in the long run, whilst helping you confidently express your musical identity.
3. Listen To Other Instruments
Whilst soaking up as many guitar influences as possible is only ever a healthy thing, amalgamating those with the influence from other instrumentalists will propel you on a path of greater understanding of overall instrumentation. Like the sound of that piano part? Learn it! Like the sound of that saxophone line? Learn it! Learning to emulate other instruments will force you to expand your articulations whilst making you approach the guitar in a more fluid manner. We’re pattern orientated creatures through the defaults of our instrument, trying to sound like other instruments will help prevent us getting stuck in those pattern bound ruts!
4. Experiment With Tones
The perfect rig - the never ending quest for the holy tones. Whilst we have to be conscious of spending a small fortune on guitars and gear, it’s imperative that we experiment with different tools to find what works best for us. Getting comfortable can be the first step to becoming a lazy and irresponsible musician. Does your buddy have a Telecaster and you play a Strat? Trade for a week and see how it works for you and if it changes your playing. Saved up some money and you can now afford that pedal you’ve wanted for months? Buy it - if it doesn’t work for you, you can always sell it or trade it for another. The point here is to be constantly searching for ways to improve your overall tone of and approach to the instrument. (Side note: the same applies to string gauge. Find the gauge that works and sounds best for you, not the gauge your favourite player uses)
5. Play with Musicians
Whilst putting in the hours in the work shed might sound great over a backing track, how does it translate in a room full of other musicians? Or more importantly, on a stage of other musicians? Want to get into playing Blues? R&B? Jazz? Neo-Soul? Great! Step one: whatever the genre, find a group of established players and be the worst in the room for a while. This might seem like a negative knock to our confidence but trust me, the glass is half full! You’re going to learn so much more than if you tried it on your own and those musicians are going to make you better. Do this with as many styles as possible and before you know it, you’re well a versed, multifaceted & unique MUSICIAN - not just a guitar player.
Apply these tools to your guitar philosophy and you’re on the way to finding your own signature sound. Whilst we have to take conscious responsibility for our development and goals, remember to always have fun. If it’s starting to feel too much like work, put it down for a day - there’s always tomorrow and a little break can do wonders for creativity. Until next time!