Making It Your Own

Back in the early days of recorded music and electric guitar, aspiring guitarists would have to spend hours figuring out albums by ear. Slowing down the record with your finger, learning the riff an octave down or in a different key because of the pitch change, then working it out in the original key. Some licks and riffs figured out may not have been transcribed 100% accurately, but the aspiring player would have picked up something cool. There would be a very strong connection between what they hear and what they play on the guitar. Many of our classic guitar hero’s learnt this way, and it's perhaps one of the reasons they sound the way they do. They’ve found their own way of playing music on the guitar and expressing themselves.

Fast forward to 2021, there are thousands of tutorials on the internet, tab books, innovative teaching styles and software that help speed up this process. This is a great thing, we now have some incredible young players with immaculate technique, feel and compositional approach. This is something to be celebrated!

However, it's important to remember that when following anyone else’s method or concept that you don’t forget yourself in the process. What makes certain players stand out, from years gone by to present day, is that they do what they do well. We all have our own ways of understanding the world and it is important to keep an open mind that is receptive to what’s going on and also follow your heart.

A good analogy for this is the Buddhist parable of the raft. A person spends time making a bespoke raft to cross from one side of a river to the other. The question is; what should they do with the raft when they get to the other side? To carry it around on the other side would become burdensome. The energy would be wasted. The actual skill of making a raft is lighter than carrying an actual raft around with us.

In our case, methodology and concept is a raft. It helps us get to the other side, for example how one of our favourite players approaches soloing or practice a technique. We learn from it; it helps us progress on our journey. But there are two things to keep in mind.

Firstly, WE are the ones building the raft and moving it, we have to put the energy in and relate it to the conditions (the water in the river, the weather, what our raft is made from, external and internal conditions which always change).

Secondly, when we do arrive at the other shore, we continue our journey. The raft got us there, we don’t need to carry it around. We’ve already benefited from the raft, that journey will be with us and how we went about that journey will determine how we go about future journeys.

What I’m attempting to put forward here is “don’t forget to make it your own”. Whatever you learn on the guitar. Make it relevant for you whilst keeping an open mind and appreciation for what others are doing. There’s only one of you. There’s only one of you reading this right now. And after all, if you are reading this in your head, you are me and I am you (that’s another subject, for another time, which is completely related to influence in music!)

If you have found this article insightful and want to read some more on this subject, check out this blog and learn strategies for adopting what you learn from songs into your own playing!