Getting from Here to There

08/29/13 at 03:17 AM | Published Under About Us by Martin Robinson

So you’ve been performing for a while now, but you don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

I mean, everyone says your music’s great, you sound just like (oh, I don’t know, let’s say for example) Bon Jovi) and you’re pleased as punch to receive the compliment because, after all, you admire Bon Jovi and you’ve been emulating him and it’s great to know that people recognised your efforts!

So, again, you wonder why you don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

Well, I won’t pretend to know all the answers, but I do have a couple of ideas I can share with you which might help change your musical fortunes.

Remember back when (for some of you, waaaay back when) you first picked up a guitar (or drumsticks or plunked around on a keyboard, but for the sake of this article I’ll stick to a guitar).  Oh, and by the way, I’m one of those “waaaaay back when” guys, so don’t feel offended - heck, this turkey even remembers that for the first two or three weeks he played his guitar upside down - which is what happens when you’re left-handed and don’t have a role model to follow!

So you picked up a (borrowed) guitar and strummed a couple of chords.  You might have even tried a bit of flat-picking, or if you were real brave (and more coordinated than most) some finger-picking.

Most sounds that came out of the instrument were real nasty; but some were okay enough to grab your attention so that in a short space of time, and with a little practice, you were playing that catchy nine-note riff that one of the top bands was playing - and everyone who heard you recognised it immediately, which was just so cool!

Soon you were playing and singing popular music you heard on the radio.  You may have even joined up with a couple other people, maybe a drummer, base guitarist, keyboard player or pianist (oh, and please pronounce it “pee-ya-nist”.  I play the piano too and it gets kinda embarrassing when I’m introduced publically as a “peenist”).

And so started your musical career.  You and your musical buddies learned how to play songs by a whole bunch by popular bands – The Black Eyed Peas, Sum 41, Arctic Monkeys, Mumford & Sons, and so on, and you scored a few local gigs.

So what’s the common theme of what I’ve said so far?  I’ll give you a hint, it’s nothing to do with being a piano player. . .

Okay, I’ll tell you.  The easiest and arguably the best way that human beings learn is by “doing.”  And there are two ways to go about “doing.”  There’s the long, hard slog called “trial-and-error,” and there’s the easier and therefore much more comfortable way called copying (imitating, emulating, mimicking, replicating, you get the picture).  And therein may be the barrier to you moving your musical career forward.

What’s gotten you to where you are at this point in of your musical career is playing music that other people have made famous.  Moreover, the closer to the original you can sound the happier you are, because it means that your hard efforts practicing haven’t been wasted.

Let me go back to the start of my article when I mentioned that you (for example) admire Bon Jovi and that you’ve been emulating him and people recognise that you sound just like Bon Jovi.  Well done, great work, good effort!  But let’s face facts; the world already has a famous Bon Jovi, so why would the world need another one, especially a look-alike one?

The fact is, the world doesn’t.

And hey, don’t get me wrong, copying famous music and famous musicians is not a bad thing.  In fact it’s a very, very good thing.  Musicians have been doing it ever since before Bach.  And Mozart spent ages studying Bach, and Beethoven was influenced by Mozart, and List learned from Beethoven, etc, etc, right up to the present day.

Like I said, copying other musicians is one of the best ways to learn.

So what’s the difference?  What’s the solution?  The solution is, sure, go ahead and copy other musicians’ music, but put your heart and soul, into it – and I don’t mean strive to make it a perfect replica of the original but literally, put your heart and put your soul into the music.  Imbue it with your personality; be different, be yourself, be creative.  Make the music your own!

And the different ways you can be creative and make the music your own are limited only by your imagination.  Here are a few ideas straight off the top of my head:

  • Select different combinations of instruments than the original
  • Swap vocals for instruments and instruments for vocals
  • Change the rhythm
  • Change the words
  • Give it a different introduction or ending or build in a modulation to another key
  • Create a solo interlude (cadenza) for yourself or another instrument
  • Change the key and use different harmonies than the original
  • Put in ornaments (tones that embellish the melody) where the original doesn’t have them
  • Swap orchestral backing for rock band or rock band for orchestral
  • Introduce sound effects.

Oh, and of course, the most important of them all – write your own original musical creations!

I could go on, but I’m (figuratively at least) running out of breath.

Basically, you can do whatever you want.  The purists will say that there are rules that need to be followed.  I say that rules are meant to be broken, with one single exception, and that Golden Rule is:

HONOR THE INTENT OF THE MUSIC

By which I mean, if your music is about a hot lazy Sunday afternoon then don’t give it a hyper-fast beat accompanied by a screaming electric guitar with an overdriven amp – the interpretation belies the intent of the music and since music is essentially an emotional form of communication, your audience will pick up the disparity and you’ll lose them completely.

So there you have it.  Music is a creative talent, and the world needs new music - so get out there and create!  You’ll probably initially find it hard to do, but like all practice, the more you do, the better you’ll understand who you and your music are, and the better musician you’ll become.

 

About the Author

Martin-robinson-melody-fusion Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson is the CEO and Co-Founder of Melody Fusion. Martin loves all music—from Dvorak to Dire Straits, Pavarotti to Prince, Jazz to Folk—although his first love is Classical music. He has a degree in Applied Hydrogeology and works as a Principal Hydrogeologist and partner of a consulting firm. Martin lives with his wife and two sons in Melbourne, Australia. His disparate interests (besides music) include numismatics, growing orchids, share trading and creative writing.