Originality in your musical expression comes unexpectedly as a by-product and is not pre-thought or pre-meditated.
Originality, or an individual sound is the result of “assembling” your music based on “un-original” but correct principles, and then focusing “flow” through the lens of your personal experience.
Throughout your life you make thousands of decisions, collect preferences in terms of what you like and don’t like…and no one has these experiences, in this combination – except you. You have a totally unique viewpoint! Celebrate that! You can’t not be you, and that is beautiful.
To “try” to be original, is just the EGO at work. There is no trying to be original involved in true originality, IMHO. In fact – you may not ever perceive your own originality the way others do. To strive to be a pure channel for music – and serve it properly is the true way of someone whom others may perceive as “original.”
In spiritual traditions, many strive to “be like a hollow reed” for spirit to flow through. That’s the idea! Be a hollow reed.
To imitate another – you deny YOUR beliefs in “sound musical principles” and barely skim the surface…it’s an okay starting point for a child, but your story, your preferences, and your rich experience carry an authenticity and tell a story in a far more satisfying, deeper and authentic way than your imitation of another could ever possibly tell. Believe in your experience and your story….don’t give it up and think someone else’s is better!
How can one avoid imitation? Just learn correct musical principles and apply them. Applying principles is a better way to go than imitating another players idiosyncrasies.
When I study rhythm, I just try to do it right. When I play a scale I try to do it right. When a melody speaks to me, it’s the melody – not me, I am just the listener…when I beatbox – it’s my love for James Brown, Run DMC and groove, and I just try to do it right, put it as deep in the pocket as I can. When I fingerpick, I try to use good technique like my teachers showed me and get a nice tone. When I practice, I go slow and play things over and over…just trying to do it right. Get it? Others say I sound original – but I am just trying to do it right, as best as I can.
Keep doing your musical homework and don’t think about originality. Just play music as well as you can – strive for beauty, tone, time, touch and technique….study harmony, rhythm and repertoire – and let listeners perceive your “originality”, after the fact. Your original voice is something which you may not perceive yourself just yet. It is the ghost between the sounds, the relation of how you get from one idea to the next. The essence carried by your music reveals itself when you simply play properly and honestly.
Rob Steinhardt says
Words of Wisdom Adam….Words of Wisdom.
Very well written post.
I like how much you emphasize correct principles and foundations. Slow, accurate and repeated.
And not in a mindless way, but with great attention paid at all moments. No wonder it takes so long to play well!
I am reminded of the old quip, “if you’ve got to try to be cool, you’re not”…one is not original if one “tries” to be, it is then contrived but the “not pre-thought or pre-meditated” is from the heart and without guile, pure originality. Whether it appeals to others or not is irrelevant in terms of originality. The ancient wisdom found in the book of Matthew confirms that one should: “take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.” Things of one’s spirit express themselves upon a framework of life experience. What one takes into one’s self, what one is exposed to, will come out in expressions of those exposures, no matter what media is chosen for expression….as Adam so rightly says, the frame is “beauty, tone, time, touch and technique….study harmony, rhythm” and let the rest, “the ghost between the sounds, the relation of how you get from one idea to the next,” which is the phrasing of one’s originality, appear from within your spirit as it will.
Great advice. Will keep this in mind as I play for others.
Laurent Schark says
Excellent article, Adam. Thank you for these inspiring words.
Great life philosophy lesson given by a great guitar player.
That’s why I hear your smile when you play.
Thanks Adam !
James Stevenson says
Well said 🙂
Mark Miller says
Great advice. 🙂
Brilliant and insightful as always Adam. Thank you so much
Joël Badlie says
Elequently stated, simply said. Well done son.
Dale Thomas Rates says
Many thanks for these tune ups, Adam. This is one of you best (so far!) on a life intrinsic level. I remember Chet Atkins saying later in his life that all he wanted to be remembered as, was that he “played it pretty.” Stay Excellent, D.
Thank you Adam. I think you are a great guy and a great tutor
Workin at it, thanks!
Very very very great advice. It helped me so so so much in undestanding my ‘sound’. Thank you very much Mr. Adam for this wise advice!
Bruce Meyer says
Here’s a well-known quote from C.S. Lewis on originality; and I grabbed the context a little bit to, umm, give it some context, bracketed with ****’s. Here’s my online source, but I can’t find a page number. https://www.dacc.edu/assets/pdfs/PCM/merechristianitylewis.pdf
(I’m a little embarrassed to be bringing in a religious quote, but it’s helpful to remember what Al Green said, to the effect that at some point you have to dig deeper, and that means moving toward God or moving toward sin. I think he must be right; that’s what so many artists are either religious and sane or really messed up.)
Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.
But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as
your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all.
The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange?
The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making.
***Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom.***
Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing.
Steven Monteleone says
Thanks, Adam. That was a great message. The ring of truth came in loud and clear. Keep up the good work, Man.
Of the person who wants to become many special people as much as is going to become a special person become alone.
The person who is not one of the guys in special people either.
The person who makes an effort so that it is in one for a sound at hand will be a person having a qualification to have anything special without being going to become a special person.
Brad Aldridge says
Great Advice Adam – originality being the Ghost between the sounds is so true. It just evolves from playing something over and over again.
Adam Rafferty says
K.Mhabemo Lotha says
Thank you for the helpful insights .
LMA The Life Music Academy
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Your post seems to contradict Clark Terry’s oft-quoted advice on learning how to improvise: imitate, assimilate, innovate. Or have I misunderstood you?
Adam Rafferty says
Julian, well the imitation should happen early in life. And “learning a jazz line” from someone is fine – but imitating their entire style, touch and sound is really questionable. By the time one is 18-19 one should be playing with their own sound.
It’s like conversation…as a kid you copy phrases you hear adults and your friends say, but then eventually you need to speak with your voice.