Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Listening is important!

One of the best things a musician can do to advance their playing is to listen to other players, both live and recordings. A jazz guitarist, for example, should listen to as many CDs as possible from trendsetting and influential jazz guitarists, both current and past masters. A bluegrass guitarist should listen to all the important and influential bluegrass guitarists. For each genre of guitar music, there are certain guitarists, certain albums and certain songs that can be identified almost universally by all others in the field as a "must hear" list of influential guitar playing. As I said before, while it is good to listen to a lot of different songs by standout players, most musicians have certain songs that they are "known" for, songs on which their playing is at an all-time high, and they are able to achieve an emotion in their playing that has previously been elusive.

If there is enough interest in this topic, I could put together some "starter" lists for certain types of guitar playing, such as jazz, smooth jazz, folk, classic rock, bluegrass and blues. Other users of this site could maybe contribute to some of the more modern styles or contribute lists for instruments other than guitar.

There are two additional rules to help make this experience successful:
(1) Do not just listen to one style of music; listen to all styles, or at least a wide variety of styles. Haven't you recently read interviews where certain bluegrass players base some of their licks on jazz scales, or where many of the best guitar pioneers listened mainly to old blues recordings?
(2) Do not listen exclusively to your own instrument. Listen to people playing your style of music on other instruments. When I was learning guitar, I played a lot out of clarinet books because it has the same range of notes as a guitar, but the exercised tended to be more technical and more advanced than most guitar books. I heard some guitar players who are praised for their unique style, and then hear them explain that they listen to horn players (trumpet and sax) and then try to play their solos as a horn would!

If you are not sure where to start, try spending some time on the Internet with your favorite search engine. I went into "Google" and entered the keywords "best bluegrass guitar players," and in two clicks of the mouse, I had a list of all the best bluegrass players.

See if your local library has a collection of records, cassettes and CDs that can be checked out. It would cost a small fortune if you had to buy all this music at the store. You will probably hear some outstanding music along the way and will end up buying a few anyway!

If you watch music DVDs instead of listening to CDs, you can also learn a little about stage presence and performance skills by watching the entertainer. Most top performers strive to make a visual connection with the audience. Even the ones that just seem to stand there and play have a way of looking good while just standing there!

This advice is not just for beginners. All musicians at all levels who realize how important listening is will continue to listen to other players their whole life long.

I remember three events in my career that really proved the value of this lesson:
(1) When I was very young and first learning to play guitar, my father used to take me to nightclubs so I could listen to my guitar teacher play. I liked the way my teacher played, and this was helpful because, as I studied my lessons, I could imagine how he played the same piece.
(2) When I was in my junior year of college, I was studying tuba with a professor that ate, slept, and breathed tuba. He had his students over to his house one evening for a party, and we listen to a wide variety of tuba playing from his record collection. He would explain what to listen for and why certain passages were significant.
(3) When I first started to learn bluegrass guitar, I went to a seminar where this whole concept was discussed and highly recommended by the seminar leader. He was nice enough to give everyone a list of all the best bluegrass players and the best CDs to listen to. I went to the store and spent a lot of money, but I now know good bluegrass playing when I hear it, and more important, I know what I have to sound like.

Well, that's it - very simple but very important to your advancement. Why not get started right now?


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