Do you want to be original?

Somebody called me crazy in a guitar blog recently, referring to the integrated percussive guitar style I invented.

It made me smile.

I took it as a compliment.

To me, “crazy” means things like refreshing, innovative, ahead of its time, and most of all, original.

When guitar players see me play for the first time, they often ask me questions like:

Where did you get that?

How did you come up with that?

What motivated you to go there?

Well, I didn’t get it from guitar players or guitar music (although I did utilize some techniques and ideas learned from watching other guitar players).

I got it from asking a new question:

How do I play drums and guitar at the same time, i.e. how do I integrate a percussive groove into a solo guitar composition?

In 1987 I already had a five-album recording history and a strong foundation in guitar playing and composing guitar tunes.

I was very good at something a lot of other players were also very good at.

But I didn’t want to sound like anyone else.

By trusting in the music I heard in my head, and my composing skills, and being willing to let go of everything I knew at the time about guitar playing, I was able to invent a new, compositional approach that turned the guitar into a new instrument.

I need to say here that I was not the first to play the guitar differently. I received ideas and insights from innovative players like Stanley Jordan, Jeff Healey, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Hedges, Jimi Hendrix and others. I am grateful to those players for their bold, pioneering example of what was new and possible on the guitar. They prompted me to ask myself: what do I have to say?

If I have achieved something original, it is not about the individual guitar techniques I use (some of which I did invent), but rather a conceptual approach to composing music on the guitar that evolved out of asking new questions and then answering them.

My new approach felt strange (and it certainly looked strange). But I knew it was right because I could hear the music. It was like arriving on the shores of a new continent and recognizing it.

My point in this post is this:

If you want achieve something original, it may be necessary to forget everything that came before, and everything you think you know, and start again.

In other words, it may be necessary to leave what is comfortable and familiar, with its limiting conventions, rules and practices, behind so new thinking can come in.

Never become too attached to what you think you know, especially if you are really good at it. It can get in the way of your growth and evolution as a musician, artist, human being and everything else.

Always be willing to ask a new question, and always be willing to be a beginner.

I believe that how you end up as a guitarist, musician or anything else in life is the result of the choices you make, whether you realize you are making them or not.

If it is important to you to make your own mark, to be original, then those choices need to be about relentlessly nurturing and developing your own creative voice and point of view, finding new questions to ask, and answering them in your own unique way.

Do you have something new to say?

Are you nurturing your creative voice so it evolves and grows?

Are you asking new questions?

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4 Responses to Do you want to be original?

  1. Letting-go ego is essential to expanding, recognizing, and accepting gifts of new knowledge in any area of one’s life; art, academics, relationships, work. It puts to the test our human vulnerability by asking us to consciously ignore our own and others’ judgements. But only within egolessness is there enough space for growth, to feel growing pains, and—ultimately—achieve new heights in our endeavours. It’s not for the feint of heart, and it’s not goofing off, either. Listening for judgement and then just witnessing it, whilst getting-on trying new ideas, is one of the best ways to help creativity align with one’s spirit, making the outcome one’s own. To do otherwise is to copy, mimic, and never feel truly resonant with the outcome, no matter how appealing it may be to others. Just a thought…

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