Saturday, September 6, 2008

Emulating Other Instruments

In a college improv class, the professor played us sound clips of various musicians' tone minus the attack. Turns out if you cut off the initial attack, it's difficult to tell what instrument your listening to. Great artists tend to have less attack and a stronger tone, which makes their sound more pleasing to our ears. Their distinctive sound comes from the nuances in their vibrato, timing, and general feel. These are things that can't really be taught. The best way to learn them are through transcribing. Internalizing other's solos gives you the experience of knowing what you're going to play and perhaps more importantly, how you're going to play it, before you do.

The best way to develop your own sound is by transcribing other instruments (this goes for great vocalists as well). I find that when I transcribe other guitarists, I'm comparing my sound to theirs. I'm trying to figure out how they got that sound, what kind of guitar they're playing, what fingering they're using to play that difficult passage. But when I spent some time transcribing tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, I was focusing on his feel. If you're familiar with Dexter Gordon, you know that he was known for his extremely laid back phrasing. He would play deep in the pocket, and then finish off the phrase laying way behind the beat. One of the greatest lessons I took from these transcriptions was how he started solos. Often times he'd sit on one note, and just play rhythm and tone. Turns out time and tone are the most important characteristics of a great solo. In other words, playing the right notes don't really matter if they don't feel right or sound good.

Think about your favorite musicians. What is it about them that you love?

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