I've held the belief that listening to and learning from musical styles that are different from your own, has always been beneficial. However, early in my musical career this wasn't so apparent to me or some of my students. In fact, some of my students had the misconceived perception that going outside of their "strength" would harm them musically in some way.
So in their mind, they thought that learning something like music theory would be completely harmful to their creative process. Mike Philippov (a colleague of mine) has a great article on this subject which can be found here.
They also were worried about the issues of being unique and having their own sound or style. One of my first articles "Are YOU Unique" explains on how to deal with this issue and even delves a little bit into the topic I will cover in this article.
So to deal with these student's doubts and misconceived perceptions, I asked them to read the articles I linked above and I told them this personal story about the Importance of Musical Exploration.
A few years ago I would have considered myself a fairly decent Blues/Rock/Metal guitarist and I was pretty content with the level I was at and the pace I was progressing at. Then one day, one of my colleagues who is big into Jazz, asked me to attend a week long workshop with him to study Jazz. Needless to say I was a little bit skeptical, because I was not familiar with Jazz nor did I ever see it being useful in the music I would ever compose.
After a while of thinking and eliminating the risk of being called a hypocrite (because I always tell others to have an open mind to new things), I decided to attend this week long Jazz workshop without any expectations of learning more than a cool lick or two. Boy was I wrong...
After only the first day there (which was mostly listening to other musicians play), I was already coming up with new phrasing and composition ideas. Nothing had been taught to me yet, but by just listening to something so new and different to me, my mind was opened up to a world of new possibilities.
As the week went by, I learned more and more from the great instructors there and from personal observation of the performances. My old phrasing and melodic ideas started to transform and fuse with all of the cool things I was learning at this Jazz workshop. Compositionally, I was introduced to new theories, scales, and techniques that I had not know to exist before.
To sum it all up, I can honestly say that my unique style and songwriting abilities that I have today would not be anywhere near where they would have if I had not opened my mind and explored a music style foreign to me. I believe this to be true for every musician out there, because even if you end up hating the new style of music, you can end up gaining at least one more unique musical element in your arsenal. For example, I am not a huge fan of country, however I do like the transitions between vocal timbres that many country singers have. I then take that transitional technique and apply it to my own music. The end result doesn't sound anything like country music, but instead it sounds completely unique and expressive.
I hope this story has opened your mind to the "Importance of Musical Exploration," and until next time...
Take care and keep composing fellow artists!
Kole is currently studying music composition and classical guitar at Indiana University; and will be transferring to GIT, in the fall of 2007. He also is completing his debut album "Exile" through Empire Records and teaches many students for guitar and songwriting.
He has also just finished co-authoring a great new instructional e-book for guitar titled "The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist," which can be found and purchased at thenextstepguitar.com.
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