The following may shock you. If you have children under the age of 5.6, please escort them to the next room while this document is being perused. If you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, or excruciating pain to the left patella, close this document immediately, grab a copy of "Passion and Warfare", and quickly listen to it in its entirety. You have been warned...
Okay, have any of you really listened to Ms. Spears? Anyone for The Dixie Chicks? Snoop Dogg? I'm not talking about comprehending the lyrical content of their "masterpieces", but listening to them. And not just listening to the song, but understanding the song (once again, not the lyrics/words and their meaning, but the balance of notes, rhythms, and syncopation).
So, once you've stopped retching over the thought of acquiring a Britney Spears CD for the music, and not for the pictures on the traycard... (c'mon, she is a hottie), put down that guitar and forget about your scales, chords, appreggios, and stomp boxes, and really open your senses.
Okay, before I get a mailbox full of junkie mail, let me give you my two cents on this (don't worry.. it'll all tie in at the end): I feel you can be the best guitar player on the blue marble (it really goes for any instrument, but since we're all addicted to six strings... ), but not be the best songwriter. The same goes in the opposite direction: you don't have to be a virtuoso to write a great song. Don't get me wrong... I'm all in for practice, technique, noodling, and all the quirks that make guitar players infamous. However, there is a whole other side to this breed of musicianship that seems to take a backseat to proficiency: listening. And writing a good song calls for a lot of listening, especially to different things. And I do like Snoop Dogg, as well as Vai, Perfect Circle, Static X, Slipknot, John Williams, Danny Elfman, so... there.
"Open your ears." Maybe this should be rephrased to, "Pay attention". So, have we all got the latest copy of any pop-diva, boy band, country icon, and/or
First, lay down and close your eyes. The less of the 5 senses used, the better... your hearing will be more acute. Okay, open your eyes and press åplay', and shut them again. (Of course, you'd have to have read this next part before playing the disc, because you couldn't be reading this while your eyes are closed, and are flexing your bottom 10 digits along with Destiny's Child. But I assume you'll figure that one out... duh! lol) Listen to the tempo and groove; time signature; drums. Where is the kick and snare in relation to the 1? What is the hi-hat/ride playing? Now, listen to the bass. Where is it? Is it locked to the kick, or meandering around? Don't listen for the guitars! Try not to even think about any guitar noise (yeah, you think there won't be any guitar on this stuff, eh?). Try the keyboards, percussion, and sound effects. Listen to just the drum reverb. Isolate the separate parts of the mix in each subsequent listen of the song.
What? You can't get past that smooth vocal line? It's not your style? Well, try to ignore the words, but listen to the tonal quality and pitch of the note. Notice how things fit together. Then, ignore everything, and listen again. You'll hear things you didn't hear the first 5 times (assuming you made it past the first time).
See? It wasn't that bad, was it? So, get some band-aids, and some soda, and ponder what you've just heard...
Did you like it? Did you hate it? ...and why? Could you isolate the instruments? Could you isolate them into groups (drums & bass, keyboards and percussion, etc..)? How did the song make you feel (and yes, nauseating does not count)? Was it like eating broccoli? Y'know, if you eat broccoli enough, you kinda like it, and want to eat it... and you can put whatever you want on it to make it taste the way you want it to... geddit? You may have to suppress the gag reflex in the beginning, but it works out in the end.
I've been crooning from my soapbox for about two years about this whole "listen to different styles" schtick, and the "there are 12 notes, and if you take a song, and change the instruments, it'll sound different, but still be the same song" schpeel. So, late last year (October 2000), I decided to release the "Raw Sausage Finger" remix CD. I had recorded a demo for Fernandes Guitars' Sustainer, using this song as a basis for comparison between the "real" feedback, and the "fake" feedback. It never quite made the guitar site's practical application download page, but... whatever; I wanted to use it anyway. Later that year (2000), I recorded an industrial version as a way to learn some new software (I just needed an excuse to be a DAW nerd for a few weeks). I stuck that song on some MP3 sites, and got some amazing results. So, after yanking the mp3's from sites, I recorded one last version: a hip-hop influenced version. Here's where the fun begins.... It's basically the same song structure. Less guitar, more groove; added a few drops of flava juice, and wham! (Honestly, I wanted someone like Snoop Dogg to smooth it out even more with his vox, but...). So... there's a practical application of drawing from outside influences (outside of the guitar as the end-all-be-all of instruments) to tweak a song enough for different genres. Okay, enough of my blabbing...
So, the gist is that if you are open to different influences, your musical palette will broaden, and you'll have more to draw upon. You may hear arrangements in one genre that you wouldn't hear in another (hip-hop vs. country). The more you are familiar with, the more your songs will benefit from this new understanding, and the more you will be able to express your ideas. You don't necessarily have to like what you've heard, but understand it. Respect it. Absorb it. Apply it. But it won't happen if you don't let it.
Joe Bochar is an original guitarist originally from Rhode Island. When he's not playing with his guitar or Lego's, Joe can be found wandering the streets of Los Angeles, pedaling crack to lonesome, down and out 3-legged mice who suffer from fromagaphobia.
His latest project is "X", a self-produced instrumental guitar CD release.
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