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pix Influence Vs. Imitation pix
pix pix by Scott Tarulli  

Page added in April, 2005

About The Author

Scott Tarulli is a guitarist and Berklee College of Music instructor whose all instrumental quartet plays music as diverse as the frontman's playing.

From aggressive jazz/funk to textural ballads, the band plays music for all seasons.


His latest instrumental CD is entitled "September In Boston: Live".

Send comments or questions to Scott Tarulli.

© Scott Tarulli

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  This subject comes up a lot. It's a question in which many Berklee students hear different answers. The question? "If I learn other peoples solos or listen to other people's music, will it ruin my own creativity?"

Some experts argue that it will ruin your voice or make you a copy cat, void of your own style. Some people I respect share this view. And, depending on who you are and where you are in your development, this statement might be true.

I heard Wayne Krantz give a master class the other day and he said, "I don't really listen to music. I'm kind of a sponge and would end up imitating what I heard." For Wayne, I can see his point. He definitly has a unique sound and approach. He's really onto something and for him, this works. But, we should remember, this is where Wayne is now. I am sure early on he did some imitating. After all, he was on the Steely Dan tour and has been a working musician for many years. If he played totally obscure, he wouldn't be invited to play as often.

To work, you need to be able to play styles. If someone offers you $300 to play a function with a smokin' band, you better know some tunes and how to play the style. If a Singer/Songwriter wants you to play on their tour or CD, you better know how to play in that setting. If a producer wants you to play a track on a song, you better understand what makes the songs work with whatever instrument you play. I am someone that wanted to gig all the time and not have a day job. This involved learning style and imitating. This doesn't mean you lack style or a voice. You can separate the two and work on your own stuff outside of the working world. Plus, you can be tasteful in all the settings but add your own flavor in the working world.

I have also heard a great player (who will go unnamed) say, "Why would you learn someone else's solo? You'll just play those licks over and over and be an imitator."

This idea may have worked for some great players. But, it might be a poor way to learn music for many (especially if you are just learning a style). I'm an example of someone that listens and transcribes a lot. Sure, I haven't reinvented the wheel. It's my goal to play great music and have a unique voice, but not to "reinvent the wheel." It's also hard to claim you have no influences. We all hear music and are influenced by people we jam with and perform with and any CDs we may have heard.

Bill Evans, in my opinion, is one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. He certainly had a very unique sound and touch. He still influences countless musicians even 24 years after his death. He once said "...I had eleven piano students, and I would say eight of them didn't even want to know about chords or anything - they didn't even want to do anything that anybody had ever done, because they didn't want to be imitators. Well, of course, this is pretty naíve."

Some of my own examples - My time feel was (and still is) greatly enhanced by transcribing and playing with Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Parker(and other) records. Matching the groove of those players opened my time up. It was a lot of work to understand that way of playing eight notes, quarter notes behind the beat-especially coming from a rock background. There is no way to discuss this concept. You have to hear it. It's a feel and not a math equation.

Speaking of time, I consider Herbie Hancock to have some of the best 'time' out there. Plus, a lot of the stuff he plays makes me hear time in a new way. I transcribed a bunch of his solos and played guitar to the CDs note for note. It opened a new world of phrasing. From there, I would write my own solos with my own rhythmic ideas (inspired by Herbie) and develop it that way. I still work on my time and phrasing like this.

When I wanted my lines to be more 'angular'-or, have bigger intervals- I transcribed Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner solos. I still do this. I check out the devices they use and try to use those concepts in other situations. Plus, I needed the 'chops' to play bigger intervals on guitar. The solos serve as 'pieces' to develop the intervals.

To wrap it up, listening to Hendrix really helped my vibrato, listening and coping James Brown and Meters stuff really helped my funk vocabulary and groove, listening to pop records really helped me learn how to play texture. Once I listen and learn I sit down and try to make it mine. I have a lot of influences from many different genres. Do I sound like one particular player? Does this mean I can't come up with my own 'stuff'? Of course not! And, I love music deeply. I would be devastated if I couldn't listen to it!

Bill Evans said, "First of all, I never strive for identity. That's something that just has happened automatically as a result, I think, of just putting things together, tearing things apart and putting it together my own way, and somehow I guess the individual comes through eventually."

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