Finding Your Voice

Published by Frank on Dec. 17, 2019

This is what it's all about. The goal is to express yourself in a way that only you can, and in a way that really sounds like you. I never wanted to be the next Wes Montgomery. If that's what I or anybody else wants for ourselves, we should just put on the records instead. It's already been done. What I'm after is to be the first me. Finding your voice, they call it.

Picasso was Picasso, and nobody else will ever be him. Same for Dylan Thomas, Michael Jordan, and Bob Fosse. Bird is practically the definition of a singular voice, although many other musicians thought that that should be their voice too. Again, why? Do we really need to hear an exact clone of some great master? Sing your own song.

My firs year in Chicago I was always at the Jazz Showcase, Rick's Cafe, Andy's, Wise Fools, The Bulls, all the joints, listening to everybody. I would hear the guitar players and think things like, "Why does he like that tone?" "Why don't they ever play anything coherent?" "Their chords are all the same voicings." Someone should come along and do such and such." Complain, complain, complain. Then, finally, I came to the realization that I was the guy I was waiting for. After a year or so I already had a sense of what I thought it should sound like, even if I had no idea how to render it.

Before jazz I was a good rock guitar player. I was good enough to where I knew what it felt like when it was really happening. I distinctly remember setting the goal with jazz to just keep at it until I got that same feeling.

It's something that comes with maturity. You prepare for a few years or a few decades by listening to everybody that does what you do, everybody who does something other than what you do, and generally just being in and of your time. Travel, read, meet people, make mistakes. And all the time you develop your craft, perfect your technique, study theory, learn tunes, get your reading together, make sure you have the tools. Transcribing is a big part of it also, even though that seems contradictory to originality. What you find when you transcribe is what originality sounds like in someone else's sound, rhythms, substitutions and ornaments.

Finding your voice doesn't mean that it is lost or is behind a rock somewhere, and you really don't have to search for it. Rather, just pay attention to how you really sound and exaggerate it. Listen for how what you do is unique in whatever way. If you have a sound that most people don't have, think about it-a lot- and try to make it more of what it already is. If your timing is a little different, figure out how and why, and do more of what makes it different. Think in artistic terms-define things in terms of form, structure, line, style, density and narrative, as well as harmony, melody, rhythm, dynamics, articulation and the other musical elements. Develop good taste, which simply means knowing what's good. Record yourself and listen carefully, to hear what's there and what isn't. Look in the mirror and see your sound.

Work on your lines, really hard. Noodle with a little something for 45 minutes or an hour until it is just right, it's easy to play, it gives you "that" feeling and it sounds like you. Work in all tempos. Rather than work in a 12 bar blues format, try at first to invent really great phrases on the first chord. Keep notebooks, write things down. Everything will take forever, because you mostly do not know what you are aiming for. You only know it when you hear it. It's lonely out there when you aren't copying someone else.

Ultimately you rethink everything you ever took for granted about music and you create your own language, your own universe. The world according to you

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