One of the things about any style of music is that most people tend to be confined by specific musical influences that they have surrounded themselves with. For example, for most people growing up in the western world, we are very used to hearing the 4/4 time signature and modes of the major scale. Someone growing up in Greece would be used to hearing 7/8 time signature and the modes of harmonic minor. What we expose ourselves to has a direct correlation to what comes out when we play. In order to successfully break out of our box of tricks, we must expose ourselves to new influences.
An example would be the minor pentatonic scale – most of us are familiar with the sound of this scale, and the problem is that it is so overused in a certain context that it is easy to end up playing the same bag of blues licks over and over again. For many this is fine, but for me personally, I want to break out of the norm and develop a new slant on things. I personally love hearing familiarity but approached in a fresh way, this really gives the listener something familiar yet intriguing and fresh. A great embodiment of this would be the band “Steely Dan.” They manage to appeal to the masses yet break new musical ground harmonically. They manage to do this by fusing catchy hooks with funky grooves and cleverly interweave their clever harmonic experimentation in a non-intrusive way. Thus maintain a pop appeal yet a strong Jazz influence.
I personally always strive for a balance of familiarity with a dose of unfamiliar stuff. Initially I had to make a concerted effort to break out of the box. An example of this is that I would stop myself from playing the same licks over and over. In order to make myself aware of my repetitions, I would record myself and identify the most frequent and overused ideas or licks in my playing. I would then do all I could to avoid playing them, and everything I could to learn some new fresh ideas that would get me out of my rut and make me think outside of the box. This all sounds very conceited and pretentious, but believe me, it works and it truly helps you to breathe new life into your playing. I believe that being consciously aware is the first step to improvement – it is so easy to zone out and just play, being blissfully unaware of how safe and repetitive we are being.
To really be true pioneers and in order to do something different, we must stop ourselves in our tracks and correct our faults as well as refresh and renew our bag of tricks. This way we continue to constantly re-invent ourselves. All the most recognizable players have something so distinctive and different that sets them apart from other players. This is mainly due to the fact that they chose to think outside of the box and go against the grain of what most other players were doing at the time. I really encourage you to do the same, as I truly believe that there is a lot more out there to be discovered – we just have to be brave enough to go for it .
No one ever got anywhere by simply copying others and doing the same things over and over, so be the one to break the mold and don’t be afraid to stand out and be yourself!