Start Early and Start Young

Joe Bonamassa is a player I discovered on satellite radio. A superb blues and rock stylist who blends elements of Clapton, Beck, Stevie Ray and other masters, Bonamassa, it turns out, decided he wanted to be a musician at age 4, according to Wikipedia. His parents owned a guitar shop and their musical tastes enveloped his sphere of influence.

Nothing can replace young brain cells absorbing stimuli. I was lucky enough to take piano lessons at age 6 and I’m sure it helps me to this day. Like a personality, a musical ear is a product of heredity and external stimuli. More years listening, practicing and even trying to emulate others equals deeper understanding of the instrument and approaches to take while playing phrases.

You can hear Bonamassa’s influences with every note….what he listened to, what he liked, and who he emulated early on.
The refreshing thing is that, according to what I’ve heard on his radio show, he readily admits his influences and acknowledges them with praise. Honesty is the best policy, and his honesty helps me accept his role as an individual stylist of amalgamation. As a result, I’m starting to recognize his playing as a unique voice, which is the ultimate brand of a true stylist.

Having a listener say “I like your style” or “I like your approach” is the ultimate compliment. After all, does anyone say to anyone “you sound like Clapton” or “you sound like Beck” or “you sound like Santana”? Rare words indeed.

Celebrate your influences, your ear and your time spent listening and practicing. Then try something new using the tools you’ve developed and you’re on your way to creating your unique voice.

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One response to “Start Early and Start Young

  1. I like this short article and it has a familiar ring for me. ‘Familiar’ is a word play because I had an older brother who was musically gifted and a mother who was offered a ‘full ride’ to college for voice in the Great Depression. That would be a remarkable voice! And my cousin is Bryan Adams, known across the ‘country’ as one of the top pedal steel players and pedal steel guitar restorers/mechanics in America (he was a pro country music player all through the 1960s until about 2000).

    The point is that a person with innate talent at music inherits some of it in ‘wiring’ (hand facility, musical appreciation, ability to differentiate styles, etc.) that may not be well articulated figuratively or literally. Some folks have good musical taste and can recognize a well constructed classical or country or rock piece without being able to explain why.

    Hearing a family member playing the heaviest of classical piano repertoire (Liszt, Rachmaninoff, etc.) makes an impression on young ears so that one hears possibilities when writing songs or playing as an adult. Exposure to classical, jazz, ‘standards’, and vintage country and rock and roll (before rock appeared) shapes the ability to appreciate and create musical expressions of ones own musical viewpoint. Creativity is made more effortless as technical skill and musical ‘chops’ develop. But having chops alone does not imply musicality (steady time, good melody sense, creating attractive ‘riffs’ , etc.). I’ve concluded that musical ‘good taste’ is developed from good ‘wiring’ that includes the ability to hear subtleties of tones and musical note arrangements.

    Some people are naturally athletic or intellectually capable, and musical talent is also inherited to a large degree. Talent undeveloped or refined is recognizable by some folks (like music teachers or skilled players with talent), but when inborn aptitude is encouraged and allowed to flourish so as to lead to accomplishment, we call those people ‘talented’ or ‘guitar monsters’, etc.

    And it is not biased to say that they are not like everyone else. They actually are different from most others by having been ‘wired well’ and taking the time to develop their innate ability at playing music.

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