Looking Beyond Your Norm
There comes a point in many musicians’ lives when they realise a simple fact. In order to progress, and gain mastery of your chosen instrument, you will need to learn to play music which you don’t necessarily like.
We all have our favourite genres. Even looking beyond that, we all have songs, albums, and artists we listen to because they provide the soundtrack to certain things that go on in our lives. For instance, the music you listen to at 3am after a heavy night out is perhaps different to the music you’ll listen to before a gym session. But, by and large, people tend to know what they like and stick to it.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach. But consider how many millions of hours worth of music there is out there in the world, and what a tiny fraction of it you’re actually aware of. Even just playing the percentages, it makes sense that there’s a load of stuff you might be into that you don’t even know exists. If you’re looking for inspiration, check out the discover section on SoundCloud, or the Discover Weekly section on Spotify.
Think about it from a musician’s perspective too. The more music you listen to, from a wider base of styles and genres, the better you’ll understand music and be able to include elements in your own work. We’ve put together some tips for expanding your musical horizons in the hope of inspiring your next musical voyage.
Tip #1 – Spot the similarities
Behind the musical notation, the guitar tone and the singer’s voice, different musical genres share a lot of the same driving characteristics. Some music wants to move you, some wants to make you move. Some music lofty ambitions of inspiring you, some just wants to be the catalyst for you and your pals having a good time.
You may be dead set on being a jazz fan, or a metalhead, but try identifying ways in which different genres are actually cut from the same cloth. It’s well known that, traditionally, bass players in metal bands are notoriously massive hip hop fans. And show me a guitarist of any genre who can’t knock out a bit of the blues.
Maybe you’ll find new uses of pedals that you hadn’t previously considered. You can guarantee the trusty old Boss OD-3 has been used in countless genres, each in a slightly different way.
Tip #2 – Spot the differences
The flip side to the first tip is to recognise and identify ways in which different genres are, well, different. You can learn a lot from what you don’t understand, after all.
It can be beneficial to your musical development to listen to wildly different music with a critical ear. What is the drummer doing? How are the songs arranged? What’s the production like? It may not be that you want to copy their style – you might not like it at all – but this approach will certainly make you think about your own techniques.
Perhaps a slight difference in the way an instrument is played, or even in the instrument itself, will spark something new. If you’re a drummer, for example, you might consider getting into drum machines or samplers. The Roland Aira TR-8 is a fantastic piece of kit and – knowing the drums like you do – you’ll be creating incredible beats in no time at all.
Tip #3 – Read between the lines
Even putting the musical elements aside, you can certainly develop your ability to write and compose by listening to other styles. For example, if you want to know how to slowly build up and then drop a fat beatdown, you should listen to classical music. Check out Mars from Holst’s The Planets if you don’t believe me. Likewise, if your lyrics need a bit of work you might consider learning a bit of wordsmithery from some of hip hop’s finest. The cues and inspiration are all out there, you just need to go and find them.
Tip #4 – Re-interpret
A neat trick, done many times over, is taking a song from one specific genre and re-purposing it in a completely different style. Think about Florence and the Machine covering You Got The Love, or any one of those twee ukulele covers of old rock songs you hear on TV adverts.
This is a great way to build a repertoire and style of your own, while also showing off your credibility and musical skill. And, believe me, it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
Tip #5 – Open your mind
The final tip is perhaps the most obvious: open your mind! You never know what gems you’ll find if you start looking. As a piece of advice, if you’re using one of the popular music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music, make use of their recommendation and discovery functions. Spotify has a feature where every week it creates you a new playlist, full of stuff it thinks you might like based on your previous listening history. Find it – it might just change your life.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.