There is no doubt that as an artist, it is crucial to actively try to pave your own way. Originality and individualism is vital in all forms or art. However, because of this, I have found this growing trend that almost shames people for having idols and people to look up to. In contrast, another trend that I have discovered among my best and most dedicated students has been that every one of them has some type of idol that they’re looking up to.
In my opinion, having some type of musical idol is vital for the growth and development of a student. Yes, we want to one day be our own musicians, but having these people to look up to can be one of the biggest reasons to repeatedly go back and pick up your instrument.
I think what’s also important to keep in mind is that I don’t really know any artist who has only ever had one idol. I know speaking for myself, someone who admittedly can become overwhelming to talk to when asked about one of my idols, I have had many from all different styles, walks of life, and mediums. I honestly go through phases where I become a tad obsessive over every minute detail of a hero of mine's life. I started with Metallica when I was kid, moved on to Stevie Ray and Hendrix, then Nirvana, and then everything in between until I got to people like Miles Davis, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Tyler, the Creator. For me, seeing what people from all of these different styles were doing with their craft, and knowing that I wanted to do something similar, inspired me to pick up my guitar and try to learn their secrets.
I love seeing this happen with some of my students. It seems like the more obsessive they are about their idol-the more little trivia they learn, and the more they digest their sound, the more inspired they are, and the more they pick up their guitar. Plenty of studies have shown that having a very clear and defined goal makes progress easier and more tangible, so hearing someone doing exactly what you want to do can give a great blueprint.
Well what about the people who argue that you may end up being an exact copy of this hero? I think it’s a valid point, and I think that does in fact happen quite a bit, but very rarely is that the end of it.
I always tell my students how much learning music is exactly like learning a language (blogs on that soon!), so think about how you go about learning to talk. What do you do? You start off copying those around you- your Mom, Dad, brother or sister. Later down the road, you copy your friends (haven’t you ever heard a group of teenagers who all speak exactly the same). Then, eventually, you start sounding like yourself. Music is the exact same way. Though I am still honing my own style, when I play you can’t really hear anything that sounds exactly like any of the people I mentioned above. They all sort of crammed together into this weird amalgamation that doesn’t sound like any of them. What’s funny is that’s exactly what happened with my heroes. My style is an amalgamation of all of their amalgamations. This is what I see in a lot of my students who have been playing awhile as well, and this is what I think can move music forward.
So try this out! Find someone who you want to play like, and obsess over them. Learn everything you can about their playing and really absorb it. This is what all the greats did before you, and what all the greats will do after you. This is how music is learned.
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Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner