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The benefits and dangers of listening to other peoples’ music


I count among the benefits of listening to other people’s music a broadening of understanding and the encountering of new musical vocabularies that can be absorbed and used in new ways to enrich your own creativity. It’s also refreshing and can reinvigorate your own muse. In fact, for my part, it would be nice if I could put down my guitar for a few weeks and go off and explore music and guitar styles that are unfamiliar to me and might represent new challenges, but unfortunately my “chops” are such that I’ve just got to keep practicing lest whatever technique I’ve fought so hard for atrophies and withers irretrievably. (More on this another time.)

On the other hand, if you are not careful, the uncritical absorption of the music of others can cause your own voice can to become submerged and indistinct and take on an accent that conceals your own idiomatic means of expression. In fact, I suspect that I have unwittingly ingested and regurgitated actual phrases and harmonic twists – possibly note for note – of some pieces that I have listened to repeatedly. That’s not to say that I am particularly disapproving of such obvious display of influence but it does leave you open to the charge of lack of originality and even plagiarism! (More on this too at another time.) It has been suggested that my style would benefit from any influence that John Cage’s 4’33” might bring to bear. Thanks for that.

There is also the risk that a style can become so deeply embedded into your own playing – even subconsciously – that it becomes a hallmark of your own style. This may be fine if you truly add something fresh and new and thereby extend the style, but the danger of becoming “typecast” will be there unless guarded against.

But to return to the benefits: it can come as sense of profound relief to escape from the subterranean tunnels of your own style and sink back in a comfortable chair and encounter new signposts and avenues in a familiar symphony. Or better: get up of your ass and sneak into a local folk club and be reminded that your own songs are really not so bad. Or browse the burlesques of the guitar acrobats on YouTube wondering if you’ll ever encounter some music. Or flick your way past the jaw-dropping banality from the multiplicity of music stations on satellite TV. Or measure your personal endurance time of the fingernail-on-blackboard local commercial radio station.

Yes, I mean it! The joys of the music-of-others are clearly manifold. And its proponents are legion. There is just no excuse any more to remaining so self-referential and closed to the myriad influences available at the flick of a switch or through the door of any local pub. Even if only to return to your room and (to misquote Paul Simon) thank your lucky stars for your fingers.

One thought on “The benefits and dangers of listening to other peoples’ music

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