Why Copying is a GOOD Thing
Ah yes… individuality. The goal of most musicians is to define a style that is unique to them. At least that’s what I always believed during my formative years of practicing. But, little did I know how wrong I was to focus solely on creating my identity before copying from the greats.
As a young musician, I would approach learning songs like this: I would learn the “base” of a song, meaning the chord progression, riffs, and key phrases. But, I never thought to learn songs note for note, as they were played on the record. It wasn’t until I attended music college that I had my wake up call.
Copying To Create You
Music college taught us that copying is vital to creating your own sound. What they wanted us to do was to really learn songs from our favorite artists. The goal was to emulate the artist’s performance to the best of our ability. Attempting to replicate the execution of their playing in terms of technique, dynamics, and feel.
Now, after reading the above this may seem like a “duh” moment. But, if you’re like me, you never realized it before. Often times, when we are learning, it feels like sensory overload. There is so much to focus on… You print out the sheet music, you play all the notes, and you go from start to finish. But, have you ever stopped to consider the details of the piece? How is this music suppose to sound? How did the artist play it? What left and right hand fingering were used? What technique was used? What dynamics were incorporated into the performance? And the list goes on…
An Example of Matching the Feel of a Piece
One of our members, Marisa, was working on “Ode To Joy” for our May 2017 site member challenge. She came to me with a question, she said “Something sounds off when I play Ode To Joy, but I don’t know what it is”. I asked her to play it for me and I noticed something. While Marissa successfully played the entire piece from start to finish, she was so focused on that aspect that she forgot about how the piece should sound.
One thing Marisa was doing was plucking the strings with vigor, creating an overly loud tone. So, I suggested she pause and think about “Ode To Joy” and how it should sound. It is a beautiful, slow paced and softly played tune. Therefore, her picking attack should be softer to reflect this mood.
Second, I noticed some of her fingering choices for going from one chord to another was making transitions more difficult. I offered fingering alternatives for some of the chords, which also helped with sustain. Lastly, she was also struggling with harder sections of the piece. Using tips taught in our article about mastering practicing, I suggested she should slow down and loop the trickier bars and gradually work them up to speed. A week later, after adjusting her practice, she was performing it as you hear below:
What an amazing performance! With a few simple changes, she is now performing a piece elegantly! And of course, the metronome is always our best friend 🙂 Below, you can read a short testimonial about the how powerful these simple changes were for her playing.
What To Take Away From This Article
The key thing to remember is that music is more than just an arrangement of notes and chords. Music is truly an expression of our emotions. When we copy how one of our favorite players plays, and we do it again with another player, and another; we start to develop our own playing, which in turn develops our own sound. The next time you approach learning a piece of music, stop and think about how the piece should sound and what emotion you want to get across in your performance. I promise, you’ll be amazed by the results.
Article by: Andrew Hardel