The best musicians are truly inspiring. They evoke strong feelings through their playing. One of my favourite things is to listen to artists I admire and try to emulate the way they play or compose. You can learn so much from the way they express themselves in note placement, note selection, rhythmic patterns, and technique.
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but many musicians neglect the listening side of music. Analysing a composition, whatever genre, is a key part of improving as a musician. It inspires ideas and enhances your ear, which is essential for improvisation. It’s even a great idea to listen to musical forms you don’t particularly like. You can often listen to them more objectively and gain unusual ideas that can be incorporated into the style you play in an innovative way.
Here are five of my favourite musicians and composers and what I learned from them.
‘Keef’ Richards was the first musician I truly idolised. His guitar playing is understated and has one sole purpose – to deliver a great song. He is perhaps not the most technical of guitarists when it comes to solos but he is the undisputed master of catchy riffs. He taught me the importance of ‘weaving’ or blending in with other musicians as you play. Playing in the space other musicians leave is essential in a band situation and he epitomises this approach. His passion for blues also turned me on to some great old blues masters who have greatly influenced the way I play.
Stevie Wonder was born into music. A child prodigy, he signed to Tamla Motown at the age of 11 years old. He became blind at birth but didn’t let that stop him from becoming one of the most influential musicians of all time. His 1973 album Inner Visions is an acknowledged classic and he played most of the instruments you hear on the album. Whenever I listen to it, I am struck by its outrageous funkiness. His rhythmic playing is second to none, yet he also manages to incorporate beautiful melodies. This fusion of funk and catchy song writing is something that has inspired my own efforts at composition over the years.
With his gravelly voice and unkempt appearance, Bob Dylan is an unlikely pop star. He is a prolific songwriter, though, having written many famous hits performed by many different people. He recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature for song-writing. His poetic lyrics have been a great influence on many songwriters over the years. His early work is based primarily on the acoustic guitar and I learned fingerpicking technique from it, essential for folk and blues playing.
This classically trained pianist-turned-jazz-singer fought against prejudice to become an internationally acclaimed artist and songwriter. Her haunting voice and assured compositions defy description, yet are recognizable the world over. The way she fused classical music with jazz and soul to create a unique sound should be an inspiration to those looking for innovative directions in music.
Another child prodigy, Mozart was composing and performing in front of royalty by the age of five. He was a master of the classical art-form composing concertos, symphonies, operas, sonatas and string concertos. He created more than 600 works and influenced countless musicians throughout the generations. For me, his final unfinished requiem is a masterpiece. Though there is controversy over how much of the final piece is his, it is a striking example of dynamics in music. The ebb and flow of the music show how powerful near-silence and changes in volume and tempo can be in a piece.
Andy Trowers is a freelance writer and regular contributor to www.cheap.forsale and is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. We are grateful for his support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.