Finding “Your Sound”
I’m often asked by my own guitar students as well as fellow musicians and songwriters about finding “your own signature sound.” People who ask this aren’t necessarily referring about being a technically good musician (they usually are already quite talented); their goal is to have their playing and/or writing sound unique. They often reference specific players and bands, saying how they possess a certain “X-factor” that instantly identifies who they are every time they start playing. Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan – while both being great blues players – don’t sound the same. Rush, Yes and King Crimson don’t sound the same either even though they play the same genre, and it’s the same case for Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and a whole host of others.
The quest to sound original is a very important one that I believe most musicians should strive for to varying degrees. When many people first start playing guitar, they want to sound like their favourite players or play their favourite songs, and while this is a good motivator in the beginning, the goal often loses its flare as the person becomes a musician and even starts playing that player’s songs – once it’s reached, the person is often left wanting more. Finding your own sound tends to be way more rewarding, since it involves inserting your own personality and emotion into your playing by exercising your own creativity.
With that in mind, how do you find your own signature sound? Here are some steps that you can take that will lead you in the right direction.
Analyze, Define, And Incorporate
This will sound contradictory to what you’re trying to achieve, but the first step I’d recommend is to analyze the guitar players and bands that you find have X-factors, define them and try to incorporate them in your own playing and writing. They may or may not become a staple of your sound, but that’s not your goal here. If we can’t find our own sound, it means we are having trouble coming up with our own ideas and don’t even know how to start, so you’ll start by finding examples that appeal to you.
Make a list of guitar players and/or bands that you believe have their own X-factor. It’s even better if you can be more specific by referencing particular songs that you think define them. Put special focus on the genre you wish to play, but don’t make the list exclusively 1-sided because there’s a lot of potential in taking ideas from one genre and applying it to the other. Once the list is made, start listening to the music and pay attention to what it is that makes it sound unique.
You’re going to want to listen to the songs more than once and will likely go over particular sections repeatedly. As you do, ask yourself questions such as:
· “What is it about this part that really stands out to me?”
· “Is it a specific sound that’s perking my ears, or is it an accumulation of many things at once?”
· “At what specific moment (the time marker) do I sense this unique aura?”
· “What instrument am I getting this vibe from?”
· “Is it what the guitar is doing, or how the guitar is reacting to the rest of the band?”
There are many other questions you can ask here, and the more specific you can be, the greater the chance that your findings will help you.
Once you’ve defined that X-factor, create your own lick, chord progression, song, etc. that incorporates it. This will help you internalize it on a deeper level, will get you to start exercising your creativity, and will serve as an example of a unique way to play that you can then expand, tweak and improve.
Experiment With The Possibilities
If you’re a lead guitar player looking to make your soloing and improvising sound more unique, you need to develop your phrasing by experimenting with how you play each note and lick on the guitar. In this case, it’s not necessarily about the specific melody you’re playing (though that could be improved too), but the execution of that melody.
How are you sliding into the first note? Is there a different way you could bend the second note to emphasize it more? What about the third note – does it really need a pick attack, or could a hammer-on or pull-off suffice? How can you modify the vibrato on the last note? How can you combine these phrasing elements together at the beginning of the lick, at the end, and between notes?
If you’re a songwriter, how are you starting your song? How are you ending it? How are you transitioning between the various sections and how are you building intensity? What’s the tempo, and does it vary? What are the other instruments doing? How are you harmonizing the lead melody? How can you modify any of these things? If you could snap your fingers and instantly hear your ideal favourite band, what would they sound like?
As you can imagine, there are a lot of possibilities you can play with. Finding your own sound takes time because it comes through consistently experimenting with how you do things when it comes to your creative side to music. Even when you find your own sound, you’re going to realize that there is still more you can do and will want to continue expanding and improving it. It’s a case where the end of one journey begins another, and it’s always filled with tons of exciting things to learn and explore, so relax and have fun!
About The Author:
Ryan Mueller is a guitar teacher who regularly helps people fulfill their musical potential, and find their own sound through his .