I have caught myself saying a certain phrase or a word in a particular way that sounds just like my dad. It is both strange and cool at the same time. I am not trying to sound like him but it is part of my DNA and this also extends to my brother and we have similarities in speech as well. Close friends and co-workers can also be a source of vocabulary and there are probably times that you say things out of “habit” because you have heard them over and over. Now I catch my kids saying phrases that sound like me and it goes round and round.
As a musician, there are phrases that reveal my musical influences and I don’t always recognize them until I hear a song from one of my “heroes” on the radio. At first I think, “Hey, I know that lick” and then I realize that I play a similar phrase all the time. This can trickle down from many players and a Stevie Ray Vaughan lick might have come from Albert King who got it from BB King who got it from Charlie Christian. I saw an interview with Quincy Jones and he gave a young musician the advice to take 4 or 5 of his favorite musicians and copy them until he could mimic every detail of their style. Listening to and absorbing music from many different players will eventually lead to your own personal style.
I believe that I have been influenced by bands that I listened to before I started playing the guitar as well as from transcribing the music of my favorite players. All of these styles have poured into my musical gumbo and I wonder what the recipe might look like:
2 tsp of Led Zeppelin
1qt of Wes Montgomery
3 tbsp of Van Halen
2 cups of Jimi Hendrix
Pinch of John Scofield
3 oz Black Sabbath
Bake at 50 watts for 10 years
I have added many more influences over the years and I could come up with a few more recipes but the early influences are always at the core. As a kid I remember Eddie Van Halen saying that Eric Clapton was a big influence on his style and at the time I couldn’t hear it. I have figured out that you don’t have to copy a player to be influenced by them and it might be their attitude or approach to music that inspires you.
Guitar players tend to focus on other guitar players for their influences, but it is a good idea to learn from musicians of other instruments. I have spent many hours listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and other jazz groups that don’t have guitarists and this is where I find inspiration for improvisation. I know some instrumentalists will listen to vocalists to copy their way of phrasing. The notes are all the same but something seems different when coming from a different instrument.
It is never too late to add some new spice to your musical stew and keep listening and transcribing as much as you can and maybe you will create a delicious dish that is fresh and unique.