One of the top 3 questions that I get asked is, “how can i develop my own style?” A lot of guitarists are looking to be content with how they sound and make sense of all different bits and pieces that make up their style. Others are trying to craft something completely unique, and need some tips about how they can achieve that goal.
I’m going to show you a surefire way, if you’re willing to put in the time, to get your own signature sound. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight, but it is worth it to find out what type of player you are. The best thing is that we truly are all unique, and everyone has a chance to bring their own unique style to the table. Let’s take a look at how you can get there.
Listen and Decide
This is one of the most fun parts of the journey. If you’re starting from square one, or if you’ve been playing for a long time, but your style is all over the place, this is the step for you. What this step entails is listening to tons of different music, and deciding what styles appeal to you. Are you a fan of rock, jazz, blues, metal, country? Maybe a combination of a couple of those?
Go to your favorite streaming service of choice and listen to a wide variety of styles you think you might be into. This’ll inform your decision about what type of genres you want to “research” further. If you need some inspiration, each and every Friday I always recommend a Guitar Album of the Week, and that stays in the sidebar of this site. If you search on Twitter or Facebook for Chasing Sound and Guitar Album of the Week, you’re bound to find lots of recommendations.
Emulate and Innovate
After you’ve sought out what genres you want to try and play, find out who the key guitar players are for that style. While in the previous step you were listening to figure out what genres you’d be into, in this step you’re going to be actively listening. What does that entail? You’re listening to develop a vocabulary. We always talk about creating a lick library. In this step you should jot down your favorite riffs, even if it’s just to go back to them at a later time.
Another helpful thing is to listen to what type of tone and techniques these players are using. What effects are they employing in their songs? What’s on their pedalboard? Once you get an idea of this, start trying to craft your own tone around these players. It’s never a bad thing to start with a tone or riff from one of your heroes as a starting point. While playing these riffs, change the notes up, use different techniques, and make them your own.
Many of the players that we listen to today wear their influences on their sleeve. I hear bits of Stevie Ray and Hendrix in John Mayer, hear Vai and Satch in the lines of someone like Plini, and hear Malmsteen in someone like Daniele Gottardo’s playing. Every once in a while it’s not a bad to give your influences a nod while you’re playing.
At this point, everything is a remix of something that has come before. Know that, and don’t worry about it. One of my favorite books is a book called Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Austin goes over clever ways to make creative stuff your own, while tastefully “stealing” from other artists. This book is perfect for any creative person. Go take a read and I’m sure you’ll learn a lot about your craft.
You Don’t Have To Be The Next Van Halen
I shared 5 essential guitar albums recently on the site, and the funny thing about all of those albums is that I enjoy them for completely different reasons. 3 out of 5 of the albums are instrumental albums, and they share a lot of similarities, but each guitarist is unique in their playing style, tone, and other aspects.
I always tell the story of one of my earliest guitar teachers. We headed down to a blues jam, and everyone was a great player. My teacher got a chance to sit in, and wowed the crowd with his blues licks that were infused with jazz lines. He took his influences like Vai, John Scofield and more, and used them in this blues jam, while still being tasteful.
What genres will you combine to make your own unique signature sound? The great part about playing guitar is that it’s ok to emulate our favorite guitar players, but each of us has an opportunity to bring something entirely new to the table.
Don’t Worry About Gear
If you have a Strat but your favorite guitarist uses a Les Paul, or you don’t yet have that signature pedal of your favorite player, don’t worry. One thing that can set you apart is using what gear you already own. If you’re looking to be influenced by someone like Andy Summers of the Police, try not using a glassy tone, but take away some of his angular lines to use in your playing.
Want that slithery Slash type of tone and you have a Les Paul, but not a bunch of Marshalls? Don’t worry. This is all about you. Many players have done the whole Les Paul into Marshall thing before. Let’s hear what you have to offer.
What’s Your Signature Style?
Photo credit: Gavin Whitner