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Originality, Ear Training and Never Losing An Idea

I read Danny Shatz's killer article about finding yourself, and I wanted to add a few things as well if I may. I've been getting bombarded with questions from people on "how to develop an original style" so I figured I'd share a few things with you. Unlike previous articles and lessons you may have read here, in this one, I'll not play a single lick but I believe you'll learn more here by letting me get into your head, than any one lesson or article could ever give you. This is kinda like a double bang for your buck. A small lesson within an article....if that makes any sense.

I think we all live in a world today of having things a bit too easy. In that being said, we also start to depend on certain things that actually CAN hinder our progression to becoming a guitarist with an identity when used too much, or improperly. I'm going to cover two areas here that are, for sure, the reasons I'm a somewhat accomplished and original sounding musician. Now let me into your head, this is deep!

Section 1: Your Ears
One of the most important weapons that any of you have, I believe, are your ears. A good ear is something that separates the pros from the wanna-be pros in my humble opinion, because a good ear can open many doors for you that strict theory sometimes can't. Too much of what we study today is tab-based, or we concentrate on theoretical aspects and become either stagnant, heartless, mechanical, or a clone of our favorite players. I've met several theoretical geniuses and clones throughout my years, and though they have talent and chops that far exceed my capabilities, they never gain their own identity. Don't get me wrong, without theory (or at least basic theory) you're only hurting yourself. Tabs are great also, they just get used for all the wrong reasons sometimes, and this is for you guys/girls that might be a bit tired of that routine.

I'd like you all to try something for me if you are not familiar with what I'm going to share here. I want you to leave your tabs and theory alone for a few days, and train your ears to learn new stuff. Put on a CD of someone you like, and try to play what your ears THINK they hear. Some of you with an already established ear will play what you're listening to note for note. Others will come close, and several others will fall way short. The object of this exercise is NOT to cop the licks perfectly, but if you can, God bless you...put something more challenging on, will ya? This is meant to make you actually make mistakes attempting to play what your ears THINK they hear. In doing that, you may learn the lick correctly, or (this next part is what I REALLY hope happens) you will create your own by accident. What good is it to play something that someone else has created? How will you find YOUR true identity? Some can manipulate a lick they learn into their own style. Others can't.

By attempting to do this, several mistakes will be made. Those mistakes will bring forth new ideas based on the original idea you thought you heard, all in error! Neat huh? This way, when you play that Vai lick, it won't be a Vai lick...it will be Vai inspired, created by you! This method is how I have developed my own style throughout the years. Tabs (though useless to me because I tune a bit different than all of you) can help you to test new techniques and learn new stuff, but my point here is, too many people rely on them as their main source of learning. That will NOT help you in a band situation when some guy plays something you've never heard before, and you have to jam with him. Most of the tab guys I know can't play much rhythm, nor do they know any progressions. I'm not downing you tab monsters or theory maniacs, you're gifted. I'm looking at extreme cases only, and you pros know what I mean here. If you're happy with extreme tab and theory, you're right where you want to be.

Tuning in those ears will help you do just about anything you want....if you can hear it. It will also give you originality and your own licks. Make mental notes to remember progressions in every tune you learn. You never know when you may have to play something similar spur of the moment. There isn't a single solo I can play note for note. In any cover band or cover song I've ever done, I come close to what I was supposed to play, but it's Danny Danzi that shines through at all times. If authenticity was a factor, I never joined that type of band. The above method will for sure broaden your horizons on lead playing the instant you try it. I promise you immediate results with this, but I still want you to practice your tab stuff. Tabs and theory ARE equally important to what I'm saying here, but they are tools, not crutches...remember that.

When I was learning to play our ears were all we had. Try playing Malmsteen or Segovia with no tabs. How 'bout those phrase samplers you guys have? Cheaters! LOL! We didn't have any of that. I remember buying an old record player (whats a record player Danny?) that went down to speed 16 rpm so I could attempt to play a few things by slowing them down. Of course it was out of key, but I'd at least get the idea and wind up turning the lick into my own. This is a way to become you!

Section 2: Voices In My Head?
The next thing I'd like to cover here are those voices in your head. You all have them, admit to it! We're artists, we're weird, and we can't explain them right? Wrong, you can! Those voices in your head are most of the time, your original compositions begging to get out. "Yeah Danny, how do I get them out?" The answer is simple...your ears.

When you hear an idea or anything at all in your head...try to hum that idea. Sing it, hum it, grab your guitar and play the individual notes of what you hear, use a piano, anything. But try to slow it down in your mind and pick it apart instrument, and note at a time. I have a few students that I teach here. My motto to them is "If you can hear it in your head, you can hum it, if you can hum it, you can play it." Pick it apart starting with the root or main melody of what you hear.

If you can even just play all the bass notes on one string to get started, you took the first step of "removing voices from your head." This is the process I used for the longest time until I could identify things from constantly doing it. Now I hear full orchestrations and have to pick each instrument apart. Sounds hard doesn't it? It is if your ear is weak. A strong ear can grab what is deep inside and allow you to play it. Identifying the parts or notes in their rawest form is a great start. From there, once you have the basic notes down, you experiment with voicings, or rhythms or the next part of the song or idea that is in your head. Pick it apart a little at a time, and just play those root notes if need be. Once you get those out, the tune now has note value and can be evaluated easier because you know what you have to work with.

All of you should carry a small microcassette player with you at all times when youre driving, or at school, or anywhere, and an idea comes to you. By the time you get home, you lose it and you're angry with yourself, right? A $12 microcassette recorder will stop this from happening to you. You can hum the idea (even if you hum terribly or out of key) on the tape, and sort it out when you get home to your guitar. If you can't afford a cassette recorder, you stop at a payphone and call your answering machine. (Definitely the best 50 cents you'll ever spend, trust me!) Now I know everyone has one of them, right?! Bark a few notes into the old answering machine and deal with it when you get home. These important tricks will stop you from losing that great song idea that is begging you to let it out. You need a decent ear to pull them off though, so remember to use those ears!!! Thanks for reading, and best of luck!

Danny Danzi is a professional recording artist from New Jersey signed to Z Records in England.