Lately, when I am in the car, I find myself not wanting to listen to anything other than classical music or jazz. It’s in the car that I can do the majority of my listening, and lately Meshuggah, Black Sabbath, Lamb of God, and Opeth have NOT been dominating my CD player. I am on a huge Miles Davis bender as well as the likes of Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, Stravinsky and Ravel. I must be getting old.
Honestly, I really relish the fact that I go through musical phases of soaking in different styles of music. There have been times when all I want to hear is R&B and soul. During those times, I find myself getting sucked into following rich and tasteful bass lines that together with a pocket drummer create the most killer rhythm sections. Immediately, Eryka Badu’s live album comes to mind with Poogie Bell on drums and Hubert Eaves IV on bass… smokin’!!!
Yes, I have an affinity for brutal metal, as well. I find myself getting excited by the technicality, and the speed and athletics that are required by those musicians to execute their craft. The ability that those guys have to go way over the top is inspiring and gets the adrenaline pumping.
But, lately it has been the compositional aspects of jazz and classical music that has really got me. I can’t stop listening to Bitches Brew. It seems to me that every note on those two albums is executed with precision, purpose, beauty, and taste. Each note is important and creates a feeling, almost a soundtrack or soundscape that invokes imagery and passion. Likewise, Stravinsky and Ravel have been making the rounds in my playlist and invoking these same inspirations.
Sometimes, it’s prog fever for me, and all that you will find in my CD player is Yes, King Crimson, Rush, Genesis and so on. In a few months, the classics such as Led Zep, The Who, and the likes will be dominating.
So what does diversifying my influences do for me as a musician? I have never been a purist when it comes to music and have always tended to seek out gigs that are a little “different” than the norm. I don’t think it is as blatant, as say, wanting to work a swing section into the middle of a song with my post-hardcore band. Nor do I think that I would want to bust out a blazing double bass part in the middle of a song with my indie band.
I do, however, think that it helps us to think outside of the box. In a sense, there still seems to be unwritten stylistic rules that are written for certain genres of music. Many times this is referred to as the “formula”. Diversifying what you listen to can help you think outside of those boxes and pioneer different styles by exploring options and pushing past the norm.
I encourage musicians to listen to a wide pallet of music. I don’t believe that there should be a “guilty pleasure” in liking something that most of one’s peers label as unhip. I will never apologize for my musical taste in fear of it not being cool. Those who hold that view are missing out and perhaps passing up the opportunity to enrich their musical vocabulary by doing so.
I also strongly advise musicians to become “active” listeners as opposed to being “passive” listeners. The difference is simple. When one listens actively, they are analyzing parts as well as recognizing techniques and characteristics in the music instead of just letting the music become background noise. This, in turn, begins the adventure of learning what elements are required to create different styles and feels. Eventually, one can choose to incorporate some of these elements into one’s own musical expression. So, try and check out something a little outside of your norm and see what happens!