Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF
(when and how)
by Tom Hess
The very fact that you have begun to read this article indicates
that you probably think originality is important. But is being
original a worthy goal to have? I think most people would answer
yes (in theory at least). My answer would certainly not be yes
or no, but rather MAYBE. I say maybe, because it always depends
on the situation.
Consider this: In classical music, styles of playing and composition
changed VERY slowly. Mozart, Haydn and J.S. Bach did NOT care
about originality. I know that for those of you who have not studied
music history in depth, that may sound strange, but it is the
truth. They were not great because they were original, they were
simply superior composers. To be great (or even the best) at what
you do often has little to do with originality. If being innovative
was the key to success then no two great musicians would sound
anything alike. We all know this is not true.
J.S. Bach only cared about writing the best crafted music for
God. Craftsmanship (musical skill) and expression of his love,
respect, etc. for God was all that he cared about really. He didn't
need to be innovative in order to reach his goals because the
music of his time could fulfill that. There was no need to innovate
to reach his goals. Many of Bach's contemporaries were far more
original than he was, but it is Bach that is the master we remember
and is taught in every classical music university program in the
Mozart and Haydn (who lived after Bach) only cared about making
money and serving their patrons. They were basically servants
who later made bigger names for themselves. These composers wanted
to make money, they wanted to fill concert halls and please the
patrons who employed them. That was their goal and being original
was not important to achieving that goal, in fact, too much innovation
would have hurt their careers in those days.
Originality didn't really become a major factor in music until
Beethoven (about 50 years after Bach's death). By the time Beethoven
began composing, he was already a famous pianist and financially
secure. He did not need to compose the standard music of the day
to feed himself. Especially later in his life, he could do whatever
he wanted musically. His main goal was to express himself, not
to make money (since he already had enough money). But he found
himself in a situation where composing music in the conventional
way just couldn't express his thoughts and feelings. THAT'S WHEN
IT BECAME CRITICAL TO INNOVATE AND BECOME ORIGINAL. Beethoven's
originality was needed to serve his goal of self expression. He
didn't seek innovation just to be different, it was a necessity.
When I asked you the question, "Is being original a worthy
goal to have?" I said maybe. I hope now you are beginning
to see when (in my opinion at least) it is important and when
it is not. Sometimes the roles of innovation and originality are
critical, other times it is not needed at all.
There are plenty of guitar players who go to great lengths to
be different, just to be different. Many times the result is not
very successful, why? Because originality in and of itself has
little or no real and lasting value because its just a novelty
or a gimmick.
Originality as a part of the whole big picture, where everything
else is balanced and in place, can be a wonderful and valuable
thing indeed. When it has a definite purpose to express something
that cannot be done by conventional means it is special and those
types of innovations are far more effective, powerful and beautiful.
My advice to my students has always has been this: Never avoid
doing something ordinary or common out of fear that your idea
won't be original. Because if you do, your musical expression
and creativity will suffer for it. You can use everything, new
or old, don't restrict your options. Seek not to be the same as
others. Seek not to be different than others. Be yourself and
express that, whether that calls for innovation or or ordinary
Now that I have expressed my perspective on the role of originality,
lets look at some ways in which you can start to achieve some
originality in your playing, songwriting/composing, improvising,
etc. so that you will have it, if and when you need it.
Listen and study other guitarists whom you like and respect.
Listen to non guitar music as well. Analyze what they are doing,
how they are doing it and how you might use the knowledge in your
own way. If you are not sure how to do this effectively, find
a good teacher to help you. Check out my article on Choosing
Listen to other styles of music besides what you usually listen
to. There you will find new techniques and new ways of applying
old techniques. I listened to some really great singers to add
new ideas to my vibrato and phrasing. I looked to the 19th century
Romantic era composers (mainly Chopin) for harmony and chord progressions,
modulations that are not easily found in modern music of today.
Mike Walsh (the other guitarist in HESS) looked to eastern music
for his exoticism. He also studied all the major woodwind and
brass instruments in college which is where his original sounding
legato phrasing comes, in part, from.
If you are seeking truly original ideas, look outside music.
There exists an infinite wealth of inspiring ideas in other forms
of art & literature, science, religions, instincts, cultures
but most importantly - your own emotions, thoughts, desires, scars,
While I was a composition student at Roosevelt University in
Chicago, I took a class called Great Ideas. This was basically
a study of great literary works. One of the books I read was Goethe's
The Sorrows of Young Werther. The literary form (structure) was
quite different from the other books I have read. Without going
into an in depth analysis of the book, I'll just tell you here
that the bulk of the story is told through a series of letters.
I thought about how well this worked in expressing the story from
this unique perspective. I thought about how this concept may
work in music. I found several other ideas in this, and other,
books that could be used in other forms of art (such as music)
with some creative imagination and adaptation. I soon realized
that there exists a huge resource of musical ideas in so many
I sincerely hope you will look to both musical and non musical
influences. Keep an open and creative mind to all that you see,
read, feel, think, hear and you will find, in your own way, new
treasures that exist there.
All rights reserved @2003 Tom Hess
Used By Permission
Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF