5 Tips to Stop Playing Like Them and Start Playing Like Yourself

Quit being compared to other guitarists, and begin developing a style of playing that is unique to your musical personality.

Ultimate Guitar

You've just taken off your guitar after performing one of the best sets of your life. You played things that would make your mother proud, make your ex-girlfriend regret having dumped you for a mustached barista, and make atheists reconsider the existence of a god. As your head is still spinning, you step offstage only to be greeted by an enthusiastic, albeit notably intoxicated fan. He reaches for your hand, starts shaking it emphatically, and exclaims, "That was incredible! You're such a great player, man. Unbelievable. You sounded JUST like {insert a name that isn't yours}! "

For many guitarists, there is something unsettling about hearing this. Sure, it's great that this fan enjoyed your playing, and what he said was, in his mind, nothing but the highest praise. After all, {insert said player's name} is considered a master, a legend, and the owner of an unmistakable style of guitar playing. You've studied his/her playing, and learning his/her songs has contributed greatly to your musical development. But despite all that, that person isn't you. You want to be your own player with your own unmistakable style.

Developing your own unique voice on the guitar can seem like a daunting, if not wholly impossible, task. However, it can actually be a fun-filled and invigorating life-long adventure that will effectively transform you into a more individual player. It is an adventure that will separate you from your hero(es) while simultaneously bringing you closer to their level of mystique.

Here are a few tips to help you stop playing like So-and-So and start playing like yourself.

1. Diversify your tastes

Nothing will stop you from sounding like another particular player faster than allowing the influence of countless other musicians seep into your musical vocabulary. Actively seek out different artists and different genres of music to listen to. Undoubtedly, you'll discover a lot of cool music that you may have never sought out or been exposed to otherwise. As your begin listening to new things and your tastes become more eclectic, your playing will begin to show signs of a cultivated musical palate that is more unique and more representative of your individual preferences.

2. Embrace your guilty pleasures

You and your metal-loving friends are driving to the mall to get tattoos. As your friends scroll through your iPod, they are taken aback by what they see listed between Beheaded and Bloodbath.

"Beyoncé?" one asks, with a hint of smugness in his voice.

Embarrassed by your friends' discovery, you quickly cover yourself. "Uh, oh. Yeah. Sometimes my sister uses my iPod. I need to delete that garbage." When you get home, you erase your copy of "I Am... Sasha Fierce," not because you don't enjoy it but, because you're convinced that erasing it will make you a more authentic metalhead. 

What your actually doing by deleting that album is depriving yourself of an opportunity to involve diverse influences in your musical world that can increase your uniqueness as a musician. "Guilty pleasures" in musical taste are almost always just instances of enjoying something that doesn't fit into the preconceived image associated with your favorite genre. When you allow yourself to embrace your guilty pleasures instead of suffocating them, you are more likely to break away from genre-conformity and develop your own distinct style. Just as the previous tip suggested you should expand your tastes, you should also avoid limiting your tastes.

3. Analyze what you love

It's one thing to learn how to play songs by your favorite guitarist. It's another thing completely to sit down, really study the songs, and ponder what exactly it is you enjoy about them. When you take the time to analyze players that you like and contemplate why you like them, you gain a much clearer idea of what musical aspects you truly value. You may even find that there are aspects to their playing that you overlooked and don't particularly like, forcing you to think about what you would have done differently had you been the one to perform the song. The clarity gained by thoughtful analysis is invaluable to developing your own approach to playing an instrument.

4. Experiment

Allot some time during your practice sessions to experiment. Be curious. Be daring. Be silly. This is your time to challenge what you thought were the limitations of your instrument. If you've ever had an idea for the guitar that made other guitarists look at you like you belong in a mental institution, that's all the more reason to pursue that idea during practice. You may discover techniques that will astonish you and be entirely your own. While there is no guarantee that you will unearth an amazing approach to the guitar that has never been dreamed before, but there is also no harm in spending time testing out wild ideas. At the very least, you will learn what not to do and have fun learning it.

5. Love the way you sound

It's easy to get frustrated when you are learning a song and can't get it to sound identical to the original. Your tone sounds more trebly than the recording. Your vibrato is faster than theirs. Your rhythmic feel is a little behind the beat while theirs is on top of it. These can all be great things. Instead of comparing aspects like these against your favorite player, make a decision as to if they are things that absolutely need fixing. Playing way behind the beat can sound like you're distracted by the smell of your own shoes, but phrasing just a touch behind the beat might make your playing more dynamic and distinguish you from your influences. If you learn to love the quirks in your playing that aren't objectively bad, you can find ways to use them to your advantage in developing a style of playing that sounds like nobody else but yourself.

About the author:Charlie Button is a musician, producer, and educator from Upstate NY. His name has appeared in such music publications as Pitchfork, MySpace Artist of the Day, Dead End Hip Hop, All About Jazz, and others. Visit Charlie's website for online Skype guitar lessons, as well as to sign up for his newsletter that contains free articles such as this one, video lessons, discounts, and more.

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Nice tips, nothing too deep but good advice for beginners and why not more advanced players alike. Especially the last one is important in my experience, trying to carbon copy an improvised solo or replicating a tone from a studio recording can be frustrating, but it can be fixed by adding your own influence.
    Well, its shitty when you are in a band and someone wants you to play exactly how is the song
    This is great,I particularly like point 4. Reminds me of a clip on youtube of Tom Morello talking about his role in RATM, where he felt like he wasn't the guitarist, but the DJ, and the guitar was a noise making tool, not just a guitar.
    Great article. When I listen to any band in any genre, I try to find at least one thing that I can learn from them or something that makes that band unique. If I can't find anything, even something small and trivial, I consider it a "bad" band. For example, I am not a fan of rap at all. But if there's one thing I (as a metalhead) can take away from it, it's that sometimes, all you need is a solid and simple beat. I don't really like deathcore or most metalcore bands, but you have to appreciate their attention to rhythm and precision. I like Muse, even their softer songs, because they aren't afraid to turn any type of noise or effects into an awesome riff or melody. People need to stop "hating" on bands (like A7X or Slipknot), and start focusing on the good parts of the band. I feel like most of the negativity comes from non-musicians. A real musician should always be able to learn something from most other musicians.
    I'm a musician and I don't like those bands. I gave them a chance but -they're just everything I dislike about metal- Growling for the sake of growling... Overpowering guitar instead of letting each instrument have their space... I like balance and musicianship in every aspect of a band. And I don't mean just speed and licks.
    Awesome column! But I find it hard to analyze my favourite guitarists, maybe that would be a good column or lesson!
    Great feature. There's a classical concert pianist who spent 7 years at the Paris Conservatoire. She doesn't use a damn thing they taught her! She had some lessons from one of the top pianists and it was all about playing the way you feel and enjoy. Jacquelin Du Pre had the same teaching style. Look at videos of the guitarists who want to learn from. Annoying thing is that the video director often turns the camera away when the guitarist starts soloing proving that the video director doesn't understand music!
    Another thing that I thought helped me some was just not listening to music for awhile. It really blends the musical styles I've listened to and creates more unique sounds when I play!
    This is the life!. To develop your own style, first you have to copy the others.