Finding Your Unique Voice On Guitar I

Many players get to a stage where they want to have their own unique sound. This lesson will explain a way you can discover and develop your own unique sound on guitar.

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Lesson Info: Who is lesson for? Intermediate to advanced players who want to develop their own sound'. In other words, if you want your playing to have a unique sound and style that will make you stand out of the crowd, this lesson is for you. Introduction At some stage of your development you might start to think about how you want to sound as a guitarist and what sounds and techniques you enjoy and want to focus on. Most players start off wanting to sound like somebody else (eg: want to sound like Steve Vai, or Jimi Hendrix or Slash, etc.). But eventually some players decide that they don't want to sound like somebody else, instead they want to have their own unique sound that everybody can recognize is their own. In this lesson I will explain a way you can try to discover your own sound and how to develop it. What Gives A Player Their Sound? Have you ever noticed when a famous guitarist covers a song by somebody else that the guitar playing can sound completely different even know it's the same part? When you hear a recording of Jimi Hendrix, you will probably straight away recognize it as Hendrix even if you don't know the song. This isn't just because of the guitar and amp he used, but also because of the chords and note choices, the way he played certain techniques and which techniques he didn't use. This is the same when you hear Slash play a melody or solo or any other unique sounding guitarist. It isn't just the Les Paul and the Marshall that gives the sound, but everything else combined. Listen To Your Playing Now Record yourself improvising and playing whatever you normally play. Listen to the recording and try to hear your own unique qualities. You may notice that you palm mute a lot of single notes when playing a run and like how it sounds or you may do a lot of soft legato. You may notice that you pick the notes really hard which gives a rapid fire sound. Just listen and write down everything you like and don't like about how you sound now. You may like the way you play legato runs but notice that you don't like the sound of the pinch harmonics you play. Record yourself improvising as much as you can and come up with a list of things you do you want to develop and things you do that you don't like and want to stop. Just take a piece of paper with two columns likes and dislikes. The more you can fill this list the better. Many people don't like to criticize their own playing this way but if you want to improve as a player it's better to criticize your own playing then listen to somebody else criticize it for you! What Do You Want To Sound Like? After you listen to your playing and discover what you like about it and more importantly what you don't like about it, you can think about what you want to sound like. What type of guitarist do you want to become and what would you want to be known for if you were to become famous? Some people may say they want to be a super fast sweep picking demon or they want to be known for ultra-heavy riffs and accurate picking. Whatever you come up with write it down. Now think of what you need to do to get there and where you're at now. Let's say you ambition is to be known as a really fast sweep picker, but when you listen to your playing you realize that although you're already really fast and accurate, it sounds like every other sweep picker you hear. This is when you need to look at how you can develop your playing to sound different to the thousands of other sweep picker experts out there. There are plenty of ways you can do this. You can try finding arpeggio shapes that you've never seen anybody else use or use an exotic scale that makes it hard to find decent shapes to sweep across. The idea is to try something you haven't been doing. For example Yngwie Malmsteen is well known to love using the Harmonic Minor scale. It gives his playing a certain sound. Maybe you love the sound of the Spanish scale or the Oriental scale and that can be your specialty. Try as many different ideas as you can and again record them. Listen to the ideas and find the ideas you like and want to include in your sound. The basic idea is to listen to how you sound now and figure out what ingredients (scales, chords, techniques, equipment) you need to get the sound you want. This may sound obvious but not many people actually do it. Try to come up with a list of ideas you can include in your playing that will improve your sound. The End Result? After all this you should have a very detailed list of things you want to include or keep in your playing as well as things you don't want in your playing. From here the task is simple: work to develop your list of wants' and eliminate your list of don't wants' from your playing. This may sound tedious, but if you are working towards a sound you like better than you have now, you will definitely enjoy it. You will develop into a unique sounding guitarist regardless if you follow this advice or not, but following these tips will speed up the process and will hopefully help you become the player you want to be sooner. If you work at all these suggestions above, I guarantee you will develop a unique sound and people will start to recognize when you are playing rather than just another guitarist'. I'd love to hear how this has helped your playing and other ways you have tried to shape your playing. Feel free to leave a comment so other players can learn from your experiences.

35 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Ulric von Bek
    Good advice. May I suggest trying to be honest with ourselves if we want to get anywhere with this.
    arzga
    Pretty good article, although I don't agree with that you should stop practicing those things you're not good at. Use the stuff you like more in your songs for example, but if you train also the skills you're not so good at you might find some more ways to be great.
    bluntzilla2010
    Probably the most useful article I've ever found on UG, bookmarked it for future reference, thanks a ton!
    jtwina
    Coincidently I just started recording my practices and found there was a lot I didn't like, but there was also a lot I thought sucked while I played but sounded OK on the playback. I even made the lists which helps me to focus my guitar time.
    aaron@tmc
    Thanks Diek321 thats exactly what I was trying to say in the article. It's very important that people understand the difference between the two. In regards to my example of Slash being unique, I think some people missed the point so I'll explain it a couple different ways. If you heard a recording of Slash (or ANY other famous guitarist) improvising on his own you will probably recognise that it's him playing (whether you think it's good playing or not isn't the point). Slash (and every other guitarist) uses certain combinations of techniques and applies them in a certain way that gives a unique sound. In other words your sound is like your fingerprint - everybody will have a similar one (and unobservant people will think they are the same or that they arent unique at all), but yours will always be unique. So yes - Slash is unique the same way that nobody else has his fingerprint. Another way of thinking about it is if you record 100 guitarists each having a go playing the same riff. Even when it's the same thing being played, you will hear subtle differences between players. If you were one of the 100 guitarists, do you think you could pick out which recording was your playing? If you can then that is what it means to be unique.
    P@tGoD
    In my opinion, 'Your own sound' is something that develops over time as a sum of many parts. These include technical proficiency (ability to play), musical influences (music you associate yourself with), musical circumstances (whether or not you're in a band and if so, what type of band that is). I think you could recognise a distinction between someone's 'sound' and someone's 'style' as each can pull the other in a different direction while ability could remain relatively constant. My 'sound' is due to the gear choices I make and the direction of the band I play with. My 'style' is, in truth, a result of my technical limitations and musical influences - the latter of these probably has the greatest inluence on my 'sound'. It's like taking a template from a pool of other players then rearranging it to suit.
    JQJO12
    Using effects can also be a part of ur sound.. just listen to Tom Morrelo
    Diek321
    Many people are getting this wrong: It doesnt mean "stop practicing what youre not good at", it means "eliminate what you dont like about your own playing". If you are not good at something, you obviously practice to dominate it and be a "better guitarist". =P Great advice, never thought of it before. Very good UG article.
    austhrax
    slash is a unique guitarist,u dont have to be a virtuoso to be a great guitarist
    Romper Stomper
    DeathMetalDave wrote: engineno9 wrote: He's unique enough that I can tell it's him when he's playing +100
    matrizkit
    I like plopping my ball sack on the high strings and gently sliding for a pleasing whispering strings effect. I call this testiculating. The resulting sound is called "ball-sound". Its a centuries old method used by only the most brazen guitarists of their age and time. Hows that for special voice, eh Dostoevsky?
    diego0047
    METAL JEFF wrote: Just play the damn guitar and enjoy what you do.99.9% of us play 99.9% of the time alone.So who cares?
    not ALL of us are in that "99.9%" Great advise, but ammm, I guess that, another way to develop youre sound is by, like, just Playing, by simple learning Solos, Riffs & stuff, you kinda, apply one of the Dorian Scales from "Fade to Black" or a Scale from "Alone" to youre playing (maybe, Articulating it across the Fretboard, it depends on you o.o) I'll try out the advise, I know it will work, I've kinda done something similar before...
    METAL JEFF
    Just play the damn guitar and enjoy what you do.99.9% of us play 99.9% of the time alone.So who cares?
    Kanthras
    I disagree. I don't think playing a funny scale means you suddenly sound unique. Basing your entire playing around a single scale is something that's really overdone and quickly leads to you sounding stale.
    guusw
    Evews333 wrote: I'd be interested know everyone's thoughts on U2's the Edge. Is his sound all effects and amp? Or is that style? I mean I've never heard anyone even come close to "sounding" like him - but if you took off the effects, I don't know if you could claim he was doing anything "distinctive". Another critical part of Edge's style is being able to use the guitar to contribute to the overall sound as opposed to being a lead instrument
    Edge does use a lot chords or riffs that are located on the B and E string, mostly above the 10th fret. And in the documentary 'It might get loud' he shows how he plays a e-minor differently. So he does have a distinctive way of playing, but for the most part he is a sound architect.
    NickGiovanni
    Slash's guitar playing is about as unique as owning an Epiphone. He's known for his top-hat and fluffy-ness. Not his playing. Although, he's a pretty decent guitar player. Could've used a better example, in an otherwise great article, that's all I'm sayin'
    krypticguitar87
    arzga wrote: Pretty good article, although I don't agree with that you should stop practicing those things you're not good at. Use the stuff you like more in your songs for example, but if you train also the skills you're not so good at you might find some more ways to be great.
    I don't think this was about eliminating things we're not good at, he says to listen to yourself improving(I guess that when I think of improving, it means to use what you are good at, not what you haven't mastered yet, you know something you would play infront of people if you were given a solo in the middle of a gig....), and write down what you don't like..... I mean, I'm pretty good at writing tapping licks, but I don't like the sound of them as much as like l;ike to use pinch harmonics, and bursts of tremello picking through my solo stuff..... It's not that I'm bad at tapping, I just don't like the sound of it with the rest of my improv stuff.....
    bender424
    Very good advice. The fun thing is that we can apply this idea of 'likes' and 'dislikes' in many aspects of our life.
    SilverSpurs616
    Beedy10 wrote: Zeletros : Slash is a unique sounding guitarist???? +1 Fantastic article.
    Perhaps not unique, but definitive. I like this article, and I agree with Ulric von Bek- we can only truly apply this if we're honest with ourselves. I myself have just written a list or what I like and dislike within my own playing and what I'd like to achieve, and I can already see ways of getting closer to "my" sound. Thank you
    jm911
    great article i've always compared being a guitarist to being like some kung fu dude in those chinese kung fu movies (LOL). the dude always beats the bad guy when he combines the different styles, and in the same way, we guitarists combine techniques that we get from different sources
    Beedy10
    Zeletros : Slash is a unique sounding guitarist???? +1 Fantastic article.
    Decode Music
    Great article. Not even about finding your own sound - but just improving yourself. I'd be interested know everyone's thoughts on U2's the Edge. Is his sound all effects and amp? Or is that style? I mean I've never heard anyone even come close to "sounding" like him - but if you took off the effects, I don't know if you could claim he was doing anything "distinctive".
    Evews333
    I'd be interested know everyone's thoughts on U2's the Edge. Is his sound all effects and amp? Or is that style? I mean I've never heard anyone even come close to "sounding" like him - but if you took off the effects, I don't know if you could claim he was doing anything "distinctive".
    Another critical part of Edge's style is being able to use the guitar to contribute to the overall sound as opposed to being a lead instrument
    guusw
    sorry for the double post. Great article btw. I will try recording my own improvised playing soon.
    shadowmaster036
    Zeletros wrote: Slash is a unique sounding guitarist????
    thank you... i never thought over-using wah was unique... cough cough