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Author Topic: How closely do you mimic styles?  (Read 5904 times)

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Offline Blue in VT

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How closely do you mimic styles?
« on: September 13, 2006, 11:42:15 AM »
Hi Weenie's

I am starting to broaden my playing horizons beyond E. Cotten and MJH and have a question for ya'll.  How closely do you follow/mimic/copy the playing styles of the artists that you duplicate.  What I mean by this is....when playing a Gary Davis song...do you only play with your index finger and always use a thumb pick.  Do you get out your Gibby Jumbo that you only keep for the Revs tunes...do you put on dark glasses and smoke cheap cigars...???   8) 8).  Allright I'm being a smart ass....the reason I ask is this...I started watching the Ernie Hawkins videos from Guitar Workshop on Gary Davis and Ernie has the Rev down to a T.  Same guitar...same picking style...same posture etc.  And he sounds AWESOME...just like the Rev.  Do you guys take things this far?  Coming from playing Cotten and MJH tunes the idea of playing the melody notes with only my index finger seems backwards to me.  Is there some inherant logic in the Rev's music (Lipscomb's to for that matter) that fits the single finger picking style better?  At this point in my learning (only been fingerpickin for about 2 years) is trying a completely different pickin style a bad idea?  I'm sure that a lot of this comes down to how much you want to sound just like the original artist...and how comfortable you are with creating your own interpretation of some elses music.

Sorry for the rambling message but this has been bothering me for awhile...

Cheers,

Blue in VT
Blue in VT

JasonE

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2006, 12:54:21 PM »
This may sound silly comming from me as I have been playing less than a year, but anyway.....

I am trying to develop (or find maybe) my own style.

So I hope the answer to your questin is "not at all"

So far I have only learned tunes which are traditional standards. But I really try to do them in my way. So that if someone who was familiar with my playing heard them, they would 1) recognize the song for what it was; and 2) recognize that it was me playing it.

So if I were to do a tune that was associated with a well known person, I would like to do my interpretation of it.

At this point, I feel it would be disrespectful to play something like death letter blues or children of zion in my own proto-style.

Someday, who knows.

JasonE

Offline a2tom

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2006, 03:16:58 PM »
I seek to learn from the masters.  To some extent that inevitably means copying or mimicking, but there is a limit to how far it goes.  I think that's true for everyone, just that peoples limits differ.  I think the biggest factors affecting the limit are time and ability - I just don't have enough of either to REALLY play just like whoever, but doesn't mean I'm not always learning by exploring new elements of style and technique. 

Beyond that, I say exploring new styles is always good, and also that I'd never be worried about playing a song  - its music, and meant to be played.

tom

Offline dj

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2006, 03:55:55 PM »
Hi, Blue,

That's an interesting question, and one that I think we all struggle with to one extent or another.  In a way I'm in the same boat as you, and in a way I'm not - I played guitar a LOT from around 1967 to 1984, then put it down completely for 20 years, and now have been playing again for just under 2 years.  Interestingly, I find that my playing style changed a lot over 20 years of non-playing, mostly because it was 20 years of listening to and thinking about music.  I feel like playing country blues is almost a native language for me now, not "country blues as a second language", and that's affected how I play.

For one, I used to be a straight 3 finger picker.  Now, I do some stuff with 3 fingers, some stuff using my middle finger only occasionally, and some stuff using just 2 fingers - it depends on how I feel a piece should sound.  For another, I've pretty much abandoned some stuff I used to do a lot, like a downward strum with the back of my finger - I'm more apt to do that with my thumb now.  I've never learned from video, but some from tabs, some from audio lessons (mostly John Miller's here on W.C.), and a lot by ear, so I probably don't have as much of a "this is how it should be played" as someone working in front of a TV.  Fingerings, both left and right hand, work thenselves out while I'm learning a piece - when I get to something that's difficult, I work on it with a bunch of fingerings and let the best one win.   

Somewhere along the line, back in the early 70s, I acquired a hard-and-fast rule that any song I sang I had to add at least one original verse to before I considered it ready to perform in front of others, and by-and-large I still stick to that.  As to arranging accompaniments, sometimes I stick pretty close to the original (Charley Jordan's "Keep It Clean", for example), sometimes I only slightly modify things (a few bass notes in measures 5 and 6 of Jordan's "Hunkie Tunkie" that Jordan didn't do but that I think puts a bit of extra drive in there, or a few extra bass notes again in the first-position E chord sections of Willie Brown's "M & O)", and sometimes it's just pretty much a different arrangement (Kid Prince Moore's "Sign Of Judgment").           

My basic rule has always been to have fun playing, and to completely purge myself of reverence and respect.   :P  Just play a piece the way I want to play it, whether it's a faithful copy of a blues by Ed Bell or a country blues medley of James Brown's "I Feel Good" and "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" (no, I haven't quite gotten this last one to work, but I keep trying...).

The only hard-and-fast musical rule is: If you're going to play in front of an audience, be entertaining. 

Sorry to go on at such length, hope I haven't bored you too much.

Offline frankie

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2006, 05:41:04 PM »
same picking style...same posture etc.

I think there is definitely something to the way you physically approach your instrument, both in the picking style and in the posture you assume.  When I was thinking hard about Rev. Davis, I noticed a couple of things that he did that made a big difference to me at the time - how he wore his thumbpick and the way he held his guitar.  Both seemed to me to be indicative of a kind of approach to the music that I admired...  so I tried them.  It did make a difference to me, and gave me a lot more confidence, but I suppose it's not something everyone would feel comfortable doing, or even think was a positive thing if they heard me & the way I put it to use.

I like to listen closely & pick out what I can, make mistakes, figure it out again.  I also like the pure fun of playing - just letting it spin out however it happens.  Either way can be magic.  Listening is the core for me though - it all boils down to what you can hear.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2006, 07:26:44 PM »
I'm not sure it's got to be one way or the other. One the one hand, you can come across folks who'll say they do it their way, and what that can translate into is they can't do it very well, whether it's a question of being faithful to the original or blazing their own path. On the other hand, there are many who do indeed do it their way and brilliantly.

I think unless you're already performing and have your own sound and style (and I'm speaking strictly of guitar styles right now, not vocals), there's a real benefit to trying to nail the masters' arrangements and styles. I know that my own explorations of Lemon, Patton and Blake, among others, and my attempts to really play what they played, as close as possible to the recordings as I can get at this point in time, have been enormously beneficial to my own playing. But I'm not a performer looking to put my special touch on things yet (if ever). There are tunes, however, that I'll just play, without being concerned much about whether it matches the original -- it's more about whether it simply sounds good and has a groove.

Despite my purist tendencies, I've actually started to notice in some vague way a style emerging to some of the songs I play. I think this is more a product of the passage of time, and my total immersion in country blues listening that dj and frankie refer to as well -- which is hugely important IMO, as so many of us are learning too much from videos and tab books without listening to the originals enough -- than any conscious effort to create a particular sound.

I go back to things over and over again, over the course of years and discover new things all the time. I've recently been figuring out Blind Blake's That Will Never Happen No More. I first started learning this song maybe 6 or 7 years ago, based largely on a Dave Van Ronk arrangement and possibly a Stefan Grossman thing. Neither were really accurate though were a lot of fun and got me playing and feeling good about playing. Now I'm hearing what Blake is actually doing myself and working it out in a way much closer to the original recording. Who knows how I'll play it two years from now, or if I ever perform it. But getting inside Blake in a really detailed way is a great country blues education for me. I remember John Miller talking somewhere about figuring out Blind Lemon songs. He wouldn't necessarily perform most of the stuff he worked out but it was still a hugely valuable process for him (hopefully I've paraphrased more or less accurately). Getting really deep inside Rev. Davis' style, as well, would be an enormous education for anyone.

It depends on your level too. Frankly, I think to ask a beginner to immediately try and duplicate Lemon, Rev. Davis or Blake is silly. They should just play, play, play until they gradually start being able to approach these things. If it means they don't actually play what RGD played but they make their way through the chord positions and song forms in some kind of "arrangement", great. They shouldn't worry too much about style, whether it's their own or a blues masters', and should worry more about playing, time, feel and developing a familiarity with all sorts of songs.

As to getting right down to the level of picks and guitar models, well, obsessions can take one too far IMO.  ;D I think Ernie plays with plastic fingerpicks. Didn't RGD play with metal?  :P  I do think RGD tunes sound particularly great on a nice-sounding Gibson though and I promise to learn a bunch of his tunes if someone provides me with one...

 

Online Johnm

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2006, 10:06:15 PM »
Hi all,
I read the posts up to Uncle Bud's before going out to dinner and have been thinking about this topic a lot.  I think it is an important topic because it has a lot to do with how the music is going to go forward or survive.  I agree with so much of what has already been said here, and most particularly with the value of listening to the music a lot.  It's where everything comes from, and suggests different places to go.
I agree very much with Uncle Bud's assessment of closely trying to copy styles as an important part of learning the music and building a vocabulary in it.  Musicians have such different ways of getting around and using their hands on the instrument.  Learning to play something really well that diverges from your innate way of striking the strings or phrasing is a real accomplishment, and may expand the ways you are able express yourself in the future.  In addition to which, if you do a good job of copying a player who had great time and touch, guess what, it's going to help your own time and touch a lot.  Strong reproductions of pieces by players like Blake, Jefferson, and Davis are really impressive because the stuff they played is hard, and the niceties of their timing and touch can be very elusive. 
That having been said, I think that, particularly in terms of performance, it is important to bring something of your own to the table.  When we think of great and interesting covers from within the Country Blues canon, e.g. Blind Boy Fuller's "Meat Shakin' Woman" vis a vis Lemon's "Bad Luck Blues", Johnnie Temple's "Evil Devil Woman" vis a vis Skip James's "Devil Got My Woman", or Robert Pete Williams' version of "Louise" vis a vis Johnnie Temple's "Louise", in every instance, the most fascinating thing about the covers is the extent to which they diverge from the original recordings, NOT the extent to which they adhere to the originals, and the real kick from the re-dos comes from hearing an earlier artist's ideas expressed and re-cast in the light of another musician's different sense of time, phrasing and touch.  In a certain sort of way, the more accurate a reproduction of an earlier performance is, the more pointless it is, except as an homage.  If you imagine the same discussion, but about the visual arts, I think everyone would concede that there is a real value in emulating and trying to capture the effects of a painter's work that you admire.  But would anyone think that a perfect copy of that work had any value, except as a curiosity?
As for copying posture, instrument type, pick type, and the like, I agree with Uncle Bud that this type of emulation can go too far.  To my taste, it verges on musical impersonation as opposed to being a musician.  It seems odd to me to be so self-effacing.
I guess what I think in this area is this:  by all means, copy the people you admire as closely as you are able.  Listen to everything you can lay your hands on, and then do what you hear and want to do.
All best,
Johnm

chipmonk doug

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2006, 03:39:54 AM »
I'm of the not at all school.  I have good reasons for that, I'm not good enough to copy. :)

But I just try to do songs as if I was stealing them from who ever RGD, BBF etc. and going down the road and doing them somewhere else like they were mine.  I rearrange, rewrite verses, change keys what ever it takes to get something that I can feed out to the audience that they will like and that I will enjoy playing.

To me the copy school treats the music like Latin (dead language) and I try to treat it as a live language.  But I sure wish I was good enough to copy RGD, BBF etc.  If I was I still wouldn't copy but my arangements and pickin' would be better.  :)

Offline dj

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2006, 04:47:46 AM »
A few other things I thought of overnight:

There's a whole tradition in our culture - the western "high art" musical tradition - that values being able to play a piece exactly as the composer intended.  Having spent a few years in the late 70s and early 80s as a semi-professional viola da gamba player, playing a lot of music from the 17th and 18th centuries, I can appreciate that tradition.  In other words, there's nothing wrong with an act of musical re-creation.

I once heard John Fahey talking on stage about improvisation.  He said something to the effect that improvisation can be as subtle as varying your state of mind as you play a piece.  I thought that was a brilliant insight then and I still think that today.

Learning to play a song exactly like the original is solving a really interesting intellectual and physical puzzle.  If you find solving that kind of puzzle to be satisfying, that's great.  Don't look down on yourself for that enjoyment.

Offline waxwing

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2006, 08:39:59 AM »
I think learning to play a song as closely to the original as possible is also an emotional puzzle, dj. If you are going to perform a song you must make it live, as if it were your song, and this requires finding the emotional part of the song as well. Heck, I often feel that many who perform their own arrangements often don't give the music an emotional life, just sorta presenting the arrangement as if that were creativity enough. But this is a performed art, a temporal art (which separates it from painting and such where you can place one painting next to another and compare brush strokes), and as such, no two performances can ever truly be the same. I think people get way too caught up in the issue being discussed here, which I find to be overly intellectualized, and don't really look at what goes into creating a great performance.

I recently asked Ari if a lot of people told him he shouldn't play songs so close to the original. He said, "Yeah, when I used to listen to them."

Boy, i really like what Uncle Bud said above.

I think rearranging and performing are two very different arts, and being great at one does not imply being great at the other.

Another factor to consider when trying to find your path is "Who is your audience?" Are you playing strictly for other players and blues aficionados who are going to be constantly comparing your performance to the original in their mind? (And, be aware, some will be dissappointed 'cause it's too similar and some 'cause it's not close enough) Or are you playing mostly for audiences who have relatively little experience of this music. In my mind, both camps will be moved by a great emotional performance, no matter how close to, or far from, the original.

BTW, I feel these issues are just as applicable to vocals as well. I find that my style of singing and vocal range have both grown immensely because I have tried to capture the qualities of the players who's songs I perform. I find my style grows to encompass each song and this in turn gives more depth to the singing of other songs.

I'm noticing how I use phrases like "capture the qualities" when others use terms like "replicate" and "duplicate", which make the performance sound dry and lifeless, eh? Yes dj, I think a lot depends on your frame of mind. If you decide you are going to "replicate" a song for the audience, you and they are probably going to be pretty bored, or at best they may be "impressed" by your "technique". You can do this by "replicating" the killer rearrangement you made a year ago, too, BTW. But if you find the emotional core of the piece and capture the qualities of the original to whatever degree you wish, a good portion of your audience will be moved and will be asking for more.

As to creating one's own style, I don't think that is something that happens by avoiding sounding like someone else. I agree with those who say you need to try on the styles of many and let those aspects of each style resonate within you and your own style will emerge, and in this way your style will be broad enough to keep an audience entertained for a two set performance instead of making them feel like every song just sounds the same.

Actually, to me, the highest form of respect comes from investigating a players performance of a song as deeply as I can and making it live again for an audience.

And, as Ari has often says, "Well, if they buy my CD after the concert, that's cool, but if they go out and buy a Blind Blake or a Lemon Jefferson CD, that's great!

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline dj

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2006, 09:10:48 AM »
Quote
I think learning to play a song as closely to the original as possible is also an emotional puzzle, dj. If you are going to perform a song you must make it live, as if it were your song, and this requires finding the emotional part of the song as well.

I couldn't agree with you more, waxwing. 

   

Offline Richard

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2006, 09:49:22 AM »
An interesting question and one that has got some response!

I have not been been playing guitar long enough - or good enough - to really comment - however, why not! I feel that one has to listen to the masters, to try and feel what they got out of doing the song in the first place and of course in the hope of picking up the odd lick, trademark or whatever.

Now if you have the technique then by all means do a "cover" and the satisfaction of doing it well must be incredible. Let me draw a parallel, I've done lot of big band stuff stuff drumming wise, particulary the pre-war Basie band and when the parts were transcribed it was from one take - listen to the the alternate takes and many things are different, so I feel play closely in the style of the artist as a carbon copy is not necessarily the answer.


But, back to the guitar and at my low level I want to do my simple interpretation to produce something which I feel comfortable with playing and in time hope to progess to make it more "authentic" as time goes on. 

(That's enough of that. Ed)

JasonE

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2006, 10:57:08 AM »
I just gotta say, this thread has been one of the most important parts of my guitar learning yet.

Thanks everybody.

Your insights have given me about a billon hours of thinking that I now feel I need to do.


JasonE

Online Johnm

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2006, 11:11:07 AM »
Hi all,
I agree with you, dj, that the figuring out of Country Blues classics as closely as possible to the original versions available to us on recordings is an enormously satisfying endeavor.  I must love it, or I wouldn't done it as much as I have.  There is a real charge in figuring out and playing a piece you have particularly admired and have been somewhat mystified by; in recent years, figuring out Lane Hardin's "Hard Times" was a real thrill, I didn't want to play anything else for about two or three weeks.
I think it's worth noting, though, that any approach to performing this music that treats a transcription of a recorded performance as a text, to be recreated at every performance of the same song, subject of course to changes in tempo, emphasis and the like in accordance with one's mood on a particular day, is making the music something it has never been in the past, a kind of Blues Classical Music.  There is no precedence for this approach based on recorded evidence prior to the very recent past.  This is not to say that the approach is wrong, but that it not part of the tradition it is seeking to emulate.  Blues performers of the past have always sought to put their own stamp on the music they perform, not simply interpretively, but by playing things the person they got the song from did not play.  Jerry Ricks commented on Blues musicians of his acquaintance speaking of songs they covered, and saying "I made that song."  When Jerry responded, saying, "What do you mean you made it?  So-and-so recorded that song before you ever played it.", he said he was answered with, "I made it my own."
Obviously, it can be done to play the same notes of a rendition of a song in the same place and order every time, but it is more of a change from the approach of Blues musicians of the past then, paradoxically, it would be to change the notes.  Maybe the tradition should be changed, but I think it is important to be aware that an approach that treats transcriptions as texts for performance is foreign to the Country Blues tradition as it has been in the past.
All best,
Johnm      

Offline Blue in VT

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2006, 11:54:06 AM »
Thanks for all the great in-depth responses folks...you have all given me alot to think about.  I'm glad to see that my question has generated such a wonderfull discussion.  The more I ponder this question the more I fall on the side of loose interpretation combined with the "feel" of the original tune.  I agree with JohnM's last post that this is much more in fitting with the tradition of Blues music as a whole.  And in reality it is the only real possibility...no one is going to be able to recreate Blind Blake down to the note...and even if they did, it would only be a duplication of the recorded version...I'm sure that Blake played thing differently every time he played too...he was trying to capture the feel every time but not reproduce the exact notes.  So it could be said that the original artists themselves had an "idealized" version of a tune in their heads...and how it came out in any particular performance could be influenced by a large number of factors...mood, crowd, lack of sleep, too much booze, not enough booze... :P, different guitar etc. 

And I realize that in my own (limited) experience this is allready what I have been doing...to some extent...the major difference being that the "idealized" version is not yet formed in my own mind but is given to me by the learning material I'm employing.  As I work through John's Libba Cotten tape...say Freight Train....the version played there by libba becomes my idealized version and I have been...and still am...try to get as close to that as possible...it will never be the same (I'm not about to start playing my guitar upside down!!!) but it can have the same feel.  In the future I (hope) that I will form my own idealized version of this tune that may (or may not be) different from Cotten's.

So...in that light I will continue to attempt RGD....on my parlor....with naked thumb...index...and middle fingers....without wearing dark shades...or smoking a cigar.  And I will hope and pray that I capture a 10th of the soul and feel that he was able to.

Cheers all,

Blue in VT


Blue in VT

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