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Author Topic: How closely do you mimic styles?  (Read 5874 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...

 

Offline 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

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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

Offline 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

Offline dave stott

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #15 on: September 14, 2006, 01:26:09 PM »
I personally think that no matter how hard one tries to mimic another artist....

Their own personality will come out through their playing...

I play because I enjoy playing the guitar. Sometimes it's in front of an audience and most times it isn't..

Do I miss a bass note or melody note every so often from a Big Bill or BBF tune?? Yes, I do!!

Will anyone other than a devotee of the tune or original artist notice it??  I don't think so.....

in the end, what matters is that you enjoy playing the guitar for yourself.... unless you are a professional, of course...

Call it the Zen of Guitar Playing...


Dave




Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #16 on: September 14, 2006, 01:27:12 PM »
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

I agree, Jason. Some excellent food for thought in here.

Quote from: waxwing
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."

The people or the songs?  :)



Offline a2tom

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #17 on: September 14, 2006, 03:12:53 PM »
I know there is a lot written here, but in some comments I am not sure it is coming through that a reason to mimic, at least at first, is that is how you learn technique/approach/style/method/whatever you want to call it.  It is a very differnt and separable activity from what you do long term and identify as "me" or "I made that".

In other words, if you START by saying "I'm going to cop this song from <favorite blues artist name here>, but only loosely and really I'm going to make it my own", and as a result only pay attention to the chord changes, melody and lyrics - well, that's great, but you'll miss a good bit of learning along the way about different ways to use the instrument.  It truly is amazing how many way you can approach the same 6 strings.

Obviously, many of us have tendencies that are well known to the group.  It is no mystery to anyone who frequents the Back Porch that much of what I end of playing is pseudo-original.   Am I being disingenuous recommending mimicking of others?  Not at all.  I ALWAYS start there.  I am as weenie-ish as anyone about transcribing old songs - hell I'm writing a computer program to help do it!  Then I try to play it and fail, but embrace the new idea/method/technique etc and it lives on into where I do end up.

I guess the point I'm making poorly is, mimicking and being yourself aren't mutually exclusive when viewed as part of a process of learning.

For example, I can't really play Joseph Spence, my latest endeavor, but I have learned some great new approaches that I am working into "me" - someday, on the BP, someday...

tom



Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #18 on: September 14, 2006, 04:58:23 PM »
I agree, Tom, these things are not mutually exclusive, and the "mimicry" aspects are an important part of the growth process for me and others I've spoken to on this subject. I envy those who are performers, have developed their "sound" and style, or are ballsy enough to learn, develop and perform at the same time. But I'm still having a helluva good time in the mimicry stage in the privacy of my home.  :D

Lest I come across as too much of a purist, there are numerous songs that I play, or am working out, where I am just playing what I could only call "my version". Sometimes these are things that just spring up on me after years of listening to a song, kind of what Cheapfeet describes in his recent BackPorch posting. Tommy Johnson's Maggie Campbell springs to mind in this regard. I don't play it like Johnson, sort of integrate aspects of the two guitar parts, am partly working from my knowledge of this particular Spanish tuning guitar part based on similar content in Charley Patton's playing, some Patton stuff that our own Frankie was kind enough to show me over the phone years ago now, and some aspects that are just "me": somewhat heavy time, somewhat sloppy playing, no set framework for variations for the IV chord or the number of extra beats or bars before going to the V chord, just spontaneously going with the flow of the moment. That probably sounds better than the actual result, and is more analysis than I've ever put to my interpretation of the song, but you get the picture. I doubt I ever play it the same way twice. Some of the "feel" I get around the IV chord comes from years of fooling around with unrelated songs like MJ Hurt's Frankie, or Furry Lewis tunes in Spanish and being really familiar and comfortable with those as well.

I think the mimicry I've done in the past has informed my playing of this song and made me comfortable enough to just play and have fun with it. The first time I tried to play it, I didn't listen to the recording, I just heard the song in my head and had to play it, and played it the whole way through. I'm sure it wasn't spectacular but it sure felt great to have the song just come out of me like that.


chipmonk doug

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2006, 03:23:58 AM »
Quote
mimicking and being yourself aren't mutually exclusive when viewed as part of a process of learning.


I may be the one who is farthest from being a mimick, but I agree with that.  I'm always saying "how did he get that sound", but the technique/approach/style/method/whatever you want to call it that I learn from that question may or may not go into the song I learned it from and it for sure will go into songs in the future.   ;)

Offline waxwing

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #20 on: September 15, 2006, 09:31:29 AM »
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So, as usual, this topic is rocking my world.

I seem to be the only one coming down on the side of the idea that you can actually perform what everyone else seems to want to call duplications or lifeless copies of the only record we have of how these songs were played by prewar artists. Altho' I really do try to put as much life and spirit into them as my sorry white ass can muster, I'm kinda getting the message that I should cease and desist this useless form of mimicry and go back to the woodshed for as long as it takes me to become a crack rearranger and a brilliant improviser so that I can follow in the tradition of never playing anything the same way twice. From now on I guess I should keep my playing to myself at PT. I didn't realize I was offending everyone so much with my Xerox copies of Clifford Gibson, Willie Brown and McTell.

I guess people feel pretty strongly that the music of the greats should never be heard live again without having been rearranged and then played improvisationally each time, so someone who does what I do is pretty much the lowest of the low as far as the country blues tradition is concerned.

Okay, that's where I was at last night when I read what had been posted during the day yesterday. Pretty discouraged, eh? I feel a little better this morning. But it was pretty hard hearing one of my two primary mentors really disagree so strongly with my position and then everyone else follow suit.

I guess I feel that each person must find their own path, depending on their own aptitudes and abilities. I've really only been playing country blues for a bit over 5 years now, without the advantage of long seasons of no work on the plantation, (okay, I was unemployed for 2 years, but I had a lot of other life issues to deal with). But I do have a strong background in performing after spending 25 years or so as a theatre actor, so I have gone out and performed what I could to the best of my abilities. And I've received quite a bit of encouragement, from peers and uninitiated audiences alike. I may not be adhering strictly to the country blues tradition, but I do feel that I am moving people with the music I play, and possibly attracting more folks to the country blues scene.

I've also heard players among the small group of touring country blues professionals that, to my mind, do a disservice to the music by adhering to the tradition, creating rearrangements in their own style which seem so dumbed down and so similar, from song to song, that I could hardly remember anything they played all evening. It just all sounded the same. I absolutely don't want to fall into that category and I feel that my rearranging and improvising skills are so rudimentary at this point that I could take me a decade or so to get to the level of interest and artistry of the prewar musicians I emulate. I worry that arthritis may cut off any performing I might do before I would ever exceed my own limits of what I feel is presentable.

So after I wrote the above quote last night, I sat down and played my heart out for a while. Man, playing Clifford Gibson's Tired of Being Mistreated, I just can't imagine how long it would take to be able to play it differently every time. I mean, sure, the verses are not linear and could be freely interchanged, but to just toss that song down, off the cuff, at speed, having never played it that way before seems, well, impossible to me. Maybe if I had never played in anything but Spanish tuning for the last 5 years, concentrating only on the licks of CG I could get to the point where I could intersperse the licks (if that's what you call improvisation). But I noticed that Clifford plays the vocal backing, except for having three slight variations to the first line, all repeated, exactly the same every time. And in the two versions of the song he repeats one of the breaks verbatim. Isn't this strong evidence that he played the song virtually the same every time, and he had worked out the breaks in advance?

I guess I can think of more examples of players repeating the vocal backing, or repeating two or three distinct variations, than I can of players obviously improvising behind every vocal verse. Often the little variances I hear seem to be more likely fluffs than improvised variations. I guess I'm not convinced that in the era of solo vocalist/guitarists, that improvisation was such a strong tradition. Sure, once in a band setting where the individual players were not responsible for the whole sound, the jazz tradition of improvisation could be brought over to the blues. It seems likely that the few players, like Blake, who did feature strong improvisation in their solo play were greatly influenced by the jazz tradition?

I'm not really trying to argue against anyone's belief in what they do or how they approach their own music. Quite the opposite, I am arguing more for an acceptance and inclusiveness of different approaches. And I don't see any one approach as being any better than any other. I think that it is important for beginning players to get out and perform as soon as possible. I worry that the discussion so far will discourage those players who, having mastered a handful of arrangements, will be dissuade from going out and performing because they haven't yet developed their own arrangements or are not yet capable of playing different improvisations every time. Perhaps these abilities will mature in time, perhaps not, but I don't think this should deter anyone from sharing the music, especially with audiences who may only be familiar with that music which has followed the tradition all the way to electric instruments in a band setting and is not aware of its roots.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your view), my own resolve, tho' daunted at times, is pretty firm and I plan to continue as I have been. Perhaps, in time, I may develop arrangements of my own that transend the music of the greats, and perhaps I will become adept at improvisation while my fingers are still capable of playing. I don't know. But I will continue to share the music as best I can.

All for now.
John C
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Online Prof Scratchy

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #21 on: September 15, 2006, 10:55:52 AM »
This has been a great thread wth, as you'd expect, a number of different approaches represented. Here's my two pence worth (convert to your local currency)! Do I mimic? Absolutely! Trouble is, I'm not as good at it as some because I just don't possess the 'magic ear' of some of my favourite contemporary players - Johnm/ Ari/ Steve Phillips spring to mind.  When I see and hear these folks it instantly comes home how way off track I've been. And, having seen, do I steal? Yes I do! What this then all turns into is the development of different languages in different keys, tunings and positions - and really I think that's the nub of it, and was the nub of it for many of our pre-war heroes. Robert Johnson had one language in A, Blind Boy Fuller another. For each of them the syllables didn't all come out in the same order every time - and would no doubt have differed from performance to performance of the same song. Over time we absorb bits of a lot of players' languages and mix them on our own versions of things. However, I do need to spend more time in the language lab...

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #22 on: September 15, 2006, 11:44:23 AM »
Hmm, I'm a bit surprised by your reaction, Wax. I thought I was pretty heavily in the mimic camp and others have spoken of the many benefits. I particular like what you and Cheapfeet had to say about capturing what's unique about these old styles, the music that was there before being run through the various shallow modern blues pablumizers, and how that aspect of what we're calling rather disparagingly here "mimicry" is so important in the current players and playing we appreciate today.

Anyway, I'm behind you man, recreate away. But I think you are already fooling around with things in ways that make them your own and are likely to do it even more in the coming years. Tying two versions of Tired of Being Mistreated together. Playing Broke Down Engine slower and with more pauses. Working out mandolin, guitar and jug parts in the Hohoppas. Putting a Willie Brown accompaniment where it didn't exist before.

Part of one's own style too is the overall sound, the guitar and voice together, as well as touch and time. You can be playing what is essentially a recreation of an old blues tune but still sound like yourself. Ari, in many of his recreations of the style of Blake or Lonnie Johnson or whoever, isn't doing note for note copies. He's just so good at it that it sounds that way sometimes. (Sometimes he is more note for note, but not as often as you'd think.)

I think John's examples of different songs being given different settings by different artists don't mean that a radical rearrangement of a song is the only route to take. I looked at those as more illustrative of a particular point, one that we all obviously think about at some point: how would I play this song and make it my own.

Re. Tired of Being Mistreated, it sounds like more of a set piece to me, though the solos are different in each version you hear, so Gibson is varying things. Does that mean they're improvised? I dunno. I think improvisation is being over-emphasized and hope I didn't contribute to that with my example of Maggie Campbell. Maggie is a simpler part, and many of us have learned various songs that feature variations on this part (Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, Future Blues etc) and could throw ideas from these in together to create what amounts to an improvised version of a song that wouldn't sound the same way twice.  As for you improvising while playing Tired of Being Mistreated, I know that you have not played a lot of stuff in Spanish tuning and suspect that 1, 2, 3 years down the road that would not be out of the question for someone playing at your level. It might not be necessary, but it would be thinkable. More likely, you'd come up with your own solos and throw those in.

« Last Edit: September 15, 2006, 11:50:05 AM by uncle bud »

Offline dj

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #23 on: September 15, 2006, 11:45:45 AM »
Hey, waxwing,

Not everybody's lined up against you.  I've been doing my best to say "this is what I do, but whatever works for you works for you".

To sum up my position:  If you're just playing in your house to please yourself, whatever you enjoy doing is your path to enjoying the music, and that's great.  If you're going to present yourself to an audience, your primary responsibility is to that audience - to present something the audience will at some level react to and enjoy.  As long as you do that, whatever you're doing is ok.

And from what I've heard, you're not half bad at the latter part of that equation.   :)

And don't go being too respectful to any tradition, style, person, or whatever.   Or, if you're going to respect them, do so with a smile and a laugh, not with solemnity.  :P

(Seems like we need a couple of new threads - one on improvisation and one on preserving vs. recreating tradition.)

Offline a2tom

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #24 on: September 15, 2006, 04:16:35 PM »
I agree with Wax that so many players 'dumb down' more difficult material & really lose the essence of what makes that song so singular in the first place & so that is the nobility of recreation

I am not disagreeing with this, but it is a succinct summary of why I'm not generally that interested in posting recreations - I'll never capture the singularity of the original (even the easy ones) - I mean, really, these guys were great.  Anything I do will be inevitably be dumbed down and essence-free.  But I do feel that I can learn the rudiments of the language (yes, that's it!) and then mutter a bit on my own.  Make a bit of my own, admittedly pathetic by comparison, essence.  Without any doubt, the nobiility of recreation, as you say!

tom

Offline dave stott

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #25 on: September 15, 2006, 04:35:42 PM »
hmmm... maybe I am totally off base... it's been a tough week...

But, I thought the whole reason we all played the guitar was for the love of being able to actually play music... it didn't matter whether it was for the entertainment of others or for yourself...

yes in high school, we played guitar to get chicks... but I digress

it would seem by some of the comments that some people play the guitar to carry on a tradition and others attempt to mimic other artists..

if you are carrying on this tradition... who exactly are we passing it on to?? are you teaching youngsters these songs??

if you are mimicing artists... I am certain that there is a thrill  from matching the artist note for note.... but I don't get it...

 Dave...

Offline Richard

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #26 on: September 16, 2006, 04:47:22 AM »
.............. I live in a small community & all i ever hearda blues growing up was Vaughn or Clapton & then there were the guitarists in the community who figured all blues was in E & played like an inferior Jimmy Reed tune, you know, with the 'Sweet Home Chicago'-like boogie beat. I've noticed that most guitarists i meet, whenever they learn i play the blues, & wanna jam, they start playing those licks............ So I think that, altho' much older in practise, these older styles are so much more refreshing really, there's so much more to them, & each key is a different world full of different possibilities. I found Weenie Campbell from asking about Patton & T. Johnson licks in C position on a guitar players forum. . .most guitar players don't even realize you can play blues in C, or G, or F or even D..........
I know that point is on slightly different tack but I agree entirely as invariably things turn into a shuffle as that seems to be the definition of blues to so many guitarists........ can't anybody play a slow solid four any more!

As Dave Stott has it (or at least, as I understand his last post) this topic seems to be getting a little heavy in that at the end of the day we are playing the kind of music that we love.

Some are able to do a fabulous take on the original which must be enourmously satisfying to work out and play in itself, whilst the rest of us do our best to learn by rote or copy\imitate\emulate but the point is we are all getting something out of it in our own way and hopefully getting nearer the original style in the process.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Johnm

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #27 on: September 16, 2006, 08:52:40 AM »
Hi all,
I agree with Richard's concluding point.  I realize that my earlier posts did not respond to the thread's title, which is simple enough, "How closely do you mimic styles?", not "What role should mimicry play in the making of this music for everyone else" or "What role has mimicry played in the Country Blues historically?".  Playing this music is hard enough without having to satisfy everyone else's notion of how it should be done, which is impossible anyway.  Everyone has to come to his or her own terms with the way of making the music that seems to work the best.  Please yourself first and you have a better chance of pleasing others with what you do.  I don't think that style points are a part of the blues tradition either.  I'm sorry for any bad feelings my unsolicited views have caused.
All best,
Johnm 

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #28 on: September 16, 2006, 10:31:31 AM »
it would seem by some of the comments that some people play the guitar to carry on a tradition and others attempt to mimic other artists..

if you are carrying on this tradition... who exactly are we passing it on to??

Anyone who'll listen. Cf. Ari's comment about people buying Lemon or Blake CDs quoted by Waxwing. Another example: I have heard so many of the teachers at Port Townsend talk about passing on this tradition, ensuring that it is a living thing, regardless of what many people might say about it being dead. They never sound like they're saying that because they're supposed to say such things at a blues workshop. They really sound like they mean it. Hey, it's also in the subheading of Weenie's front page: "Preserving Country Blues through Education, Performance and Technology." That may sound a little presumptuous, but it is still the lofty intention of WeenieCampbell.com. :P

Quote
if you are mimicing artists... I am certain that there is a thrill  from matching the artist note for note.... but I don't get it...

I think I and others have been fairly clear about what the mimicry provides us with: a deeper insight into playing the music, the satisfaction of playing in a style that is truer to the original forms and players and is not smoothed out and dumbed down by modern popularized forms and styles. Numerous other reasons. Maybe some obsessive compulsive disorders as well.

As this thread has progressed I've grown more uncomfortable with the word mimicry. It's starting to carry connotations more associated with Elvis impersonators or something.  Whereas I think it's more about an effort to capture sounds, styles and riffs that make the playing of this music more true to its original sounds and idiosyncratic stylings. And it is definitely all for the love of music.

To use a non-blues example, there's a big band expert and university educator named Andrew Homzy who has had big bands playing really authentic arrangements and bringing those original Ellington charts and what not to life again. While I'm far from an expert on this, sometimes it's more "authentic," sometimes it may be his arrangements done "in the spirit of". Solists wouldn't duplicate solos but the overall sound is trying to be true to the original sound. They're not trying to sound like Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra (also great!) or a Mingus band (actually they might have done some Mingus) or something. There is a historical context to what they're doing.

Offline Bill Roggensack

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #29 on: September 16, 2006, 02:29:45 PM »
Well said UB - mimicry is not the right word; it's more like "becoming one" with the playing style of a particular artist, and a good example of this is comes to mind immediately:
When Ari plays Blind Blake, he _is_ Blind Blake, complete with random improvisational abilities. He can do that because he has studied BB so intensively that he has internalized BB's approach to playing. What a great feeling that must be.
 :)
This afternoon, I have been listening to Rory Block's latest CD - "The Lady and Mr. Johnson" - and she has acieved a similar level of internalization with Robert Johnson's music.
Cheers,
FrontPage

Offline Richard

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #30 on: September 16, 2006, 02:42:54 PM »
........To use a non-blues example, there's a big band expert and university educator named Andrew Homzy who has had big bands playing really authentic arrangements and bringing those original Ellington charts and what not to life again. While I'm far from an expert on this, sometimes it's more "authentic," sometimes it may be his arrangements done "in the spirit of". Solists wouldn't duplicate solos but the overall sound is trying to be true to the original sound. They're not trying to sound like Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra (also great!) or a Mingus band (actually they might have done some Mingus) or something. There is a historical context to what they're doing. ...

This was the point I made earlier from my own experience of playing in such big bands, that it's playing in the style that really counts. It may be great to be a shit hot reader but that does not always guarantee you are going to swing... does it? The second other important point is that, just as in our beloved country blues, there are certain solos\passages which "just have to be played" verbatum in order for the piece to succeed as a whole.

To conclude the (big band) analogy the personal satisfaction in mastering a particular style is enormous, in my case it was to drive a band on just the snare drum, my current challenge is dear old Casey Bill's lap style.... errrrr  :-X

Play it however you want, it's your music and your enjoyment  :)
(That's enough of that. Ed)

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #31 on: September 17, 2006, 10:42:14 AM »
 "internalized BB's approach to playing. What a great feeling that must be."
[quote from Frontpage]

I was enjoying listening to Rory Block yesterday too! She is certainly 'one' with that guitar of hers. 

I appreciate your statement regarding internalizing. An important aspect to mastering and creating our own selves don't you think?

While we are somewhat on the subject, I would like to take this opportunity to warn Dr. G. of the true weenie campbell coordinator of psychological encounters....at least in my experience. In essence: Good medicine does come in 'blues' packages. And if you hang out with weenies, there is a real possibility of becoming more sane!

roz
« Last Edit: September 17, 2006, 10:45:20 AM by Rosalyn »

Offline blueshome

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #32 on: September 17, 2006, 12:23:05 PM »
As one who does not have the ability to mimic the guitar (and vocal) greats, I've stayed away from this thread till now. Whatever, here's my 2d worth.

I love to hear someone like Ari sound almost indistinguishable from the original, however, I am not that enamoured by listening to some of the imitators who come in with a "near miss" - neither one thing or another.

What I try to do, and what I like to hear, are performances which capture the SPIRIT of the old blues, and this is what I feel those old guys did anyway. I don't know of many/any pre-war artists who were mimics - there is such a variety of styles - (OK maybe there were a few Leroy Carr imitators around in the 30's but that's the limit). I think guys just absorbed what they could from where they could.

The difference today is that we have access to the whole canon of recordings and perhaps expect we should be able to approach any piece and nail it.

I think we are lucky to have this available, but the music will be frozen if we don't do more than mimic - we have the recordings for that surely.

Despite the above, it is great to hear any attempt to play country blues in front of an audience, and to be frank, most audiences won't know whther something is old or new.

 What is our duty (strong word) is to keep the music "in the air" by performing it in some form or other, without that it will become nothing more than a few scratchy old recordings in the future.

Offline waxwing

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #33 on: September 20, 2006, 04:59:30 PM »
I've been sorta staying away from this thread, but I wanted to thank all who offered their encouragement. Sorry for what may have seemed too emotional a post.

It was fueled partly by the fact that I'm finally sitting down to record a CD and, yep, it's going to be all close covers of pre-war recordings. That's pretty much all I know at this, what I consider early, point in my development.

I often feel like a kid in a candy store. Every time I hear a new song that I want to learn, thanks to the encouragement from folks here to learn to transcribe, I can tackle it and work it out, finding all the great licks and vocal nuances. Perhaps that was an easier route for me than just sorta getting the feel and working out my own licks to fill in between the words. It seems like for a lot of folks, working out their own arrangement is easier than figuring out the original. I think it's just different temperments.

I understand the importance of tradition, but I also think it is important to get the music out there as best we can. I hope to develop my arranging and improvising abilities from allthe licks I've learned from transcribing, but in the meantime, I don't see anything wrong with performing, and recording, what I got now.

And there's a few other blues traditions that have fallen by the wayside, perhaps for good reason. Like I haven't ever beaten my woman, not even with a single tree.

Anyway, there's a lot of food for thought in this thread, so whatever your temperment and aptitudes are, follow your own path, but get the music out there. It's all good.

All for now.
John C.
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Offline GhostRider

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #34 on: September 21, 2006, 09:52:20 AM »
Hi all:

I'd just like to bring everyones attention to this old thread, where many of these ideas were discussed in detail.

http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=100&topic=272.0

Creation vs Recreation

Alex

Offline Blue in VT

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #35 on: September 21, 2006, 10:01:05 AM »
I have really enjoyed reading everyones responses to this thread...it has been very thought provoking and enlightening.  However....In looking back to where this thread began....I guess I was really wonder about "technique" more than style....For example...Do you play RGD with only thumb and index?...is there some logic in his music for doing so?  Does "Broke Down Engine" have to be played on a 12 string?  Do you E. Coten tunes with the guitar upside down... :).  How deep do you get into copying the "techniques" employed by the musicians you are trying to....for lack of a better word....mimic?

Cheers,

Blue
Blue in VT

Offline Slack

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #36 on: September 21, 2006, 10:13:59 AM »
I think it is difficult enough for most of us to get one technique down :) , however I think there is something to be said for two finger finger pickers as opposed to three finger finger pickers.  It is just different sounding... and not sure why, the timing needed maybe, stronger role of the thuimb maybe, dunno what it is, but it is just different.  I think it is most evident with John Cephas, who is mostly a two-finger.  Two finger picking is wonderful sounding I think and I think if you want to emulate RGD as closely as possible you'll need to pick with two fingers and use a thumbpick.... technique begets style, IMO.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: How closely do you mimic styles?
« Reply #37 on: September 21, 2006, 01:00:02 PM »
I have really enjoyed reading everyones responses to this thread...it has been very thought provoking and enlightening.  However....In looking back to where this thread began....I guess I was really wonder about "technique" more than style....For example...Do you play RGD with only thumb and index?...is there some logic in his music for doing so?  Does "Broke Down Engine" have to be played on a 12 string?  Do you E. Coten tunes with the guitar upside down... :).  How deep do you get into copying the "techniques" employed by the musicians you are trying to....for lack of a better word....mimic?

Just speaking for myself, I normally play with a thumbpick (Fred Kelly Slick Pick, heavy guage) and no fingerpicks. I won't generally play without the thumbpick, though have tried to on and off for several periods, still do occasionally, and will someday try again. My pick choice has nothing to do with mimicking anyone's technique and more to do with what works for me. So if I'm playing John Hurt, I'm not doing what he's doing, playing without picks. Ditto Blind Blake.

If I play Blind Boy Fuller, I'll generally play it on my (cheapo) resonator, often adding fingerpicks, which I think Fuller wore (though am not certain of that). But that's more because I like the sound of Fuller on a reso than any thinking that it has to be played on one.

If I'm playing Blind Lemon, I'm probably limiting myself to thumb and index for the most part, because that helps me approach his sound. If I play Blake, I use another finger. I don't know what he did, but I sure as hell need it.

I'll also play 12-string tunes on a 12, but that's because it's fun and sounds great. I'm sure there's lots of examples of Broke Down Engine out there played on a 6.

Playing certain songs on certain guitars is certainly good for guitar sellers!

Offline wlhblues

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How Close Is Close Enough
« Reply #38 on: March 24, 2014, 04:47:33 PM »
When you get inspired by a tune and you try to learn it, what are your objectives? Do you want to explore the style of the artist in question in detail or compose something that kinda sounds like the original? How closely do you want to follow this tune to discover the style and technique used by the original artist ?

What is you opinion of how one may truly discover the playing style and technique of the person you are trying to emulate?

How much are your willing to dedicate to the effort of truly discovering the artist of your study?

Offline frailer24

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Re: How Close Is Close Enough
« Reply #39 on: March 24, 2014, 05:40:06 PM »
I try to get as close as possible, yet still have elements of my flavour present. 95% original artist, 5% me is my optimum.
That's all she wrote Mabel!

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