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Developing Your Style

By Harry Jacobson
1999 Harry Jacobson. All rights reserved.

It seems that so much attention has been placed upon topics such as scale choice, modes, and arpeggios. Granted, these are very important and valuable topics that I will be addressing in future articles, but I would like to take yet another approach by placing less emphasis on note choice and more on ways to make your notes sound more interesting or have more "personality", so to speak. The ultimate goal is to develop your own sound or "voice".

There are numerous techniques that we as guitar players have that can be used to add inflection or personality to a note, one of which would be vibrato. Let’s examine the use of vibrato by using Mr. BB King as an example. One reason that we can recognize BB’s playing so quickly is his very distinctive fast first finger pivot vibrato. The operative word here is distinctive.

It seems that so many of the younger players these days focus on emulating their guitar heroes far more than developing their own distinctive style. Let’s face it, there is a whole crop of 13 year old kids in every city that are doin’ a pretty good Stevie Ray Vaughn imitation (cough, cough… are you playin’ 13’s tuned down to Eb?) As much as I loved Stevie’s style and sound, I for one would much rather see these young talented players focus their efforts toward developing their own new and fresh style. Do you really want to practice for years to hear some guy say, " ahh… listen to a little Stevie there guy?"

Listen to some of your favorite players and examine just what it is about their playing that makes them one of your favorites. Perhaps you like Paul Gilbert’s picking technique. You can analyze and learn from his picking technique without stealin’ all of his lines. Maybe you like Eric Johnson’s violin-like legato 3 note per string style, borrow from that technique and blend it in with your own ideas. Many great players have developed their own styles by borrowing from a number of other players .You can surely hear Hendrix’s influences in Stevie’s playing as well as Eric Johnson’s, but those influences were blended with many others and over time evolved into their own styles. If you are old enough (and managed to survive the 70’s with your memory intact), you may remember Robin Trower as well as Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush. Both of these players were also very influenced by Hendrix, yet they managed to blend those influences with others and develop their own styles.

I always recommend expanding the range of your influences as much as possible. An example that I use in my upper level blues classes at the National Guitar Workshop is to listen to BB King. As much as I love his guitar playing, I am referring to analyzing his vocals. So much can be learned from his as well as other vocalists phrasing and inflections. Many of the inflective qualities that we hear on the guitar were derived from the voice in the first place. Vibrato, string bending, quartertone or microtonal inflective bends all emulate the human voice.

To use myself as an example, one of my guitar influences in the early 70’s was Jeff Beck. As much as I loved Jeff's playing (and I still do) I was blown away by the more jazz- influenced approach of his keyboard player, Max Middleton, and began to listen very closely and later analyze some of his lines. I thought it would be way cool to hear a combination of the two of them. I liked Max's more chromatic, and arppegiated lines, but couldn't live without Jeff's vibrato, killer precision bending technique, inflection and that warm, sweet sound of a Les Paul through a Marshall.
I found myself being influenced by both of them and to some extent the merging of those two styles became the catalyst to developing my own style.

I will delve into the subjects of technique development, note choice, phrasing, ghosting and dynamics as well as share some of the exercises that I have designed for my classes at the N.G.W in future articles.

Harry Jacobson is a longtime faculty member of the National Guitar Workshop as well as a private instructor and performer living in the Philadelphia area. Check out his web site for more info.

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