I’ve always gotten a kick out of learning songs & guitar parts deeply to sound like the recordings that I loved. That was my measure of how well I knew the music & how much attention I paid to the detail that was there.
I have offered to play what’s on the recording, to play the exact guitar parts. It has been this skill that has gotten the attention of many band leaders wanting me to play on their record or join their tour. (All Together Now, Sarah Burrill, Pat Metheny AfterFab) This helps if the artist is used to it, or loves those guitar parts or they have become part of the composition in a significant way.
This kind of practice has evolved for me over the years so that I have spent time with quite a diverse batch of playing styles, repertoire & accompaniment grooves & have gotten into the nitty gritty of what makes a player sound the way they do.
Far beyond the notes they choose or the rhythms they play are the deeper emotional content of touch, feel, tone, attitude, nuance, how they bend a note, slide, hammer, pull off, the dynamics, the articulation, phrasing, distinguishing effects, anything you can notice to sound like what’s there. This has given me vast options in my own playing & made my art huge. It’s also taught me how to arrange my own guitar parts for my songs & other artist’s original songs.
Often there’s a new to me, sounding riff, guitar effect, or groove or way to finger pick or new voicings that impress me or different string sets involved with the voicings & then I’m inspired to nick a few ideas & write my own song with the goods.
In 2005 Paul McCartney released a song called, Jenny Wren & deliberately revisited his own accompaniment style of playing voicings in tenths as he did on his 1968 song, Blackbird. I thought this was cool & wanted to write my own song with similar voicings. I played with the Blackbird & Jenny Wren voicing shapes & came up with a progression that I liked, added lyrics about my new niece & wrote a lullaby in 2005 adding her nickname, Bella in the title.
I love that it became it’s own song yet has remnants & colors of the inspired ideas from Blackbird & Jenny Wren. I also love that just like playing with words when meaning takes care of itself, so also playing with chord forms, harmony takes care of itself. If you listen to cool progressions & play with them you will write cool progressions if you listen to cool lyrics & melodies & arrangements & productions & horn parts, bass parts, etc. you will naturally, by osmosis by noticing & digesting great stuff in an organic way, create great music. For me it’s about eternal curiosity & allowing myself to explore.
Paul McCartney & George Harrison used to start playing Bach’s Bouree & having never learned the whole thing would stop or go off & play their own bits & that’s how Paul came to write Blackbird with those voicings. He liked the sound of those open chords.
So anything you’re attracted to in the sound of someone’s playing is a great starting point & gives you instant gratification to get something new happening in your playing or writing. I do this with engineering & production as well.
In fact if you listen to the recorded vs. of Bellabye in the headphones you’ll hear this cool spaced pair miking technique.
I used 2 M-Audio Sputniks in the cardioid position one slightly pointing on an angle to the 12th fret, the other by my ear pointing down to the body of the acoustic guitar while I sang into a Neumann U87. Technically all 3 mics were picking up guitar & vocal but the air, the space that was recorded between the 3 mics was delicious! It’s so cool in the headphones.
Paul McCartney Blackbird
Jenny Wren, Paul McCartney, Chaos & Creation in the Backyard
Bellabye, Lauren Passarelli, Playing With the Pieces