Expand Your Musical Tastes

Mar 10, 2015

So you’ve picked your instrument. You’ve decided if you’re going to rent or buy. You’ve settled on acoustic or electrical. Now it’s time to get down to the good stuff and play some music. A lot of people go into beginning a music education knowing what they want to play. Often the genre they look forward to playing most is the one they listen to most often, but what many of these people don’t realize is that sticking to only one genre, regardless of whether they are listening or playing, is extremely limiting. There is so much to learn from a wider variety of genres. This week we’re going to take a look at the importance of branching out with your music, and coming to appreciate a much wider range of different styles.

It all starts with listening to a wide variety of music. Everyone has that favourite particular genre, but as with most things in life, you’re missing out on so much if you don’t challenge your musical tastes. With today’s technology it is easier than ever before to try out new artists and genres. With music streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Songza, Last.fm, and even YouTube, the opportunity for new music is literally a few keystrokes away. Gone are the days where you would have to go down to the record store and sift through countless albums to buy something before ever hearing more than the one single they play on the radio. Exploring new music is at its height of ease, and I implore you to take advantage for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, listening to great music will inspire you to pick up your instrument and practice, it will motive you to perform, start a band, create your own music, whether that be covering the songs you love, or writing your own. If you pay attention to the greats you can begin to see how much their own sound has been influenced by other styles of music, and how little things from other styles made their way into the music. Exploring different genres, both playing and listening, can inspire new techniques, and new sounds that may never have been heard before. Look at Elvis. We tend to see Elvis Presley as one of the forerunners of modern rock & roll (hell, we call him the King of Rock for a reason), but anyone who has listened to even one of his songs can hear influences from all over; country, blues, folk, even gospel. Take a page from the King’s book, trying out different genres will really improve and expand your skills, help you create new sounds and techniques, and even change the way you play. Varying the styles you listen to and play can also help develop your musical ear. Different genres utilize different chords, different progressions, different tempos and expressions. You will hear how different styles are arranged, produced, and mixed. Expanding your musical library will change how you listen to music, and will help you to better understand how these things relate to each other, perhaps even giving you a deeper pool of creativity to draw from.

If you’re an aspiring songwriter different musical genres can be a source of inspiration. If you only study a single style of music your original songs can and will only sound like everyone else in that genre. Branching out will introduce you to different structures in songs. You’ll find new and exciting ways for music to build to a climax, make use of breaks and rests. All in all your music will have a new kind of dynamic sound unique to you.

There is also a wonderful emotional aspect to trying out different musical styles. Music has a tendency to stick. Whatever you’re listening to now will forever be linked to the memories you are forming. Later in your life, regardless of whether it’s five days from now, or fifty years from now, when you listen to that same music it will all come flooding back; the memories, the emotions, the thoughts. Music can act as a sort of time capsule for your brain, and all you need to do to unlock it is listen to or play the music that is associated with that particular time in your life. And this association can even change your life. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but think about it for a few minutes. Everyone has breakup songs that help them through tough relationship endings, and everyone has music they listen to to pump themselves up for something exciting. Sometime these things are the same genre, but imagine the breadth of emotion and memory available to you if they aren’t.

And of course, there are the communities. Everybody loves to talk about the music they listen to. How many friendships have been forged over a mutual love of an artist, group, or style? The wider the variety of musical genres you consume, the more easily you can connect and socialize with other musicians and music lovers in general. The beauty of a love for music is that it is a great equalizer. Everyone listens to and loves some kind of music, and the more you listen to, the more you learn, the easier it is to connect with people on a personal, human level.

Are you likely to enjoy everything you listen to or play? The answer to that is almost certainly “no.” But you can learn something new from each and every different genre or style, even without liking it as a whole. Take a little from Column A, a whole lot from Column B, add a dash from Column C, Subset 4, and create something no one has ever heard before. Therein lies the beauty of music. We build on one another, creating new and exciting things together without even realizing it. In the end, if you want to be a great musician, then like with all things knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can, keep what you like, incorporate it into your own style and sound, and show us something wonderful.