Exploring Originality: How Are You Developing Your Own Musical Voice?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of developing a personal musical voice. It’s something I feel doesn’t get discussed here as much.

We spend a lot of time talking about mastering different techniques, but I’m curious about how many of us are working towards creating a sound that’s uniquely ours. The greats all have a distinct sound that sets them apart, even when they’re playing the same notes everyone else is playing.

So I wanted to ask, how are you guys approaching this?

  • Are you actively working on creating a unique sound, or is it something that you think will develop naturally over time?
  • Have you discovered any exercises or practices that help in developing your own musical voice?
  • How do you balance between improving technique and nurturing originality?

I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on this and learn from your experiences. It’s a different kind of discussion than our usual technique-focused ones, but I think it’s a conversation worth having.

Thanks for sharing!


ooo strong opinion time from me! Hopefully this doesn’t come across as 'music snob" o rama.

Technique is a means to an end; regardless of how we play and the strategies we employ there is a host of different decisions we all will make even if we are in the same genre, same influences, etc. Our perceptions of the same things are different so our output is ultimately going to be different. Even if initially we REALLY sound like our influences. It’s still not what our influences would do, so that’s okay. There’s an ocean of music within us all…

As far as nurturing creativity/originality I think that it’s important to create. Compose both long term “written” projects as well as spur of the moment spontaneous composition (Improvising!) Carve out a bit of time to explore ideas, whether it’s with a pal, in a DAW or using a looper. I love loopers for this exact reason. Every day, I get a chance to try out my ideas - take ideas that other people have presented and warp and twist them to my own ends.

I guess it’s one thing to learn the licks, but to be able to assimilate them and use them as part of your vocabulary? I think that’s where the “art” is…


I have a unique perspective on this sort of this thing, so I’ll be my typical wordy self in my reply. I’ve also given the concept itself years and years (and years and years) of thought, due to my “unique perspective” on it. I worry that I’ll come across a bit full of myself a time or two, but so be it, lol I’ll also be coming at this from a “solo artists” point of view, not as a band member or a collaborator would.

I think there are 2 ways that people get into playing a desired instrument. By that, I mean an instrument that they want to play, not that an instrument was forced upon them when they were young. Number 1 is those who want to play music, and number 2 is those that want to play that particular instrument. It’s quite common to be both from the beginning, or eventually develop them in unison, but there are also some that excel at one such a pace that they never develop the other.

And I know this because I’m one of the latter and never quite developed into the former. To be fair, not once have I ever not felt what I played, but until my last couple of years playing, I honestly don’t think I ever played what I felt. It’s an important distinction to make because most people think they’re the same thing. They’re absolutely not. There’s nothing wrong with either, nor is there anything wrong with thinking that. But there is a difference. And I think that most players feel what they more than they play what they feel, whether they know it or not.

I didn’t know or realize it at the time I had to retire, but it did occur to me years later when I took up an art form that I had no intention of doing anything with when I started. It was approached with the same kind of youthful exuberance that I had when I first picked up the guitar. Everything was new and exciting. Playing one lick, riff or song over and over again was life! It’s just not like that in most other art forms. What, am I going to write someone else’s screenplay or book word for word on my own paper? Paint a copy of a painter’s painting? Sure, there’s things you can learn from that, but there’s a limited amount of enjoyment doing it. But getting a new record and a tab book from your favorite players? I don’t know if I ever had more fun in my entire life that when that would happen.

I don’t regret any of it, but the point is that I spent all of my time learning stuff that I never developed as an artist, only as a guitar player. I did try to write a few tunes in my late teens, but they might as well have been called “[Insert Player]'s Outtakes”. I had played for 11 years before I played with other people and 16 before I had an actual original band that gigged. I played a bunch of shows and tours as a hired gun, but again, I was just playing other’s songs, which was perfectly in line with what I liked to do anyway. I suppose there was one regret in that I didn’t use what I learned on the instrument as a starting point for bigger, or simply something for and from me.

The OP’s desire to develop their own voice is already putting them on the right track. I think that’s an ingredient I was lacking and didn’t know it. If you have something to say, you’ll find a way to say it. Sometimes you just need to develop to tools to do it, which is where a site like this comes in. Unfortunately for me, musically speaking, I had all of the tools, I just didn’t have anything to say. But I did when I started screenwriting. I was lucky in that some pro-writer friends of mine helped me out early on and I was technically a “pro” when I started. The skills just had to catch up with it and eventually they did.

If you get into anything with the intent of the OP, you’ll get there one way or another. If there’s music in you, it’ll find a way out.

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I think there’s a fine line between snobbery and being nuanced on a subject, just a perception issue melded with attitude per audience. We’re in go company here to be opinionated, it’s driven by passion, rather take passion over indifference :slight_smile:

This is a comforting thought. Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees. Nice to poke ones head out of the trench and soar even.

I could do with more compositional work, I pretty much live in the realm of improv, I like that you remind me that composing is important, thank you.

That is an art, true, I have no idea where things come from when I improvise as I’m innocent of any awareness of any theory while I’m in the moment. I litterally have no idea what key I’m playing even, the funny thing is the minute I try get some awareness mid flight, I hit a bum note, I’m getting better at masking them but still it’s terrifying :laughing:

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Thank you for your post, the points you make resonate with me perfectly, I feel best when I play from my own voice, it may not utilize all that I’m technically capable of but it’s a lot more meaningful. I think if I work on composition as @Scottulus mentioned, that would be a step in the right direction, as it entails many aspects of music I have only acknowledged as a side note, I’m def in the category 2 as per you post, I want to approach 1. The way I want to do it this time is play songs fingerstyle, I’m hoping I can develop a new technique and start thinking about what I’m playing as well. The folks on this forum are incredibly knowledgeable, a lot of it just bounces right over my head, something I’d like to address.

I once saw someone say the path to originality is to do what seems most obvious to you


It’s a hard one, and one I’ve always worked on. I read somewhere that Randy Rhoads always tried to teach his students to try to develop their own style and sound.

Well I think I figured out the sound thing, it’s a combination of what you like and want to hear that matches what you hear in your head, but also works inside the real world. When I was young I hated mids and wanted that bedroom metal zone tone that most people seem to like. When I got into a band, I quickly found that didn’t work at all, especially at stage volume so I rethought what I was doing and explored things that were as far away from that as I could get and find something that excited and inspired me while also working in a live context. That took a long time, and I still continue to refine my sound but I don’t really go after gear as much as I used to because I found a lot of things that work for me. This road is going to be different for everyone, and sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you have it, and lose it because you don’t think it’s right, made that mistake too.

As for originality… we all have influences and we want to learn our favorite players licks and techniques. This is potentially controversial, but I really think that we shouldn’t do that too much. I also think that exercises can be helpful, but we shouldn’t obsess about them too much either. I tend to try and make any exercise into something musical too as Andy Wood suggests because exercises and scales and what not are not music, and you need to practice music too. More specifically, your own music. That leads me to something I learned from one of my mentors, try to play what you hear in your head. Really listen to some chords or something that you like, what do you hear? Can you translate that to your instrument? I mean that is the point of doing everything we do right? So in that regard some ear training really helps. David Gilmour suggested to sing your solos, I get that too from a certain perspective, it’s a similar idea. I think the more important take from that is to internalize and externalize what you are hearing idea wise. This is a skill too and often the most important to a musician who wants to write songs and solos. Yet it is the most overlooked and least practiced. I know I am guilty of it, because of the thinking “If I can just get this technique down”, when it should be the opposite. I have this idea and I can’t play it so I need to work on my technique to play my idea. The take away there is the technique should serve the music, not the other way round.

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Apologies for replying without reading all other comments yet, so my point may have been stated:

I think actively trying to be “original” will likely come off pretty contrived. Instead, I think it makes sense to focus on what sounds you genuinely love and enjoy playing and build a vocabulary of those things. If you then wind up sounding like a clone of someone else, so be it.

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technique is something I’ve put more than enough time into, just playing the melodies in my head on the fly is what I’m working on now, using the major scale. 12345671 Do ray mi fa so la ti do, or however you wana pronounce it. Getting that as a ground, or base line, is my current work. After all the major scale has all the modes in it. So thats something I can keep hammering away at that produces actual results. It gives you a feel for music, even if it’s not major. It’s a starting point. A platform.

Most the ideas and fast playing in my mind is built upon that since I was a child. I’ve got a vast ammount of listening musical experience, but very little actual playing. I can shred my ass off in my mind and vocally, but putting that on guitar is going to be a lifetime of work. And I enjoy it. Even if it’s just me alone in a room…

I would say my musical voice is already developed, it’s putting it out on an instrument I love thats going to take ages.
Just like this text, I’ve been taught since a child to spell words and communicate in text. I’ve not been taught that musically tho, it’s like learning a new language, unfortunately there is not a country I can spend a few years in being forced to talk in the language of music that I can move to for awhile… And be forced to use music to communicate to survive.

One thing I find interesting is how fast I learned to type, I think there is a serious difference between our evolved natural ability in language vs our ability in music, unless you’ve perfect pitch.

Like I barely tried to learn to type, it just happened, I can even visualize the area on the keyboard where letters are automatically, it’s so different from music, I can type words easy, but typing as it were on the guitar is so different, I just don’t have that visualization. It’s weird. I can literally type in my mind… idk why it’s so hard to play guitar in my mind the same way… Probably because we don’t play guitar to survive, tho we HAVE to communicate even if we’re introverted to survive. I think people who learned music at a young age have a major advantage on us who chose to learn it in an older age.

i can type about 120-150 wpm if i practice for a few days and i couldn’t tell you all the keys only qwerty and asdf. :smiley:

Don’t you find it interesting how you can do that yet can’t do it musically?

I’d say learning to type is a fraction of the difficulty of learning the neck. You only have 26 letters to deal with, and they don’t change position - on a 6 string guitar with 24 frets, you have 144 different frets you could play, with precisely the same note appearing in up to 6 different spots. There’s just no comparison: typing will be way easier. lol


Have you ever just found what you need to communicate like I just have musically relative to spelling?

I’m not sure how to express myself vocally with my camera and show what I’m typing, but in many ways that proves the fact I can express myself far faster in text than I can recording my guitar that will be open to interpretation.

You understand my text, my version of this on guitar will be an absolute mess.

Guitar notes don’t have definity , like text does.

You can’t spell out words like in text.

if you stay in a box you have 7 notes to deal with. Literally only 7 notes, 7 letters, Why is it so much harder?
Bare in mind if you’re in a key, you’ve only 7 note no matter how high or low you go.
I seriously think there is something to our ability to type that is in contrast to our ability on the guitar. There is a huge gap.v

big ole tangent and hope it makes sense lol

its because in those 7 notes you can do this

so a scale is two tetrachords a lower and an upper.

i believe the main primary aural dialect colors are major, dorian, and phrygian

i wont go to deep into that if you have seen my posts you know about it. short version these three scales have symmetry, two like tetrachords. my belief on arpeggio are built ascending because of the harmonic overtone series and the pitches inside the pitch always going higher not lower. so build arpeggios ascending not descending. ok that out of the way back to the tetrachord scale thing.

take those 2 of these tetrachords a major, wwh, minor, whw, or phrygian hww go to this website some piano composer created it its pretty neat and combine them in that ring The Exciting Universe Of Music Theory

do this until you create as many scales as possible with those 3 you can even use one twice if you want.

each scale you make turn the ring around and let it show you all those modes of that scale you create

each scale and its mode are different aural dialects of those 7 notes

now what will also happen is within the melodic minor scale you will find a new tetrachord a diminished one then you can go back to those main 3 tetrachords and begin mixing in that tetrachord

this isn’t like some simple language this is a universal language far bigger than any spoken language. lately i haven’t been a very Godly man i just seem to have almost given up on my faith, but knowing of the sound spectrum being pure like how when it rains or snows or sunshines, the creator of all of this we live in gave us this gift of music with the ability to use something pure to show us his grace. i could spin my theories on why i just don’t believe in the guy, like he is some sort of make believe character that didnt care to show his face during the holocaust, but i always come back to this one belief non of us here can deny it and it humbles me. the pitch spectrum is beautiful, and also extremely powerful, yet very deep and complex.

this post was not run through an ai re-writer obviously :stuck_out_tongue:

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I honestly believe you are thinking about this the wrong way. Typing some statement is akin to writing something out on guitar, recording it, and then showing it to someone if you feel it’s worth showing. Or you could scrap it, write something else, and record that. Having a conversation, in person, is the guitar equivalent, and there are loads of rules to follow. For instance, if I say:

“Hey Whammy, how are you doing today?”

and you reply:


it doesn’t make any sense. You have to answer the question I asked, or dodge it somehow, but your response is dictated by my prompt. Music, in an in-the-moment situation, like improvising, is the same - the question becomes more like Cmaj7#11, and the answer C Lydian mode. Why are you better at conversing than playing guitar? Simply because you have conversed waaaaaaaaay more, throughout the course of your life.

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My approach is mostly one of taking bits of music I enjoy - licks, phrases, entire solos, entire songs - and then trying to analyse why they sound that way. Looking into how lines are constructed with stuff like arpeggios, neighbor tones, etc, and then trying to apply that to my own lines that are similar but different.

As long as you’re not expressly working to copy specific players wholesale, I think this grab-bag approach is perfect. Almost every amazingly original musician spent a lot of time working with pre-existing repetoire and the sum of that work was their own unique voice.

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Theres a lot more in the replies than I can handle atm, I really appreciate them all as I’m still learning…

I have to reply to this tho. it’s a constant battle, a daily fight, bringing light into everyday is our job, god is there, if you dare. I have faith, because I want to. I want more than this mechanical world. I need more. You guys just replying to my nonsense is proof of more :grin:

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i hit you with the monophonic stick, i mean you kept it to 7 so i figured i wouldn’t step into polyphony, homophony, or counterpoint. so i tried to keep it simple…

just don’t get caught up in the perfect pitch stuff, learn what sounds cool to you. play around and create in the scales and modes of that what sounds cool to you. if you don’t know the scales, anaylze it, figure it out!

and by all means explore that tetrachord stuff, and maybe you might hear some exotic scales that sound cool that you can live in. learn the diatonic chord progressions of them also, sky is the limit!

if it interests you i would say you really need to look into nicholas baragwanaths book the art of melody and watch some of his videos. those are pretty eye, probably should say ear :smiley:, opening to me. actually try to watch all videos you can find of him speaking even those podcast style ones where he is being interviewed in a group of other brainiacs. but again here don’t get bogged down in this area either, this is just to maybe push you in a direction to show you how they learned to speak the language of music so effortlessly.

like if it was me i would try to find a teacher who composes for movies, or is into that kind of thing that knows a ton of theory and moves. not really a teacher of phrasing or technique etc etc, but more of a composer/player that can teach you the theory tricks and show you. because trying to read this stale manual, and then figure it out on your own is going to take a ton of work by yourself. Classical Net Review - Schoenberg - Theory of Harmony

i believe most perfect pitch possessors choose not to switch it off sometimes and totally miss that aural scale dialect of the phrase or melody anyways. so it not only requires absolute pitch, but it most definitely requires relative pitch as is shown in that art of melody book. music isnt about only the note right now, it is also about the overall sound over a period of time, relative pitch. sure you could just wing it, but eventually it might not work out especially if your memory gets tired of listening only in the moment and never as a whole. plus they miss out on the bigger picture if all the do is just listen absolutely. i hope for their sake the also hear it relative lmao!

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