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Broaden your horizons: Learn new styles

Applying to Summer Programs? Deciding which style of music to study?  Read on!

Looking for new inspiration or a new sound?  Try a new music style this summer.

Try a new music style this summer.

As an aspiring musician, you’ve probably been told by your teachers to listen to as much music as possible. I’m going to take that lesson one step further and suggest that you check out as many styles as possible. There are two reasons for this: inspiration and increased career opportunities.

Hi everyone, my name is Jeff Muzerolle and I’m a professional musician/producer/educator in the Boston area. I’m also a Berklee alum (class of ’99) and as such I’m well acquainted with the Berklee experience. I’ve spent the last decade of my life establishing a successful career touring, recording, producing and educating. One of the cornerstones of my success has been preparation so I’ll be writing a series of blog posts here offering my advice on how to effectively prepare for summer programs.

Inspiration

Find new ideas for songwriting

Find new ideas for songwriting.

Becoming familiar with new styles of music will inspire you to go in different directions musically. For example, if you’re a rock guitarist, you might not be aware of the plethora of scales that can be used to construct more interesting solos. If you’re still playing the same-old pentatonic scale it becomes a lot more fun and fulfilling when you have more options on your pallet of solo ideas.

If you’re interested in composition/songwriting, this concept is particularly applicable. Alternate song forms, chord progressions, voicing, time signatures, and grooves are just a sampling of the different ideas that can be culled while learning new styles of music. Moreover, hearing an idea from one style and applying it to another can be a very interesting and fulfilling process. For example, I often write music in the industrial/electronic vein, but a lot of my ideas are inspired by other styles such as Jazz, Folk, Blues, and R&B.

Also, as a composer, you can experiment with combining styles together and creating an entirely different sound. In the 70’s and 80’s, there was a huge movement in the contemporary music community where musicians combined Rock and Jazz styles. The result was Jazz-Rock Fusion and the style remains popular among contemporary musicians to this day. Even Rock ‘n Roll is a style that came about by combining styles (blues, gospel, and country/folk).

Career Opportunities

Learning multiple genres will land you more gigs.

If you want to get out there and play gigs, one of the best things you can do is learn multiple styles of music. This is especially important if you aim to build a career as a freelance musician. The more styles you can play, the more in-demand you become. This is true with both cover songs and original music.

Cover bands play all sorts of songs throughout the night; I just played such a gig last week and the styles covered included Rock, Funk, Blues and Reggae. Bands who cover a large variety of styles get more work because they appeal to larger audiences. Also, as a member of such a band, playing more than one style of music makes the gig much more enjoyable!

Original artists often draw from multiple genres of music for inspiration, so they often look for musicians who feel comfortable playing in these styles. I’m often confronted with situations where songwriters will try to explain to me what kind of groove they want and they usually use stylistic references to explain themselves:

“Hey Jeff, for the verse can you play something that’s kind of a cross between a 70’s disco beat and a hard rock beat, and then during the chorus play something more like a Bossa Nova?”

Before you attend Berklee this summer I highly recommend identifying several styles of music that are new to you. Ask your private instructor for assistance. Then, spend as much time as you can listening to different artists within those styles. Berklee is an extremely diverse place – many different styles of music are represented, so if you come with an interest and general knowledge of more than one style, you’ll be in a great situation to get the most out of your experience.

-Jeff Muzerolle

Read my last post on achieving sucess in your practice routine.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for this post. I remember being in music school (one of the NY State colleges, not Berklee), and being so frustrated at how many of my peers got tunnel vision when it came to the music they listened to and practiced. Everyone wanted to identify themselves as a Jazz player or a Classical player, etc., and some students even got more specific than that! I always felt like as an undergrad, it was so hard to decide exactly what to focus on, and I knew that it would not be good to start specializing so early (if ever). Probably my biggest frustration is that certain departments or faculty members even encouraged that behavior among students. They treated it almost as a badge of honor to have such a specific focus.

    Thankfully, I had a percussion professor who took the opposite approach: he told our studio class that if anyone felt like all they should spend their time on was classical marimba, they should be prepared for a career that consisted of free performances at the local public library on Tuesday afternoons. I thought that was a brilliant way of putting it.

    I know that Berklee is a little different, in that it stresses diversity more than many other schools of music, but I’m sure that even there, you find a lot of students in the same situation. I hope that this article reaches many high school and college students alike. It’s a lesson that needs to be learned!

    -bryan

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