A few years ago I taught at a guitar camp in with students ranging in age from 16 to 60 and classes in several different styles: jazz, blues, ragtime, fingerstyle, etc. The surprising thing was that for the all diversity in the classes offered there was a lack of crossover in the after hours jam sessions.
The students generally knew how to play only one or two styles of music. If they played blues they didn’t play bluegrass. If they were into metal they had a difficult time with Motown. Even if they were into the “jam band” scene, they really were only comfortable soloing over a couple of chords and couldn’t navigate through jazz changes or play a head (melody).
Any good financial advisor would tell clients that for a secure, long- term investment they should diversify! The same holds true for music. Adaptability to different genres not only makes you more desirable as a player it will make your musical life more interesting.
Other reasons you should branch out with your playing are, that these styles have a lot more in common than most people realize (Blues, Bluegrass, Jazz and Rock can all use the pentatonic scales for solos) and in many styles if you’ve learned one song you’ve probably learned ten! Let me show you what I mean.
Take a 12 Bar Blues for instance. Red House, Statesboro Blues, Johnny B. Goode, Things That I Used to Do, are all 12 bar blues’ (Ex. 1). Granted they can be in different keys but you can just move up or down the fretboard as needed.
“That’s easy,” you say, “But what about something more sophisticated, like jazz? What about Charlie Parker?” Okay. Moose the Mooch, Scrapple from the Apple, Kim, and Anthropology, are all Charlie Parker songs are based on Rhythm Changes in Bb (Ex. 2). Only the heads (melodies) are different. Just like the blues there are hundreds of songs based on Rhythm Changes
Bluegrass? Grab your cowboy chords, a boom-chuck strum, and go! (Ex. 3)
Modal Jamming? A to G is all you need for a Mixolydian vamp that would make Jerry Garcia, Dickey Betts and even Frank Zappa turn up to 11. (Ex. 4)
Don’t be turned off by genres you don’t normally listen to or that might seem too simplistic or too complicated. There is something to be learned from all styles of music. You just might not know it until you give it a try.
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