We are all influenced by the people we listen to, and as individuals no two people are likely to process the same information the same way. So there’s nothing wrong with learning to play something the way your heroes did….to me, the artistry is in how that information is changed into something else through the alchemy of the musical mind.
I remember being amazed when I read that Van Halen counted Clapton’s work with Cream as a seminal influence….at the time I was completely unable to hear it. Van Halen is one of the great examples of a musical mind so unique that he was able to transform his musical influences into something completely new.
But now when I hear Clapton’s second solo in Cream’s version of “Crossroads”, I can also hear Van Halen’s sheer abandon and ferocious attack. The notes aren’t necessarily the point.
The energy and vibe of a player that inspires you can influence you in ways you might not even notice. (I can think of listening to my own CDs and recognizing a David Gilmour lick here, a Mark Knopfler lick there….this was completely unconscious borrowing on my part, but those players’ work seeped into my musical mind and became part of my vocabulary.
To me, the bottom line is this: know that you will absorb and copy as a natural part of the learning process, but remain open to all kinds of sounds. The difference between a player and an artist is in that musical alchemy, the way our minds take vocabulary we have learned and recombine the pieces.
We all speak using the same words but we don’t all say the same things, right? So when you do look to learn something EXACTLY as it was originally played, treat it as an exercise in ear-training and in copying subtleties.
If you play in a cover band and your goal is to reproduce the original as exactly as possible, that’s different….you’re using a different musical muscle. And there’s great value in that as well.
But ultimately, I think we want to learn from our heroes so we can fully become ourselves….and that’s something to be embraced and celebrated.