To Be the Best Musician You Can Be

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I’ve heard so many musicians say how they’d love playing a song by their favorite band and play it identically their way. My question is why? Since they’re not some specific band, what’s the point? I think it would prove their own mastery is the motive.

But isn’t diversity a better part of life? Each musician has their own unique way of playing their chosen instrument. Nobody else will play or sing the same way, some subtle thing about two people or even two bands will always separate them and set them apart.

You can play cover songs and play them well; will the audience be upset if you are a band called Native Spirit or Lynyrd Skynyrd? No, not if you do it by being yourself, and you kick-ass knock a song out of the bar or wherever you’re performing. Who will complain? Certainly not Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In fact, I’d guarantee if they were in the audience and you played their songs your way, they’d cheer you on. But if you did an eerie performance of them and you’re not them, they’d be like “What the heck? This can’t be because nobody is us except us.” They’d be very disturbed, believe me; and I wouldn’t blame them one tiny bit.

Learn the song as close as you can manage, and then add in your own style. Make every chord or note come from the heart. Let the music guide you, and you’ll find how many people fall in love with your band. They’ll jump to come to your concerts, whether on a tour or just a local gig near home. What you do on stage or at home dictates how successful your band will become.

That’s how I’ve played my songs. I know the crowds are there to see me, and not Lynyrd Skynyrd; although no doubt of it, they’d love to attend their concert. Who wouldn’t?

The test would be if they were in town and so were you, but who would choose you to go listen to instead? The ones choosing you are your true-blue fans. Just think how valuable these people are to your esteem and your confidence. They come expecting a level of professionalism, and a display of accomplished mastery, but most of all, they like your style because it’s nobody but yours.

In big cities, any given month will have appearances by big name stars, and so they are in competition with each other. And there you could be too; another choice and some people might say, “Let’s give these guys an ear tonight.”

Don’t let them be disappointed; be yourself and show them you’re as good as it gets, and they’ll go home in awe, and that’s how you grow a fan base. They’ll tell others how they had Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre, and others they could have seen, but they picked your band and they’re glad they did. “Go check these guys out, next time they play.” It’s true: Word of mouth goes a long way.

Most people visit local venues, bars or clubs or social gatherings, hoping to hear good music by a local band playing something different. There’s nothing like hearing a live local band that can get the feet tapping, and bodies moving, because that’s exactly what they want anyway.

I’d rather listen to a local band, anytime. Especially the bands who have their act under control. A good experience is what we seek; we want good memories, because our heads fill up with things not so cool; it’s good when something fun is part of one’s memory. I’ve heard several great bands in concert. Each one played from the heart; their immersion would pull in the listener too. Love what you hear and see; embrace the music; make it part of you, that’s for music player and listener.

Play from the heart; that, my friends, is what makes a great musician. Every note is first held in the heart, before it goes into the instrument you play; and regardless whether it’s the voice, or a guitar or piano, whatever, it is must originate within the heart.

I love playing on stage. There’s no other feeling like it that I know of; music is my life. It’s what I hear before I go to sleep, and it’s what I wake up hearing in the mornings. And no, I’m not talking about a radio, folks. I’m talking about hearing the song’s musical notes in my mind. People have said such a thing would drive them crazy. I say, “I’ve had it all my life, and without it, I’d not be as calm or relaxed.”

Uncle Dean Couch said when I was a boy, a young musician learning the ropes, “Jimmy, start writing down all the lyrics; don’t let them slip away.” I kept my mouth shut for a year, and wrote lyrics, and when I handed him five 70-sheet composition books, he was delighted. He chose several and wrote a bunch of music to some of those songs, and to this day, we play them.

I continue writing lyrics, and create the tune to fit the song. On stage, the SAME INTENSITY is given DEDICATION to EVERY song. Because we used our hearts to create it, the crowd feels it too. We are in rapport with our fans; exactly what we hope will occur.

That means a lot to me as a musician, and as a human being, and even though we urge people to let us know if they like a song or if they don’t, that feedback helps us grow into the musicians we need to be. We accomplish everything by being ourselves. So, there’s no mystery here; be yourself, be true to your belief system, act it out, play it full hilt, and don’t lose sight of your goals. You’ll find you have happiness like you’ve never experienced.

-JD Couch - MU Columnist
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