Going Beyond Copying Others-part I

I always urge my students to find players whom they enjoy listening to and try to “copy” what they do to the extent that they can. I literally have hundreds of solos I have transcribed from bluegrass to jazz to latin music.

So for instance if you like Alan Munde, then learn some of his breaks, figure out what he does on the backup. Study it for eight months if you would like, you’ll get A LOT out of it.
What I do not encourage my students to do is to become overly obsessive about it all. Unfortunately there are a great percentage of bluegrass musicians who have spent decades over obsessing about playing someone else’s material. Instead of taking a historical musical dialogue and using the material to create their own conversations they keep having the same one over and over.
I speak of this because of the following observation:
Emulation has essentially became a weapon to attack other musicians with-
Meaning, hey you didn’t play it just like ______; therefore, you aren’t any good. Attitudes like-hey I play it JUST like the recording, so therefore I’m the best. In case you have never been out in the bluegrass environment this attitude is very much still alive. In my opinion this is to the detriment of any music.  Whether we choose to face it or not, bluegrass has a decreasing audience.  Attitudes like this do nothing to help it grow.


The music has to adapt, kids coming up today largely cannot relate to the things people did in 1950 or even 1980, so with that comes changes to the music.  Younger musicians have to be taught the importance of studying the history of the music and studying the vocabulary of the important players.  However, that is not enough.  If it stops at studying history and all we end up with are failed attempts at re-creating it then the music doesn’t grow and develop. Encouraging others to develop their own unique individuality is more important to this music than harboring a bunch of musical terrorists who wish to verbally assault anything that doesn’t line up perfectly with something on an LP decades old.  

Think about any business or other field besides art and music? In order to achieve growth and development knowledge about past history is imperative.  For example, history of similar products, similar business attempts, etc.  Yet in order for development and growth to occur you have to go beyond, you have to take the knowledge and develop something with it.  On the other hand, please keep in mind that tradition is not thrown out for the sake of some crazy invention that nobody has ever seen or heard of before…what’s developed that flourishes is usually not completely different from what preceded it, it’s somewhat related, even if it seems distant at first.  Innovation isn’t devoid of Tradition.

For bluegrass music to continue what people should do is encourage others to study and come up with their own approaches and sounds within the realms of the genre.
The point of learning someone else’s material is so you learn the roots, learn the vocabulary and you soak up the nuances of the correct sounds. It’s not so you have the same exact conversations somebody else already had and use it as a weapon to attack others who aren’t interested in having that conversation again.    

Simply put, once you get past the studying phase of a particular historical dialogue, instead of continuing to obsess about emulation, use the energy to create something of your own and it will benefit the music all that much more.

Do you want to learn how to go beyond copying? Stay tuned I will help, have questions? Ask away, leave a comment.  My goal is for musicians to continue to find their individuality in music.  I want you to know the roots and the vocabulary but at the end of the day I want you to sound like you.


Jody Hughes

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Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.