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Are You Ready To Be Yourself?
By Dan Palladino

Dan Palladino at nineteen years old: "I have a confession to make: I want to be Pat Metheny. Simply sounding like him isn't enough. I want to sound like him, I want to be able to improvise like him, I want to write tunes like him, I want to play with the great cats he gets to play with, I want to tour non-stop like he does, I want his career, I want to BE him!"

Fast forward to the present: I now realize that Pat Metheny himself would think I was a total loser for wanting to be him. He would say, "Stop listening to what I'm doing and develop your own voice on your instrument". The world doesn't need two Pat Methenys, or Steve Vais, or Joe Satrianis, or Allan Holdsworths.

I would occaisionally read about the concept of having your own voice, but I was too busy learning to play the solos of my musical idols to actually put that idea into practice. What does "finding your own voice" even mean?

To me, a major component of finding your unique voice is being able to accept yourself, both as a musician and as a human being. Many musicians are self-conscious about their abilities and assume they couldn't possibly have anything to offer. We spend too much time and energy on the other guy who plays really fast, or has a tone that we admire. It's possible to get so caught up in this competition that we become blind to our own unique gifts. So how do we learn to discover these gifts?

First, understand that you cannot escape your own history and influences. You may try to run from the fact that you spent your teenage years listening to Weird Al Yankovic albums, but that experience will always be there. That is your truth. You can't hide from it, so stop wasting your energy. Embrace Weird Al. He is a part of you.

Second, accept yourself. Almost every player I know wishes they could play like someone else. The truly great ones realize that, like it or not, they can only be themselves. That means you will have to come to terms with the fact that you're not as good a soloist as most. Maybe you're not as clean as you'd like to be, or you feel that you play too many notes. Everyone has shortcomings in their own eyes. Fortunately, these shortcomings are what make up your individuality. Try to improve what you can and live with what remains.

Third, it serves no purpose to sound like anyone else! What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to be a mimic, or would you like to contribute something to the history of music? No one cares that you sound exactly like Eddie Van Halen. No one ever will. If we want Van Halen, we'll listen to Van Halen. Consider the fact that every great musician, in every genre, has expressed their own unique vision of music as it related to the present. The music of the past is the music of the past. It's been done. It doesn't need to be re-done.

OK, so where do we go from here? Well, the good news is that it's pretty easy to be yourself. After all, no one can be more you than you. It's a lot easier than learning the solo from "Eruption". And then it's not. Job number one is to be aware of your own individuality. Identify the little quirks that make yourself unique and build on those things. Learn to recognize situations when you fall off the wagon and start copying your heroes. Tell yourself that it was fun, but now it's time to get back to the work of saying something new.

All musicians are fans first. Initially, it may seem difficult to reject the music that you love. However, you'll soon realize that you're not rejecting your heroes, but you're putting your own vision of the music first. It's the way it has to be.

It takes a good amount of maturity to look yourself in the mirror and accept what you see and hear. It doesn't happen overnight, but in tiny steps. Of course, there is more work, thought and soul-searching involved, but the end result will be so worth it.

May you all find your true selves and learn to be happy with what you find!

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2005 Dan Palladino
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