Finding Your Unique Greatness through Mimicry

For those of you who haven’t listened to the site’s complete library of podcasts (shame on you!), there is one tip from the Jon Irabagon podcast that really stood out to me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jon’s playing (again, shame on you!), I’ll assure you it’s obvious that the man can play in a wide variety of styles, from bebop, to rock, to modern jazz, to avante garde, and beyond.

When I asked him what it was that he did to master so many different styles, here’s the process he outlined:

  1. Find a passage in a recording  of one of your sax idols that really stands out to you as epitomizing their sound.
  2. Isolate the short passage, or even a single note that speaks to you, and practice playing that passage, or single note with the exact same sound you hear on the recording.
  3. Once you’ve matched the sound in the key heard on the recording, try transposing around the horn so that you can match your idol’s sound as closely as possible through the entire range of the instrument.

Of course, the goal here is not to become a carbon copy of another master, but instead to push yourself into sonic realms that you would not have visited otherwise. This practice will work the same muscles in your inner mouth, tongue and throat that you work while practicing overtones and playing on the mouthpiece only.

The flexibility of being able to take on multiple sonic personalities will also allow you to sculpt that tone into your own personal sound. In fact, imitating the masters is how virtually every great musician built their craft up into highly unique greatness.

Don’t be shy, start copycatting your way to your own unique greatness!