How to Develop a Unique Sound

If you’re a musician, you want to be original.

To have your sound. To be unique. The problem with being original is that it’s a myth. We are all a product of our influences.

Those who are considered the most original are those who know how to wield seemingly incompatible influences into something unique.

We all desire this. If you’re a worship leader, you want to lead with a unique style that is honest to your personality.

If you sing, drum, play guitar or cello, you want to discover your unique tone and style.

But how do we “find our voice”? How do we discover our uniqueness?

Don’t Limit Your Influences

We all like the things that we like. Profound, right? But if you want to find your voice and develop your sound, don’t put a cap on what you’re influenced by. Classical music? Hip hop? Southern Gospel? Country? Sure.

Don’t just listen and learn from what you naturally like. Expand your horizon of musical taste. Always be risking, experimenting, trying something new.

Then, rather than focusing on being different, you start to focus on stewarding your influences into something unique.

Of course, some influences may be harmful to your spirit, but that’s another conversation.

Mimic What You Love

As a music teacher, I encourage my students to mimic what they hear. It’s the perfect fuel for creative fire.

When you hear something you like, try to figure out how it’s done. This isn’t stealing or copying. This is learning. When you figure out what someone else has done, you grow. You internalize new ideas. This is a way to store up musical muscle memory for your future creativity and improvisation.

Why do young musicians study books and theory and concepts before they innovate and improvise? Think of it like a tool belt. With each new musical influence, idea or concept, you’re adding another tool in your improvisational arsenal.

Find Time to Flow

I love to put my students in awkward situations. Naturally, students are nervous around their teacher. But I like to force them to innovate and create something new within their lessons. It’s a beautiful way for them to see what they’re capable of.

I believe everyone has untapped creativity inside of them. And that’s why it’s important to flow—to find time to experiment. There is a time to move beyond the mimic and into the scary realms of creativity.

This is scary because creativity isn’t about right and wrong. Right and wrong is safe, comfortable and status quo. Creativity requires stepping out and creating something that might not work. If we’re honest, most of the time the stuff we create is total crap—to us. But in order to find gold, you must excavate through rock.

The art you enjoy most wasn’t created in a day but was created through many days of failure until the beauty surfaced.

Let’s recap. Musician, it’s a beautiful thing to find your voice—to discover your sound. But it won’t happen magically. Surround yourself with the brilliance of other musicians and learn to steward their influence on you.

Mimic them and spend time just creating. God has given us music to explore the endless possibilities of sound for His glory.

We need your sound.  

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David Santistevan
David is a Worship Pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA.