Courtesy of Sam Friedman
It's natural to predominantly listen to and study the genre of music that we play. However, when we step away from our main style and learn some vastly different music, we tend to bring home fresh ideas that would never have been discovered otherwise...
Have you ever heard a musician say, "When am I ever going to use this?" when they try studying music irrelevant to their goals? Even though that thought might persist, there's always something to learn from other musicians – even ones that don't play music like ours.
One of the best things an artist can have is an open mind. Here are a few key benefits of going outside of the box and into the music of unrelated genres, regardless of whether they make it onto your next album.
1. Understand new angles of creativity
Picasso had a different mind from Mark Rothko, who had a different mind from Salvador Dali, and so forth. Each genre of music has different creative minds that offer unique insight. Even if you don't aspire to create experimental sounds, studying the composers behind the music will give you new ideas on how to bend your music to be a bit edgier. And vice versa: if you're an experimental composer, you can study pop musicians to come up with creative ideas to make your music a little bit more accessible.
2. Learn new rhythmic patterns
Each genre of music has a distinct rhythm, whether it's four-on-the-floor house music or odd time signatures in jazz. Imagine if you heard a song by the Weeknd featuring his sultry R&B vocals, but with a Dilpo-style dance beat to it? You'd call it a dance track. What if it had Jack DeJohnette jazz drumming? You'd call it a jazz tune. We know the Weeknd is an R&B singer, but just changing up the rhythm behind him can totally redefine the genre and feel of a song. So, if you're a great folk musician, for instance, you could benefit from playing different genres of music that utilize other rhythms.
3. Explore different approaches to melody and harmony
Some of the most interesting melodic and harmonic approaches come from non-popular music. For example, if you're a singer, there's so much to learn from eastern Carnatic singing styles. The use of melisma and trills shows up time and time again in popular music, but by really studying Carnatic singers, you can learn directly from the source, and then apply it your own unique way! Every person hears melodies differently, and there's no wrong or right way to write melodies or harmonies. If you're a jazz guitarist, maybe consider listening to sitar music to incorporate riffs and runs into your own playing – the result will be unique and culturally intriguing.
4. Build up your arsenal of technical skills
Every genre of music requires different skill sets. Certain classical musicians strive to play some of the most complex pieces of music, such as the Paganini's famous "Caprice No. 24." Free jazz drummers have a huge task of playing some of the most intricate rhythms and time signatures. Then there are musicians like Jack Johnson who play some of the simplest songs in popular music. Skill isn't necessarily determined by dexterity, speed, or complexity – but if you study other genres of music, you'll grow your skills as a technical player. It works both ways: if you're a very technical metal guitarist, you can learn to play slower and more melodically by performing softer, more tame genres of music. If you're a straightforward rock drummer who plays simple rhythms, you can grow your technical vocabulary by learning some of metal's most complex rhythms.
5. Get behind the mind of what makes other genres popular
Aside from growing as a musician, one of the most important parts of studying other genres of music is getting behind the minds of what makes other genres popular. You may hate country music, but you can't deny that country stars sell out arenas around the world. They have tremendous success, and people all over the world connect deeply to their music. Explore what makes their music click with listeners. You might often find that it's a similar thread whether the genre is rap, metal, soul, etc.
Understanding the universal language of music requires a much greater understanding of music beyond one or two genres. The more you can study and understand music that resonates, the more you'll be able to apply that resonance with your own music, regardless of genre.
Sam Friedman is an electronic music producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, NY. His music blends experimental ambience with indie-driven dance music. In addition to pursuing his own music, he is a New Music Editor for Unrecorded and is passionate about music journalism.