What would you guess is one of the best ways to grow as a musician? Practice more? Get a better instrument? Get paid more money? Of course those are great ways, but for me collaborating with other musicians has been invaluable for my musical growth. Here’s why:
Pushes you past your boundaries
Other musicians have a different set of boundaries with their music and it is unlikely they are the same as yours so collaborating will force you to push yourself in a new direction. That definitely happened to me when I performed with Pulitzer Prize finalist Wadada Leo Smith. Wadada is known for his avant-garde jazz and improvisation. His style inspired me to bring more improvisation to my performances and to not be afraid to be more adventurous with my music.
Teaches you new techniques
Working with new artists means you also learn new ways to play, compose, perform and incorporate technology to give it a fresh sound. This past April I had my premiere performance of “Machine Shop,” a new composition for marimba and recorded electric guitar written by composer Daniel Sonenberg. This collaboration started with the concept of merging classical and rock music. Soneberg decided to do it in two steps. First, he recorded the electric guitar and layered it into multiple parts. Then I performed my marimba portion live with the prerecorded guitar. It was daunting to play live to music with someone that I never even met. However, as I took the stage I felt like the guitarist was right there with me as we merged our sounds together to create a beautiful, new composition.
Keeps you motivated
We all have our down days when we just can’t come up with a single note or have no energy and just want to crawl back in bed. When working with other musicians you have a built-in support system. They can act as a cheerleader to help you keep going, offer suggestions for ways to improve your music that takes you in a better direction or even watching their process of creating can inspire you get back on track.
Opens your mind
Even something seemingly insignificant can inspire you while collaborating with others. It can be a single sound, an image, or even a conversation. One day I hanging out with a friend and he had me listen to some folk music from Armenia. After listening to that song, I explored more traditional folk music from around the world, which then inspired me to transcribe guitar folk music by composers from Paraguay, Argentina, Italy and Armenia for marimba. If I hadn’t collaborated with others previously, I doubt I would have had the confidence to try blending those diverse genres.
So if you’re feeling stuck, want to try something new or get out of your comfort zone, reach out to other artists to help you grow in ways you could never imagine and become a better musician.