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  • Writer's pictureJeff Perry Guitar

Why Do The Behaviors That Drive Innovation Come So Naturally to Musicians?

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

As shared by the authors of Eat, Sleep, Innovate, a culture of innovation is one where the behaviors that drive innovation come naturally. As is typical, I immediately saw the music connection and that jazz, and its offspring (rock, soul, reggae, pop, etc.), represent exactly that kind of culture. One piece of evidence for this is that Spotify identifies over 1,300 genres of music! That mindboggling abundance is the direct result of a culture of innovation that is constantly experimenting and striving to combine diverse ingredients in novel ways.

While I instinctively knew jazz culture embodied innovation, I wondered more specifically why the necessary behaviors come so naturally to musicians. I believe these four impulses explain much:

Emulation – Musicians want to be like their idols, those who most inspire them. Early in one’s development, this might mean copying them. Yet as you progress, you move beyond that and realize: If they innovated, and I want to be like them, I must innovate. So oddly enough, in this culture, by emulating my idols’ behaviors (rather than their output), I become different than them.

Permeation – whether reading articles or interviews in music magazines or watching a masterclass on video, a central theme repeats over and over – finding your own voice is perhaps the most prized possession in the field of jazz and pop music. When such a principle so thoroughly permeates the culture, you adopt it or decide you aren’t a fit for it. “Copiers” may be recognized for their skill, but innovators and disrupters are esteemed for their imagination.

Expectation – in jazz there is an expectation that its players will contribute new ideas to the music and create their own stamp on their instrument. While not everyone can be a Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, or Miles Davis, all can find new ways, even if small, to contribute if you work hard enough. To borrow from Eat, Sleep, Innovate, “Innovation is not the job of the few, but the expectation of the many.”

Encouragement – encouragement is a powerful motivator. When you do create “your own thing” in jazz, from my experience, your peers will recognize it and share that acknowledgement with you. This generally leads to more of the behavior. And of course, your audience will recognize it by their reaction at your shows and by purchasing your music, encouraging you to continue on your path.

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