Making use of Musical Cliches

A cliché sounds like a bad thing. Something old, unoriginal and over used. However, like it or not, this describes pretty much all the music we play and listen to. Sometimes we listen to a new piece of music and find we don’t like it but it grows on us after hearing it a few times. If you hear a sound that is new to you, it takes you a little while to get used to it. John Coltrane said he wanted to play music without resorting to cliché, and if you listen to ‘A Love Supreme’ you will get an idea what he meant. His solos are so far from normal that this album takes a very long time to get used to!

Most music is made up of old music. We might think ‘ooh, that sounds like…’ or we might not notice, but if we are comfortable listening to something, the chances are that we have heard it somewhere else. This can be very useful to a musician because we are playing little musical phrases which are used over and over. It is worth spending time on new phrases because they will undoubtedly come up again. Here are a couple of examples which you should come across between grades one and two:

  • cliche 1
  • cliche 2
These chord changes are heavily used in guitar music, but both can seem a little intimidating the first time you come across them. You can play them as part of your warm up until they are completely natural. It is particularly important to be sure of the fingering; don't be tempted to make up your own!

Hopefully (if I am doing my job properly), you will only come across one or two new phrases in a new song. They are easy to spot because you will not be able to read them naturally, and your fingers will not automatically go to the correct notes. Draw a circle round these ‘tricky’ sections and add them to your warm up routine until they are easy to play. You will come across them in another song so it is worth learning them well.

So what about sight reading? If you are reading well, you are not really reading anything new, you are reading lots of little bits from pieces you have already played!