Do YOU Know the Muffin Man? Imitation in Music Practice

Jimmy Fallon and Adam Levine of Maroon 5, spar in a hilarious (and impressive!) with musical impressions of Frank Sinatra (Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes), Bob Dylan (Rude), Michael Jackson (Sesame Street Theme Song), Iggy Azalea (Old MacDonald Had a Farm), and Eddie Vedder (The Muffin Man).


All serious musicians do it on the road to getting better.  We imitate our musical idols, and learn absolutely everything we can about them. In The Practice of Practice, jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen says you have to focus intensely so that you match perfectly. You “virtually match note-for-note: length of note, quality of note, everything.” At some point, as you absorb the other musician’s performance, your own sound will disappear into the music of the person you’re imitating. It’s a cool feeling.

But imitation isn’t the end game. When it’s your turn to do your thing, create your own material, whether it’s an improvisation, or a personal interpretation of a melody. Ingrid said, “I don’t want them to hear me play 18 bars from a Freddie Hubbard solo. They know how that goes! I remember hearing somebody do that once and I thought, wow, that is the opposite of jazz.”

Show us your voice. We know how those other cats sound…. Here’s Adam Levine’s true voice, in one of Maroon 5’s better-known songs:



There are some great tools out there for imitation. Here are two of the best:

Soundslice: Video Learning Goodness is a free website running software created by Chicago guitarist Adrian Holovaty. Soundslice allows any user to transcribe a YouTube video with its intuitive tools. The platform is geared towards guitarists, and it’s especially helpful for players who don’t read standard notation. Standard notation features are in the latest update. It works best on a desktop machine, in my experience. Soundslice is a game-changer of a program. Really.
You can use Soundslice to learn tunes that others have already transcribed (hundreds in many genres and more every day), or you can transcribe your own favorite. You can slow down a YouTube video by half, tap to enter measures, repeat sections, and enter fingerings. Transcriptions are shared, too, so we can all learn from each other’s work.

Adrian Holovaty transcribed Bistro Fada, the theme song to Woody Allen’s award-winning (Oscar for best music) Midnight in Paris, a waltz written by Stephane Wrembel, one of many stellar musicians who I interviewed for The Practice of Practice (Wrembel also contributed to Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona). Check out Bistro Fada on Soundslice to get a feel for how Soundslice works.



Audacity: Recording & Playback

Audacity is a powerful piece of free, open source software that allows you to manipulate audio in a number of ways. For learning music by ear, it’s great, because you can take a very small snippet of sound, loop it, and slow it down by as much as necessary. You can change the key, too, which is helpful if you need to put a tune into your vocal range, or if you need to learn a tune in another key. I’ve uploaded nine Audacity tutorials to YouTube to help teach you the most useful tools for imitation. It’s quite easy. Watch them here. Audacity is one of many free tools created from the open source movement. It’s available for any platform, totally free, with no embedded ads of any kind.


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