Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

Musical Imitation, Realization and Maturity


Last week I had decided to put up some more YOUTUBE videos because it had been a while since I posted, and it was time to keep in touch with fans. The unbelievably supportive comments I get really keep me going and inspire me!

I recorded / video’d the following 3 tunes: “Superstition” and “Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder and “Tall Fiddler” by Tommy Emmanuel.

My musical guru Mike Longo taught me something very profound – which he refers to as the 3 phases of musicianship:

1) Imitation
2) Realization
3) Maturity

Phase 1, “imitation” is similar to a little kid parroting things back. This indicates musical talent, and actually the imitative stage can last long into one’s life. There are many “great” professional musicians who are highly evolved imitators. There is a kind of feel to this type of musician – when you hear them play, it “sounds good” but does not necessarily “feel good”. I hear plenty of music that does not totally touch my soul. Quite often this type of musician learns by imitating off records. I started this way.

Phase 2, “realization” is the first glimpse into seeing music flow properly through oneself due to the proper application of a musical concept, at least sort of. For me, practicing African rhythms on hand drums (again – thank you Mike Longo) led me to being able to lay my own groove down. Many musicians will say “go for a such and such feel” – and unless you know how the musical gears need to mesh – any attempt at a such and such feel will be an attempt at imitation.

It’s tricky to describe, but “realization” musically is devoid of any attempt to imitate.

For example – Wes Montgomery’s octave soloing was a signature sound. I may use a “texture” of octaves but groove it according to my feel and body rhythm and sense of melody. Another guitarist may be trying to copy Wes’s octave sound.

So, what appears to be 2 guitarists playing similar ideas can have an underpinning of imitation or realization and maturity.

Another example would be a composer who learns the principles of counterpoint can write fugues, yet may not be trying at all to imitate the sound of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Do you see how music can have an underpinning of imitation or realization?

Imagine how silly it would be to “imitate” another chess players mannerisms and moves – that would not win the game. Be yourself, but apply his or her concepts and maybe you’ll have a chance at winning! Get it?

3) Maturity: After realization bakes, maturity dawns. It is the polish, the depth, the artistry that is built on phase 2.


Part of my psychological makeup is “there is nothing I cannot do”, if I choose to do it. Nothing “gets my goat” more than a collective mentality of lots of people gawking and saying “such and such is impossible”. It’s like – I see people limiting themselves and I want to scream “FOLKS! YOU CAN DO IT – WATCH ME!!! IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE, BUT DO-ABLE!”.

So I can get like a cat who sits on the side of a closed door and will meow until that door gets opened. That was my personal challenge with “Tall Fiddler” by Tommy Emmanuel. I had to know that this piece – which many people consider unplayable – is playable!!! (I’ll have to practice this one more – but it’s coming along)

And like I said in a post earlier about his tune “The Hunt” – I love having stand-alone, mouth frothing songs to offer a contrast at my concerts and gigs.

“Tall Fiddler – Tommy Emmanuel”


Yet there’s a problem: music is not about “proving I can” do anything. I caught myself in this ego trip 24 hrs after having posted, and lay myself bare for you the reader. True music has a life of it’s own. “You” are not even playing it – the music just is. Proving anything – even and especially to oneself – through a piece of music means there’s the “me” and “the music”. The ego strikes again.

24 hours after posting I went back to view my other videos – “Superstition” and “Overjoyed” and they rang much more of truth to me. The music touched me and the grooves flowed along.

I saw that these arrangements started off way back coming from “the right place”. The launching pad, or inspiration was pure – the music of Stevie Wonder touched my heart. I then used every bit of guitar knowledge and music knowledge to map these out onto a solo guitar. They are not imitations of another player – they are solutions to a riddle, but LOVE was the motivating force.

“Overjoyed – Stevie Wonder”

The difference is subtle, yet profound.

The lesson of the story?

You can never be someone else. NO matter how good you imitate – you can’t be someone else’s essence – they themselves have that market cornered. A simple song from a standpoint of realization speaks volumes more than virtuosity on an imitative level.

“Superstition – Stevie Wonder”

The good news? No one can be YOU – so the more you dive into your own realization and maturity, anyone who tries to imitate you will be at the level of imitating, and not touch people the same way.

Music stemmming from a basis of maturity and realization will touch people, speak to people and get under their skin whereas imitative music will simply dribble off the skin and likely be forgotten. Doesn’t matter how much it’s promoted! 🙂


My plans:

I plan to keep practicing this tune “Tall Fiddler” but will now look for ways to make it my own – for my own enjoyment. Turn it upside down, look for different ways to approach the ferocious groove on it, move sections around etc. Maybe use techniques I learned from it to create my own songs.

Hope you enjoyed this! Time for me to get practicing!

Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

2 thoughts on “Musical Imitation, Realization and Maturity

  1. I’ve heard a similar quote (which is sometimes attributed to Clark Terry) that the process is “assimilate, imitate, innovate.” We assimilate information about music, what it is and how to play it; we imitate those we respect; we blend all our influences, musical and otherwise, to form our own voice.

    Nice blog! Check mine out, too! 🙂

  2. I’ve never heard Adam Rafferty play before, but it sounds like you adore him. Go to my blog, and find out how to be adored!

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