Who Influences Your Music Most?

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Musical inspiration comes from the people, events, and experiences that make you who you are

You know that question people ask musicians “who influences you most”? Well, I’ve never been able to answer it. For a while I thought I’d just list what music I grew up listening to, as that must have made an impact on my writing style and served as musical inspiration. Later, I started listing musicians whose music I currently am into because I must be trying to be more like them if I am a fan, right?

Musical inspiration
Cheryl with her dad tickling the ivories.
Then I changed my answer again, and started saying my dad. My dad was a jazz musician who played upright bass since high school, who could tinkle an Errol Garner or Dave Brubeck tune on the piano without even knowing where middle C is. Completely the opposite of me, a classically trained pianist with not an ounce of jazz in my blood. But I knew my love for music and any talents one could claim I have came from him. He loved my songs and my performances, and always gave just the perfect amount of constructive feedback to both. I even had the closing line my Grammy acceptance speech (oh don’t pretend you haven’t written yours already) read “every note I write is for you, Dad.”

This was it! I found my musical inspiration and my answer to that nagging interview question! For the moment….

After a rapid decline in health, my dad passed away a few weeks ago. While I was lucky to be very complete with him, nothing was left unsaid and we were expressing our love until the end, I am left with a gaping hole in my heart and the question, silly as it may seem, “now who do I do it all for?”

A few days ago, I listened to a lot of my old songs that he loved, and watched the last video that he watched of my music to try to get some answers. When watching “Steaming Hearts,” the underlying message of “I will get over this” was screaming out loud. I remembered writing the lyrics and music when I was in a dark place in a relationship, and I wrote the song to encourage strength in myself. Funny how it would become the source of hope during a time of unprecedented grief.

And, after years of struggling with an answer, I found it. When someone next asks me who influences my music the most, my answer will be “Me. I listened to a lot of jazz, thanks to my dad, and studied classical music growing up, and am currently really into the band XYZ (or whatever I’m listening to at the time).” I am the source of my own musical inspiration. It comes from my life experiences, observations, trials, hopes, and dreams.

Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a singer/songwriter and composer and can tell you everything about herself in 30 seconds in the jingle she made. Her website is CBEmusic.com and you can follow her on Twitter @CBE. She authored the e-Course “In The Key Of Success: The 5 Week Jump Start Strategy” which will get your music career moving in the direction you want (go get it now and use the Disc Makers Special code IHEARTDM for 70% off!). Her new epic video, complete with rock climbing and helicopter shots, is on YouTube – watch it now!

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24 thoughts on “Who Influences Your Music Most?

  1. Great article! What a wonderful way to honor your Dad.
    Artists and musicians are part of many communities that influence our creativity, including our families. I enjoyed your acknowledgement of those influeneces coming together with your life experiences to help define your unique perspective and inspiration.

  2. My songwriting is a gift from God.I just pick up the guitar and start playing chords and see what comes.Sometimes I will get a chorus,sometimes just a verse and work it from there.I never set out to write any particular style or subject to a song I just write what comes into my head.None of my ancestors were musicians, nor were my parents musically inclined so what else can this gift be but from God. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

  3. Cheryl,
    I found myself in a very similar situation and would have to say the same thing. My father was a great inspiration musically although I also came to find that my songwriting is also “Me”.
    Reflecting moments and views of my life and the meanings they had for me at the time I wrote them. The biggest pleasure is how my lyrics also connect to others with the same ideas and situations and also how the melodies impacted and defined other musicians that have played with me and how their abilities as musicians added a whole new depth, dimension and perspective to my songs.As a singer/songwriter these relations between fans and fellow musicians have given me the greatest satisfaction as an artist.
    That being said, music who I am, not just what I do………

  4. When I taught myself to play guitar in 1980, I was primarily influenced by four bands- Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica, and Slayer. Along the way, I learned things from other guitarists, but the bottom line is that I developed my own style, tone, and hooks, that identify my music as unique and original.

  5. Who influences my music the most. : a 3, a 1. On the Baby; it’s Jupiter, a wee, and Christ, a one. To get hits sold, it
    would be Esperanda Spaulding, a new-kid bass player singer,phenom.I’d go Kelly Clarkson, on a hit also, plus Greta, who looked like my X-wife, called, a 3, a 2.She’s good also like: Merrilee Rush, with Billy Mac- a one keyboard
    player like Grant Stott who played with Ricky Nelsen, like KUSA of Lavo’s flow, a 3 to Venus and Orei.On Piano: influence is Chopin,Beethoven,George Cables and Joe Samples. Sax: still a #1 is Me, my interpereration, same as flute, but sax’s would be: Charlie Kegel-a 3,Joe Henderson a 3 also,Charlie Parker,Mike Brecker,Dave Sanborn,
    Sidney Bechet-a 3,Trane,Arturo Sandoval-a3,Freddy Hubbard- a 3, on Flute: Julius Baker,Hubert Laws-both 3’s,
    Maynard Ferguson a wee,Pagannini- a Toulene-wee,Rama a man, Siva a deity-wee,Kronos a 4,a Uathne Umai- afriend,Calliope- a key,Canis a high flute, Apollo-lyre a 3,Rue a “B”,Don Fagan-cool wee,Chad Quist-gtr.,God and Pan to Zeus, a Muse, Kelly Clarkson- a wee, Barb Streisand.Q. Jones and Ralph Mutchler two Muthurs and arrangers of a Lemuria relation, of Atlanta-wee. Chitratrahka and ChitraRatha of an India, and Tombuuri- Friends. Thanks: William Chrey, BFA., AA.-Olympic College and AA.-MIU. a wee.

  6. Written from the heart Cheryl. It may sound odd to you when I say it, but you are very lucky to have had someone so special whose loss is now an even greater inspiration to you.
    I never got to know my real father who was a brilliant concert pianist and theoretical musician. As a result I have had to spend years and years trying to bring out the Music Genes I inherited from him by way of self-learning through self-motivation.
    You are indeed fortunate, and I empathize with you in your sad loss.
    Music though, thankfully, is a powerful healing force of both mind and body.
    Perhaps some of my tunes and/or their titles might play some small part in that process for you if only for a moment.


    All the best to you.
    Poppa Madison

  7. For me songwriting is capturing some aspect of the human experience and amplifying it in some manner. I find that working as a psychotherapist and social worker brings this issue of human-beingness to the forfront. I am inspired by this.

    1. My mother gave me my only encouragement as a fledgling musician, when she said I had a nice voice. That was enough for me. I took it from there and taught myself several instruments and 1,000s of songs. After many years in the corporate world, I am now doing music most of the time. It is great.

  8. Right on! When I was little and for years, every Saturday morning, I woke up to jazz my father was playing on the old “monaural” system. This on-going exposure to the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that became so routine were [obviously] influencing/imprinting on my pysche. My father had died. As I got older there was an endless “chatter of mind music” from the earlier days that led me to tinker around on the piano to mimmic those driving sounds in my head. I suppose with all endeavors, there is some defining moment that launches our “inspiration to pursue.”

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Chris. What a wonderful way to remember waking up! I’m sorry for you loss, and your “inspiration to pursue” carries out that memory, for sure…. Best of luck!

  9. There is a difference between inspiration from style and inspiration from music as a process (especially the learning process). When people ask who influenced you as a musician they usually mean the former, but it is interesting that this article covers more the latter. I have covered the former numerous times, but the latter has been asked only rarely. Although the answer for me is a little more complex, I couldn’t have gotten anywhere if my mother (a pianist/organist/vocalist with a ton of music theory knowledge) hadn’t guided me from the start. Even today over lunch we discussed complex chords and intervals, like the Neopolitan Sixth (my answer was “Neopolitan ice cream with twice as many flavors”)!

    Most musicians, however, are influenced by one or both parents (or parental figures), even if that parent is not a professional musician. I’ve noticed this consistently when reading musicians’ biographies.

      1. Not sure the word influence is right for me. Music is like water. It’s there or its not.

        Influence alters. A bribe alters the actions of someone. To alter/influence is to change the coarse being run, and direct a different coarse from the one formerly being run.

        I think you hear something and it triggers something that is already there inside you. It doesn’t alter you. It triggers you. It’s more of a catalyst than and altering force.

        Those who trigger that something in you, have dipped their bucket into your well, and drawn some of your “water” out.

        They can trigger you in different ways.

        Tom Petty triggered what I already knew subconsciously. Don’t overwrite. Less is more. Write in a way, such that the hearer internalizes what you give them, and make it about their experience, make it theirs.

        Studying Leonard Cohen triggered another part already there inside me. Write your poem or story. Sing your poem or story. Put your poem or story to music. Though I’d never listened to his music before, I actually felt the movement inside me as I began to understand, and find harmony with how he created music.

        Heather Nova’s music tapped into the passion, fearlessness, independent spirit, raw honesty, and refusal to be shoved into some typecast genre box. She didn’t put any of that in me. It was already there. Her music triggered, or activated it. She also surrounded herself with what I felt were extremely gifted musical people. No song writer is an island. A huge lesson learned from her. Yet somehow, I already knew that. It was more about agreement than influence.

        Maybe that’s it. Influence alters. Agreement inspires.

        So, these people didn’t really influence me; they inspired me.

        They didn’t put those things inside me. God did. I can choose to do good or evil with them. That defines me.

        Those who create music dip their “buckets” into the “water” in your “well”.
        They draw something out from there. They don’t make you what you are, or put the music in you. It’s already there. They help you to feel, taste, and see a little more clearly, what God put inside you. They inspire, not influence, the gift given, and you take it from there.

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