Fact and Fiction

Thoughts about a funny old world, and what is real, and what is not. Comments are welcome, but please keep them on topic.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Why bother playing guitar?

My local musical instrument shop (see www.music47.co.uk) has changed over the past ten years or so, from one that used to be mainly classical instruments and sheet music, to one that is now mainly electric guitars and sheet music. The shop now has a specialist guitar section (see www.onlineguitars.uk.com) that seems to dominate the floor of the high street shop.

OK, so electric guitars have become more popular in the British popular music scene, and now it seems that every teenager (and 20-something) wants to play electric guitar. This is not quite as bad as everyone wanting to be a sound engineer, because at least there are quite a few young bands around each of which could absorb two (and a bit) electric guitar players, but there are very few sound engineering jobs.

I would have thought that (other things being equal) if you wanted to enhance your value as a musician you should learn to play something other than a guitar. Maybe you should forget the electric guitar altogether, and learn the electric violin instead.

I know this would tax the musical talent of most would-be guitarists, because there are no frets on a violin, so you would have to actually listen to what you are playing in order to get the intonation as you want it. Also that damn violin bow thingy can be so difficult to control if you have no muscular discipline.

However, the up-side is that if you can play electric violin even half decently, using a bit of reverb to fill in the holes in the music, then you are almost guaranteed a high-profile position in a band, and you can compete on equal terms with an electric guitar because the violin bow gives you a fantastic sustain.


At 8 January 2006 at 11:02, Anonymous robert said...

This is swaddling worthy of Motl. Listening to the eponymnous track on the disc of the moment, KB's Aerial, should make it clear that the electric guitar rocks like no other instrument; that's why the housewife superstar deploys it when she does. And 'Pi' would not be what it is if it were not coaxed along by some very nice rythm guitar.On the character building/technical front, notes on the rock guitar are bent through as much as a third, and thrown all over the place using the whammy bar. Care, and a good ear, are required if the results are not to be a shambolic cacophony. Controlling an electric guitar attached to an over-driven amp also requires a true delicacy of touch, as do 'tricks'and fancy work like pinched harmonics and hammering. Like the piano, the guitar gives its player a good feel for harmony. And even the Prime Minister looks vaguely cool with a Fender in his hand (well, perhaps not). The one thing the guitar doesn't do for you is to encourage sight reading (at which guitarists are famously inept), but you don't really do that in a rock band.

At 8 January 2006 at 12:04, Blogger Steve said...

Swaddling?! Yes, you are right, I have stepped outside my area of expertise! But you seem to be unaware of what an electric violin can do. Much of what you say about the electric guitar is also true of the electric violin. Admittedly, the violin has fewer strings than a guitar, and they are not tuned to make chord playing easy, but you could retune if you wanted to.

I'm not advocating a straight replacement of electric guitar by electric violin; various style changes would also be needed to get a good results.

You use Kate Bush's music to illustrate the use of the electric guitar. Ironically, if you delve back into her earlier work, her song "Violin" doesn't use the violin in any significant way, because she chooses to sing the violin part herself, and thus creates a vocal line (if that is the word!) that can't actually be played on a violin unless your name is Paganini.

What originally prompted my posting was what I hear with my ears. The proportion of guitarists who think they can play but in fact can't is much greater than the corresponding proportion of violinists. I think the reason is for this is that you have to be a much more disciplined person if you are to play the violin well, so there is some kind of selection effect going on.

At 8 January 2006 at 13:47, Anonymous robert said...

I would agree that the violin is a harder task master (or mistress) than the guitar. Playing the violin slightly less than competently produces horrors that none would inflict on their fellow musicians. Except in the school orchestras of days gone by. It is this that drives the selection process; inept fiddlers are shown the door much earlier on. To compare and contrast what an electric guitar, violin and synthesiser could do,when they were still different instruments, check out John McLaughlin's birds of fire. What real progress has there been since then?


Post a Comment

<< Home