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Fret12

Monday, February 27, 2012

Why are the best so damn good?

I have a theory that I've been thinking a lot about lately. Whenever I listen to Django Reinhardt or Charlie Christian I think, these guys are probably the best guitar players that ever lived, and they existed when guitars were barely even popular. I'm talking about the birth of the instrument in popular music, which happened to be jazz at the time. This isn't about genre and what's better, this is about guitar competence, genre-non-specific.

So what made them so amazing? Why are they so melodic and so technically gifted? There were certainly no past guitar gods that they could look to for inspiration; no fancy new gadgets, or hyped up new instructional series on DVD. They were just amazing, without the benefit of a guitar-father. So the question is where did their inspiration come from?

The answer is EVERY OTHER INSTRUMENT. If you've ever played a horn or known someone who plays a horn, you can see a dramatic difference in how it's played compared to guitars. As guitarists today, we've learned how to play based on SHAPES. - Bar chords, scale diagrams, etc have made it so we don't need to think about the notes we're playing, we can just picture the shapes on the fret board and jam away! 

Imagine playing in something as simple as an A minor pentatonic but not knowing the pattern, just the notes that are in the scale, and where they are on the fretboard. I would guess it would slow you down quite a bit at first, but it would force you to think about intervals and melody as you played, not just licks. Imagine that you committed to learning guitar like that, over the course of 20 years, starting when you were young. Everything you know about the guitar would look different to you. When you looked at the fretboard you would see all the notes and their relationships with the chords that are being played by the rhythm section. Think Keanu Reeves in the Matrix when he starts to see everything as code.

This is really not about a right and wrong way, but I think it's the biggest reason why those guys amaze us so much when we listen to them. They never had an option for an easy way out. That, and they never had all the distractions that we have these days, but really, it's an interesting way to think about the guitar. I'm not saying rethink everything you know about the instrument, but maybe it opens your mind up to trying something you might not have tried before! 

POSTED BY COMMENTS (672)

672 Comments:

These are some great points. Who writes these fine words? Is it kones?
This is a fantastic point.Also do you guys sen the picks and t's at a low to no shipping price?
sorry about my lack of punctuation. *send
i agree with you. i've always write songs on guitar. but when I write song on piano it feels diffrent. so I think sometimes I'm just following the instrument not the melody I really want. thank you guitarings for giving this!
Wow what an amazing point. I think its a matter of becoming a master of your craft, and not just being a player of it. All guitar players could benefit from knowing more about what they do, and what makes up the sounds they produce. Awesome job
Hi Chris,
Yeah it's Kones! Thanks for the kind words and I'm glad you guys agree!
Good point. BUT after 20 years of dedicated practice, no matter the method, wouldn't you have your own intimate relationship with your instrument? I understand your post is more related to the two styles of learning, and honestly I agree with you, but ultimately Charlie Christian and Reinhardt and Charlie Parker and Paganini all spent an unbelievable amount of time practicing. They are virtuosos among virtuosos, and I think to stop after saying they see all the relationships of the notes is still a little short of their achievement. They all, in my opinion, transcended those relationships and created new "rules" or "vocabularies" that we all as mere mortals still follow today. The analogy everybody uses is that it's like a language... well music is somewhat different because of the conditions necessary to practice the language! We have to create time to learn the language, otherwise after hearing music all our lives we'd all clearly understand what was happening! These people are the ones who had their instruments around them so often that they learned so many words, phrases, thoughts, and philosophies they were able to synthesize them as easily as you or I could post or comment on this blog. Imagine if my comment were a piece of music: it would pretty good, considering the fact that I'm doing a good job of expressing my thoughts. It was that natural! ....whoa
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