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The Guitar: Its Own Musical Universe

Monday, February 7, 2011
Many of us get bitten by the musical bug at some point in our lives and we start to wonder which instrument is right for us. Some are attracted to the percussive power of the drum-set, others to the expressiveness of the cello, still others to an instrument like the piano with it’s broad melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic capabilities. While ultimately it boils down to personal preference, I believe that the guitar’s portability and versatility make it a great choice for someone deciding which instrument to learn.

The guitar is portable and adaptable. Although it is true that the piano has a greater range and is capable of playing more complex harmonies, it is much more difficult to take a piano to a park or camping. The guitar is also equally at home at a backyard barbecue or on the concert stage. Artists like legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, jazz virtuoso Joe Pass, or classical master Andres Segovia played in different styles, but all of them were able to express themselves with nothing more than a guitar.

Nowadays portability is not limited to acoustic guitars either. For those who no longer want to lug around a bulky, heavy amplifier and a case full of effects there are many options. With computers and devices such as smart phones and tablet computers becoming increasingly affordable, a guitarist can fit into his backpack or pocket what used to require a roadie to haul around. Most DAW software such as ProTools or Ableton Live now offer amp emulators and software effects bundled with them. And for about $50 a guitarist can buy a device that allows her to connect to her iPhone and use software that emulates the most popular amplifiers and effects, all at the touch of a finger. Anyone who was following guitar news at NAMM 2011 saw the popularity of these types of setups, with dozen of videos popping up of popular guitarists playing through nothing more than an iPad.

The guitar is also versatile. One would be hard pressed to find an instrument that has been adapted to as many styles and embraced by as many cultures as the guitar. Not only do you find it in the conventional settings such as a rock band, but also in music from all over the world. There is nothing quite as visually or aurally stunning as the guitar and playing of Debashish Bhattacharya, a guitarist who helped bring the instrument to classical Indian music. In order to be able to play the scales used in this music he plays a highly modified arch-top guitar with a slide. Those who have only seen a slide used to play blues guitar will no doubt be amazed at the high level of technique and expression achieved by Mr. Bhattacharya on this instrument. Guitar also figures prominently in the music of Brazil, Africa and many other countries and cultures.

This versatility also places the guitar front and center in some of the most important expressions of the human spirit. Whether it be the compositions for guitar of JS Bach, Jimi Hendrix’ interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner, or Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, the guitar figures prominently in each. The styles and techniques needed to all of this music are different, but each holds an important place in our world’s culture.

All in all, it’s hard to go wrong when choosing the guitar as a means of musical expression. By it’s very nature it adapts well to all performance situations, cultures, and styles. I’ve been playing it 30 years and haven’t been bored yet!

Guest blogger, Jeremy Keller, is a guitarist, composer, teacher, and active performer living in Long Beach, CA. For information on his teaching activities visit jk-guitar.com. I'd like to thank Jeremy for contributing this article on the unique benefits of learning the guitar!
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