There is really no learning process quite like true observation of other great players, regardless of the instrument. Last night, for example, I was invited to a party over at a friend’s house to see a quartet of some of the greatest string players in the world, in a small, intimate setting. What a great experience! These were classical musicians of the highest possible order, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such musical precision in my life!
What was also very exciting to observe was how I could follow everything they were doing musically, down to the smallest, most subtle of techniques and riffs, and it’s so nice to see how string players “mix up” their technique, such as using plucking the strings, fast bowing, bowed harmonics and more. It’s really very similar to the guitar in many ways, and of course, as long as it’s got strings on it, it’s very easy for us guitarists to relate to.
I guess the thing that most impressed me was the respect for the compositions themselves that the performances held. The dialog was amazing between the players, and I remember remarking that it seemed like the most “team sport” approach to music I’d ever seen. It’s so fascinating when each player sort of takes the lead, then suddenly backs someone else up, then plays harmony, then plays unison and on and on. It’s a great study if you ever really want to know what it is to be a true “team player” in a band setting, and to be supportive of one another. The only difference is here was a situation where the music is specifically written with all of this in mind, and permanently “built in”, while us guitar/band players must do this kind of thing more “on the fly”, as we hear it and feel it. But not to belittle the string players I saw and heard, because their ability to shift their volume, tone and dynamics on a dime was really a thing of wonder to behold!
So, get out and try to see as much different kinds of music as possible, and really try to observe both musically and physically what is going on. The opportunity to see great players should always be inspiring, and if you’re watching a great player on another instrument other than guitar, you may be less likely to want to burn your guitar in frustration when you get home! (Just kidding, but you know what I mean!)
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