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Portrait of the Guitarist as a Musician Who Becomes an Artist

It’s an honor to have a blog here on, and I’ll try to do the opportunity justice. It’s been about 15 years or so since I wrote a monthly column for Guitar Player magazine, but guitarists I meet [some who have even risen to professional status!] occasionally mention that my scribblings had a positive influence on them somewhere back in the day. So - that got me thinking - what might make a good beginning for this new adventure?

What makes amateur guitarists take the leap, to begin to see themselves more as musicians, then perhaps even as artists?

It’s not just a question of accumulating chops, because we’ve all seen and heard guitarists who have fairly limited “gifts” and/or technique & theory to draw upon, yet they manage to reveal great imagination and passion in their music-making.

And I think that’s the first, big, necessary quality – imagination. Hand in hand with that is a developing ability (and desire) to communicate on an emotional level. And certainly, these things require a confidence, an ego that can withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Some may see this as a kind of craziness, or at least a passion (maybe bordering on obsession), but MTV labeled certain qualities as being “Driven,” and there has to be some combustible fuel from somewhere.

When a guitarist expands consciousness to consider more than the challenge of fingers and hands getting notes correct, and starts to encompass the vision of those notes in a much bigger landscape – the music, the mood, the “whole” being greater than the sum of the parts – a musician has begun to evolve from the guitarist.

Then the musician begins to consider originality, and feels a need for self-expression. Playing studies and exercises seems somewhat beside the point: performing covers, even perfectly, isn’t really on the agenda anymore. But an arrangement that reveals a personal kind of truth? This becomes a priority, as a musician seeks, and starts to discover his or her own “voice”: now an Artist emerges.

An artist believes in a personal vision, and commits to it. Artists take chances based on their own “sense” of what feels right to them. An artist maintains a pursuit of truth, and hopes to continue to evolve and develop this “voice.”

A long time ago, with a tongue somewhat planted in my cheek, I offered a Six Point Hero List, so that guitarists could perhaps identify some of the traits separating them from the Yardbirds alumni of Beck, Clapton & Page.

These Six Points were:

  • Technique
  • Creativity
  • An experimental nature
  • A dramatic, theatrical performance quality
  • An awareness of tradition, and…
  • Timing (being the Right Thing in The Right Place at The Right Time)

I also compiled a list of Eight Basic Secrets: the things that separate wheat from chaff. The Eight Secrets were:

  • Emotion, soul, feeling, personality, interpretation
  • Attitude, desire, intellectual hunger, persistence
  • Timing, feel
  • Melodic sense
  • Harmonic sense
  • Physical technique
  • Mental approach
  • Tone – sound

These Eight qualities flesh out the Three True Musician Fundamentals: Tone, Taste and Feel. Of these, FEEL is the fundamental building block of everything. A guitarist, working his/her way towards public performance, must develop the ability to play in time, and to lock in with other musicians, and then to listen to what’s happening and find a way to blend in with that, complement it, sometimes ride on top of those sounds and sometimes sublimate their efforts to become a cog (or maybe even a bit of a ghost!) in the machine.

Those are my thoughts for my inaugural blog. Feel free to respond with comments here at You can also find me posting regularly in my member’s forum at, and the complete series of four books of my series, For The Love of Guitar, is available as a CDR full of 284 pages of PDFs on all kinds of basic (and not-so-basic) guitar stuff.

Posted: 9/20/2010 12:00:00 AM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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