Virtuosos

Great live… can’t listen to them

Here are some names to conjure with: Guthrie Govan, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Martin Simpson. Find them on the Interweb and marvel. Each is a virtuoso, a person of astonishing skill and totally absorbing to watch. Respect to one and all. But I can’t listen to them.

Recognising the importance of diversity, let me apologise for the fact that they’re all guitarists, all over 40, all men and all white but they’re the ones looming large on my horizon. I could add George Benson, Arianna Powell, Rick Wakeman and – sorry, you classical fans – Lang Lang for the sake of balance.

While I’m here, let me append to the list pretty much any jazz guitarist (I’ll be entering a witness protection scheme soon…), any shredder and any note-perfect child prodigy whose parents post a video on YouTube. And for that matter any cute cat that plays the piano.

This is not sour grapes from a grown man capable of little more than fumbling his way through do-re-mi. Technical accomplishment is hard-earned and takes years to acquire. It’s something to admire but, when the technique is more important than the tune, it’s not necessarily what the listener enjoys. Or even cares about. Music is more than a sequence of notes, however quickly they’re played or smartly juxtaposed. I do envy people whose nitro-fuelled fingers engage warp speed in proximity to an instrument but I don’t actually want to be able to do it.

As our old Core Music colleague Dan Coggins wisely says, the early blues players weren’t technically accomplished, but they certainly make you feel something. Take rock ‘n’ roll: doesn’t get much simpler, but you just try to keep your feet still.

So what?

So this: technical mastery isn’t the thing to aim for (unless you actually want to be a virtuoso and bore the pants off everyone). People who think there’s no use learning an instrument because they’ll never be good enough are missing the point. We don’t need to please anyone else or pass exams or be a creative genius. Enjoy it, that’s the point, and it’s within everyone’s reach.

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