CLAREMONT COLLEGE

What is a good instrumentalist?

What is a good instrumentalist?

8th September 2017

WHAT IS A GOOD INSTRUMENTALIST?

I have to share this wonderful extract from ‘StringKick Admiraliteitskade’ (50-701, 3063ED), Rotterdam, Netherlands. This applies to any instrument and I hope you enjoy the read. It might provoke some stimulating conversations about music with your child. I always wanted to become a ‘good’ guitar player. But what does that even mean? How can you compare Bo Diddley to Steve Vai? John Mayer to Slash? B.B. King to Matthew Bellamy? Jimi Hendrix to Jonny Greenwood? I could go on and on. 

It’s funny how some guitarists delight audiences with two or three well placed notes, while others dazzle with their virtuoso skills. Still other players aren’t even particularly known for their guitar playing, but just write great songs. So, what it meant to be a ‘good guitar player’ became more and more vague to me. Until I realised there are actually three different skill sets that you can work on: 

1. INSTRUMENTALIST

How well you can use your instrument. This means technique and knowing the instrument well enough to play what you want to play.

2. MUSICIAN

The skills you take with you when you switch instruments. Listening to others, being an empathetic player, improvising, being in control of your time, being able to play through changes, knowing when not to play, the ability to use music theory… And any other instrument-independent skills that are part of musicianship.

3. ARTIST

Your ability to create music that has some artistic merit. Music that resonates with listeners, that people hear and go ‘this is good’. This includes song-writing, arrangements, composition, having a story to tell when playing a solo…

You could be a run of the mill instrumentalist, with average musicianship skills, but still be able to create music that people love to listen to because of your artistic ability.

Now, none of these categories is better than the other. Which skill set you decide to emphasise, depends on what your musical goals are. I know musicians who are amazing professionals that can nail any studio gig because of their amazing technique and timing (instrumentalist and musician, skill sets 1 and 2). But they just aren’t that into writing songs or creating their own music (artistic, skill set 3).

I also know musicians who aren’t guitar virtuosos (instrumentalist, skill set 1), they know little music theory and aren’t great improvisers (musician, skill set 2), but they are insanely creative and write amazing songs (artistic, skill set 3).

In short, I like this insight because it can help you get a clearer picture of what it means to be good guitarist to YOU. It will help you figure out what skill set you need to focus on and develop in order to reach your musical goals. So what kind of ‘good guitarist’ do you want to become?

Mrs Tara Barr

Head of Music

8th September 2017