In the 1960s through the 1980s guitar was the dominant instrument in popular music by a long shot. Rock, pop, Blues and other forms of popular music were dominated by guitar and everyone knew it. Well, fast forward to the current day and the musical landscape has changed. Guitar still plays a role but definitely less than it once did. What has replaced it? Electronic music created by synthesizers and computers. And, just about anyone with a computer can make electronic music without spending years learning an instrument.
So, should we just forget about playing guitar and focus on synthesizers and the creation of electronic music? Electronic music is pretty cool. I recently flew from the east coast back to Southern California where I live and so I had a 5 hour flight with all that time to kill. I had my computer with recording software with me and a set of ear buds and I decided to create an electronic dance music song. How did I do it? I went on my recording software and put in a customizable drum track and then went through the vast library of prerecorded loops. Loops are little musical bits – there are percussion loops like a short burst of bongos, congas, shakers, etc.. There are synthesizer loops which are a series of cool sounding notes on a synthesizer with lots of different sounds. There are loops that sound like just about any instrument you can think of as well as sound effects like rain, thunder, waves, wind, etc… There are countless loops that one can add one at a time layering the sound one piece on top of the next and shifting them to be longer or shorter to match whatever you have in mind. Well, after 5 hours I disembarked the plane with a pretty cool song that reminded me of the band New Order from the 80s and 90s. I was pleased. This is not really the kind of music I typically listen to but it was a fun little project that kept my creative juices flowing for a whole long, boring flight.
The fact that anyone can do this and it doesn’t take years of effort learning a challenging musical instrument has made it very popular. Is it good? Is it bad? You can decide for yourself. And whatever you think, it is definitely creative and it is a part of the musical landscape that we encounter in pop music of all types. Should we focus on this and forget about learning to play guitar? No way! Why? Because the nuance, the emotional expression and the element of human emotion comes through in my experience in a way that in my experience has greater depth and is just amazing. So, what would I suggest to young students of music? Learn both, they are both important, different and each will inform the other.
Andrew Bassuk teaches guitar at Harmony Music Center in Ventura, CA.