Welcome back, Friends of Acoustic Guitar Hub.
I’m going to reveal a secret to you — the secret of how to stand out above other players. It has to do with something beyond left or right hand technique, rock-solid rhythm, a good sense of groove, or perfect pitch. It is the understanding of styles, and how to play them well.
What most amateurs don’t understand is that learning new styles of play won’t mess you up, it will actully enhance how well you play your favorite stuff — what you’re already playing.
So, if you’re a gut-bucket blues aficionado, try your hand at reggae. If you love classical guitar, give mainstream jazz a spin. If you live for light pop, take a whack at new age with open tunings.
The point is, each style has characteristics and technical challenges that the others don’t necessarily share. Obviously, if you’re a strummer playing at an intermediate level, then entering the world of classical acoutic guitar study is going to be massively helpful.
But what if you are pretty good at something already? Interestingly, many of the finest players in different genres through the years have been closet (or open) jazz players. Chet Atkins was known in the country and western world, but could play some of the most intense bebop jazz licks I ever heard. Steve Lukather (“Luke”) of Toto can shred with the best of them, but enjoyed himself thoroughly in a duo project with jazz icon Larry Carlton, and was totally up it — he knew the vocabulary and had the chops.
I reveal my own bias here: I believe jazz is important for all serious players. I am a jazz player myself, but I make most of my money composing and producing, not playing. I promise you that the anchor players — the ones I schedule recording sessions around — are mostly jazz-trained players. Their rhythm is better, their reading is better, their sense of where the “pocket” is (a groove thing) is far better, and they just have more depth.
But even beyond jazz as a second language, most of these players have a very comfortable relationship with the various pop, rock, latin, country, R&B, and even more diverse styles. I can ask them for anything, and they’re almost never surprised — they’ve already seen it before because they have studied and practiced literally dozens of different styles.
Whether on acoustic guitar or any other instrument (or voice), knowledge of each style enhances their command of the others; they are whole musicians, and I recommend you try to get there, too.
For a taste of what I’m talking about, check out my demo music, or that of some of my favorite players and friends: Michael Dowdle (with video performance here – and yes, he plays acoustic equally well), Daron Bradford, and Steve Lukather (not a personal friend, but certainly a great player). Both Mike Dowdle and Luke are excellent acoustic guitar players, even though there’s a lot of money to be made in their electric guitar careers, too.