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Don't Be An Innovative Guitarist!


Guitarists like to innovate, and innovation is great. Have you ever thought of creating a new technique, a new style, a new approach to playing the guitar? If you have, I’m here to tell you to stop innovating right now! At least until the end of this video, because you might be at risk of compromising your authenticity as an artist. Let me explain…

Music is a creative field, and innovation exercises your creative juices. That’s a good thing. But music is also an artistic field, and a hallmark of a great artist is to be authentic. Which means, you need to check your intentions behind your desire to innovate. If you’re innovating for the wrong reasons, your audiences will be able to sniff it out eventually.

What does authenticity mean for guitarists?

There are two opposing types of authenticity - ‘reconstructed’ authenticity and ‘new identity’ authenticity.

‘Reconstructed’ authenticity refers to doing things the way they have been done in the past, or simply staying true to the original. For example, for a classical guitar performance to be authentic you would have to play as closely to the score as possible to capture the composer’s intentions, with the right instrument, performance setting, and technique.

‘New identity’ authenticity refers to doing things in a way that is true to yourself as an artist. For example, as a singer-songwriter guitarist, to be authentic would be to write and perform original material that tell stories and capture emotions that are from your personal experiences.

Now, each genre of music has a different conceptualisation of what authenticity is, but none is fully ‘reconstructed’ or ‘new identity’. Rather, think of these two types of authenticity as two ends on a spectrum, and each genre of music as occupying a point along that spectrum to define what authenticity is for an artist in that genre.

As guitarists we are in a special position where our instrument traverses so many genres from western classical to jazz to fingerstyle to pop to rock and the list goes on… we can be authentic guitarists by accurately interpreting classical repertoire, or by composing a blazing heartfelt electric guitar solo, or by creating new percussive techniques on acoustic fingerstyle guitar to push the sonic boundaries possible on the instrument.

All sounds good so far… but how then is innovation dangerous?

The danger of innovation

As I said before, check your intentions in innovating. In the attention-seeking world today we are enthralled by the idea of going viral, or simply getting more views, likes, shares, comments, you name it! As an artist, when you choose, whether consciously or unconsciously, to innovate for the purpose of getting more attention, you seriously compromise your authenticity as an artist. And I mean BOTH ends of the authenticity spectrum!

You compromise your ‘reconstructed’ authenticity as you aren’t capturing the essence of any existing valued and respected practice. You’re creating something new!

That would normally be great for your ‘new identity’ authenticity, but this aspect of authenticity is founded upon the notion of being true to yourself as an artist. If you are innovating not out of a musical motivation but rather a desire for attention, you aren’t doing justice to your identity as an artist.

Even if you somehow succeed in mechanically innovating and actually go viral or get lots of attention, eventually your discerning audiences will realise that you’re in it not for the music. A true artist creates work that reflects who they are as a person, and presents it for the world to experience.

Check yourself in the mirror

So before you set out to create something new, be it a song or a technique, ask yourself - what are you creating this for? Being an artist is not just about reaching more people, but creating good art. And eventually that art will reach many more people simply because it is good art.

If you are an artist, how important is it to be authentic? If you listen to artists, how important is it to you that an artist is authentic? Leave a note below and let’s have a dialogue! The conversation doesn’t end with this video and I’m eager to learn more alongside all of you on this topic.

By Neil Chan


The ideas and contents of this post are inspired by the book 'Facing The Music' by Huib Schippers.


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