The Competition of Music

I wrote this article a while ago… only a few days before the untimely death of it’s primary subject, Gary Moore. As a guitarist, Gary was the single biggest influence on my playing over the last ten years, at least. Luckily, he left us with many albums and videos to enjoy and continue to be inspired by. The article remains as I wrote it… with references to him in the present-tense.                                   


Music is art, not sport.  Do we argue about who’s better between Michaelangelo and Picasso?  Well, some people might, but they’re the one’s who don’t appreciate it for what it is.  Every musician has their own style, and they all utilize technique in a different way.Some players are overly technical, and that’s all it is (Yngwie and Vai clones).  Some have a great sense of feeling and melody, and combine it with super human technique (the REAL Steve Vai, Satch, Yngwie, Eddie, etc…).  Others have  awesome chops, but are known more for their sense of feeling and passion in their playing (Gary Moore, Stevie Ray), and then you have those that may not have developed face-melting licks, but play a single note like few people can (Santana, Page, Clapton, etc…).

So what do you base a competition on?  I could list many bands and musicians that I would rather listen to someone mowing their lawn… but that would only serve to offend and alienate those who do like those artists, and make me appear very closed-minded toward music.  Does it mean that I think the bands or musicians I like are better?  No… that would be arrogant.  It just means I have a different taste in music.

The recent competition at Sam Ash was based on “shredding”… a word I have always disliked, and have disliked even more that it’s often been attached to me because of a short period of my life during my 20’s when all I cared about was playing fast (the “Yngwie Effect”).  I won a similar contest put on by Guitar Center about a decade ago, and was sent to L.A. to compete in the regional finals where I performed in front of Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, and the esteemed mother of Randy, Deloris Rhoads.  There were shredders galore there, but it was won by…. an acoustic player.  He was simply more musical than the rest of us.  I feel they judged it correctly, and the right guy won.

Although the experience was fun, it was also very eye opening, and only served to solidify my belief that music is not competition.  I used to race BMX, fight in karate tournaments, still play basketball (poorly…) and am thinking about taking up frisbee golf.  If I get the itch for serious competition again, I’ll get back to one of those.  If I can get back to training like I want, I may return to tournament fighting… but when I pick up the guitar, it’s about creating something, not performing a better kata or hitting a jumpshot over a defender.

As long as two guys pick up guitars, people will try to judge who’s better.  I always hated to hear people trying to judge who’s better between Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden), or Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton (Queensryche).  They’re ALL great players, and their differences in styles are what made their respective twin-guitar approaches great.  Dave and Chris are the more bluesy players, where Adrian and Michael covered the more technical solos.  Taking one of each and putting them in the same band creates a great contrast of styles, and compliments the music.  Most hard core fans of either band can tell which guitarist is soloing because of their styles, and regardless of whether it’s bluesy or shredding, it’s all great.

Gary Moore playing his Peter Green modified Les Paul

So how do you judge the talent between a blues player and a shredder?  They both required a good amount of practice … usually years.  The main difference I put between those two types of players is that one practices more on the physical abilities, and the other does most of it in his head.

The best players  really do both.  I explained to a young guitarist at my friend’s house the other night that putting a lot of time into your chops is a great thing.  You can never have too much technique… as long as you know what to do with it,  …and you know what to play, and what not to play. 

You have to put a lot of time into developing advanced technique on the guitar.  But sometimes you have to put that guitar down, and work on the music in your head.  The point of this lesson to him?  We are limited by our physical abilities.  We will always be able to think beyond what our hands can do… therefore, giving your mind a chance to think about music without the guitar in your hands is very important.  That’s where the feeling and creativity comes from, and when you come up with something in your head that you can’t do, you sit down and work it out…therefore, you progress, and you’re now playing stuff that you might not have come up with had you not put that guitar down and walked away for a little while. 

I pulled up the Gary Moore video of “Cold Day in Hell,” and had him watch it.  It’s a display of simply incredible feeling and passion on the guitar.  There are many moments showing what you can do with a single note, and stretch it over several bars… and then of course there were the signature, face-melting licks that remind you that although Gary’s niche is blues, he can shred with the best of them…. and I mean anybody.

Gary is also a great blues singer, and writes amazing songs.  I told this young guitarist that if he was on a desert island with a guitar and one CD, it should be a Gary Moore CD, and I stand by it.  But of course, he’s not stranded on an island, and I recommended that he listen to everybody, and learn what he can, but ultimately develop his own style and voice on the instrument.  He’s a very talented young man, and is certainly on the right track.

As for the rest of us… music is to enjoy, not to argue about who we think is better.  It’s all a matter of taste, and although I would rather listen to The Doobie Brothers than Slipknot, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the talent those musicians have, and with their legions of fans, they’re doing something right, even if it doesn’t appeal to me.  It’s the same as preferring Mozart over Bach.  Can you really argue about who’s better?


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