By Shep Greene, VI Form
Voice in Guitar and in Literature…and in Me
The guitar is an integral part of who I am. As my skill has progressed, I’ve seen my appreciation and understanding of music progress as well. Over this past year, I began to delve into a more abstract form of music in improvisation. Within this form of my guitar playing, I began to find striking similarities between music and literature. Imagine every note as a letter and every note coming together to form a riff, with all of the respective letters coming together as one word. By the end of a piece, just as by the end of a novel, you’ll have a powerful message to send out to your listeners and readers.
Just as different styles of writing lend themselves better to different subjects, different styles of playing the guitar bring out different emotions. There are people who make riffs with notes that would not normally go well together, in essence making up their own words. Dr. Seuss’ wild imagination allowed him to form new words that flow well and leave the reader’s imagination to wonder what the exact definition of the word is. Such innovation is slightly harder to find in guitar playing, because not every note sounds good when combined, but it can still be achieved. Take, for example, Mac DeMarco. His playing, and the notes he chooses, are unconventional. Some people quickly disregard this as a bad thing. He and his fans, however, view this as unadulterated innovation. After all, no progress can be made without breaking the standard convention, and music as an art form is in a state of constant progression.
There are authors who prefer short and simple sentences to long, elegant ones. They believe just the right word in just the right spot is more impactful than a barrage of unnecessary words. Kurt Vonnegut was a master of this simple, yet effective type of writing. Invoking multiple debates and thought provoking conversations from sentences as short as three words, his writing was impactful and brutally succinct. In the realm of music, no one better embodied the delicate placement of notes than David Gilmour. Most of his solos relied on the emphasis of certain notes in certain places to give the listener a sense of emotion and feeling that could not be attained otherwise. Very rarely did either artist go to the measure of brain-melting complexity to achieve their goal.
There have been artists, however, whose immense depth and attention to detail is unmatched and practically impossible to recreate. Shakespeare is famous around the world for his cryptic speech. Yet even through his puzzling words, the beauty of his work is unmistakable. From the diction, to the flow, and even the stories themselves, his work has remained a staple of literature for centuries. There are guitarists who exemplify this immortal status as well. Jimi Hendrix, Trey Anastasio, and Jimmy Page all rose to fame decades ago due to their innovation and skillful solos involving untouchable amounts of complexity. By creating legendary songs and taking part in concerts that are now staples of music history, all of them have left a powerful mark on music as a whole through their intricacy.
As is clearly indicated from the fame and influence of every one of these artists, no single style is correct. As I’ve started finding my own voice in literature, I hope my repertoire and expression as a guitarist increases as well. While it’s easy to navigate and form letters and words that I have been exposed to since we were born, it’s harder to do so with an art form that is fairly new to me. I still am creating simple musical sentences, but I am beginning to identify my own style. Although it’s not as complex or innovative as those of others, it’s amazing to be able to create something as abstract and meaningful as original music.
Shep Greene is a VI Form boarding student from Sudbury, MA. He lives in Coe House, is the Head of the Student Discipline Committee, and loves fishing. Hear Shep’s cover of “Marty Bum” here: https://soundcloud.com/shep-greene/mardy-bum-cover