In one of my first posts, I discussed the idea of having a life outside of music as well as listening to other instruments for inspiration and ideas (symphonies, quartets, solo cello, etc.). But as guitarists it is also important for us to be able to PLAY different genres other than just classical. I think for most guitarists this is not an issue. Most people begin playing guitar because they want to learn their favorite songs. I first began playing electric guitar as I attempted to imitate the sounds of Metallica. I then began learning more classic rock (Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc.) and then explored jam bands (Phish, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, etc.). While I continued my studies of classical guitar, my knowledge of these other genres led to other performance opportunities: school productions of musicals (The Who’s Tommy, Bye Bye Birdie, etc.), playing in a jazz combo accompanying a jazz choir, and other band performances. Without my previous knowledge or exploration of these other genres, I probably would have had to pass on these gigs.
At the same time, most guitarists will need to earn a living teaching lessons. And as I mentioned earlier, most people begin taking guitar lessons to be able to play their favorite songs and are not necessarily interested in playing classical music (that’s not to say they won’t change their minds further down the road). If a student is doing something they don’t want to do, they won’t have fun. And if they aren’t having fun, they aren’t going to continue taking lessons. As I found out from colleagues in Spain, this is not necessarily the case in Europe where there seem to be droves of people wanting to play classical guitar. But as Alex Ross discusses in his fantastic book The Rest is Noise, classical musicians in America will always struggle attracting audiences because of the lack of tradition classical music has in this country. And so even from a teaching perspective, being well versed in the guitar outside of the classical realm is important. I recently had a new student come to me with songs he needs to learn for his middle school jazz band that he plays in. I didn’t have to panic about what I was looking at (chord charts) because I had seen it before, I had done it before. And I didn’t have to turn away a new student. The opportunities are endless with a well balanced, diverse knowledge of many styles of playing guitar even if your main focus is classical. You never know where it could lead.