Too Good For Your Own Good?
The passing of Alan Holdsworth has me thinking about “virtuoso” guitarists. If you have never heard of Alan Holdsworth, that is my point. Although he was a highly skilled player with amazing technique and was highly respected by professional musicians, outside of guitar players, fusion, and prog rock circles I doubt many people know him. It’s a common sad story that some the best musicians are also some the least well known.
For some virtuosos, they could play incredibly, but they couldn't write music. Or if they could write music, the music they wrote was so technical or “non-commercial” that it was “difficult” for non-musicians to listen to. Some may call this an artistic choice. And it is. If your musical vision is outside of the normal commercial realm, and you have a strong passion for that vision, you should pursue it anyway. Just know that you will probably not be rewarded for that vision - except by the few who might share that vision. Don’t expect to get rich or famous on technique alone. Hit records are rarely produced by “virtuosos.”
Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with having great technique on guitar. It is something we all should strive for. But technique should not be the ultimate goal. Music should be. If the music you make is designed simply to show off your amazing technique, there is a good chance it will not be very popular. Guitar players who are impressed by technique will likely be your only audience. There are several “virtuoso” guitar players I won’t go see simply because their concerts seem to me like a two hour demonstration of their technical ability. I don’t find the music very enjoyable. Endless soloing tends to bore me quickly.
But if you can harness amazing technique and use it to create music with an appealing emotional quality you will have the best of both worlds. If you can make music that touches people, you will have an audience. If you use your technique in service of that music, more people are likely to hear and appreciate your technique. And know your name.