The Never Ending Search for Beautiful Sound

I’m sure you’ve heard me rattle on about this particular subject in some form before, but I think it’s worth talking about again today.

So what do I mean when I say beautiful sound? Well, just as there are apparently several ways to skin a cat (although I’m not sure why one would want to do that, so perhaps we should retire that particular analogy….), there are also several ways to play a guitar.

Some of these ways sound indescribably delicious. Others not so. Some of these ways are  full-bodied, lush, rounded, full, glassy, shimmering, shining, voluptuous. Others are thin, tinny, shrill and brittle. As guitarists we have such a range of sounds and tones available to us. Pianists in comparison (and I play a bit of piano too, so I’m not picking on pianists in particular) have a relatively limited palette with which to paint and have their standard tone quality pretty much handed to them. Guitarists on the other hand, we have to do all the hard and exciting exploratory work to cultivate a beautiful sound.

Why is this so important?

Well, I can’t talk for you, dear reader, but if given a choice I’d rather hear a simple piece played with a round, full tone, rather than something much more complicated with a thin, lack lustre tone. It’s our job as performers, players, guitarists (however you want to describe yourself) to make the music we’re producing sound as beautiful as possible – every single note (not just the “special” points in the music), open strings and fifth or seventh position second or third string notes alike. Think about having gorgeous tone as standard.

I’m not saying that we all have to have exactly the same sound – that would be indescribably boring! And probably not achievable anyway, even if that were the case – we all have different guitars, made with different woods, with different strings, played with different fingernails and fingers, from different body shapes, driven by different brains. A beautiful tone is something you can cultivate, which is recognisably beautiful, but also recognisably yours.

And the key to achieving a beautiful sound and a gorgeous tone quality is to always, always be listening and being aware of what and how you’re playing. Not just hearing what we’re playing, but listening, and asking yourself “is that the sound I want to make?” Yes or no? If yes, excellent! Carry on! If no, what do you need to do differently to play with your own beautiful tone.

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