A Sea of Music – Widening Your Musical Influences

In my recent interview with guitarist Xuefei Yang, she noted that “lots of guitarists, guitar students, or maybe amateurs, tend to focus on the guitar world. Maybe they play the guitar because simply they love the instrument, which is no problem at all, nothing wrong with that. But I just feel that they’re more fanatic about the instrument. I hope that they can put themselves in the sea of music. Myself I love guitar as an instrument, but I think of guitar just as a method, just as a medium, of music. It’s a media to express music and I like to think about music more than about the instrument. I think that  for more advanced students, if they want to be a musician, to make a career, I think it’s quite important to put yourself in the sea of music and think more generally about music, rather than just guitar.

I couldn’t agree with her more, and exploring different instruments, different musical eras and styles is something that I actively encouraged my students to do when I was teaching. And it’s very much something I do myself too – I’m a big music fan generally and I’d say around 90% of the music I listen to is music other than classical guitar music. I do a lot of listening of all sorts of things – from various eras of classical/ Western art music, Indian classical music, jazz, pop, rock, blues and everything in between.

Why? Aside from keeping things fresh and interesting, I find listening all sorts of different kinds of music and different kinds of instruments (solo and in groupings) helps bring differing perspectives on my playing – how I think about a piece of music for example, how I want something to sound, how I know a line is or can be played be a particular instrument and wanting to try and capture or reflect that on the guitar. The “sea of music” is a great source of inspiration.

So today I thought I’d share with you some of those pieces of music that have been inspiring me of late. Here we go, in no particular order…..

(1) Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium

A glorious 40 part motet (choral composition), originally composed for eight choirs of five voices. This is a great example of English Baroque choral writing with lots of soaring, interweaving lines

(2) Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2

The whole suite was originally music written for a ballet, and is Ravel’s longest orchestral work. The second suite is my particular favourite – it has these gorgeously lyrical melodies, big fat textures and fantastically lush Impressionistic harmonies. Wonderful dynamic shapes and melodic lines to feel and learn from.


(3) Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Quite simply beautiful melodic lines, with equally beautiful counterpoint.


(4) JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major

I’d say this is a fairly well known example of Bach’s work, but also an easily accessible one for those less familiar and looking to start to immerse themselves in the Baroque master’s work.


(5) Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat Major

Well, any of Chopin’s Nocturne’s and Etudes are great listening. In some ways the piano is rather like our own classical guitar in that it’s a”self-accompanied” instrument, so there’s much we can learn through listening to that two (or more) part playing.


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