Saturday, July 22, 2006

the chromatic versus diatonic debate: a guitar player's view

coming from a guitar background as i do there is nothing quite so mind numbing as listening to someone banging on about the superiority of diatonics over chromatics. or vice versa*. with us twangers there are differences, yes, but even the most partisan strummer and twiddler can accept the diversity within the genre of instruments referred to as guitars.

from classics to strats, dobros to archtops, national steels to country jumbos, macaferris to ovations (a lot of people do think of an ovation as a guitar actually) and 335s to les pauls, they might have a name in common but they have massively different characteristics. thank heavens. and can be used for different things.

i see the diatonic versus chromatic debate in the same way. they are different. vive la difference. they have different strengths. you can do different things on them and i for one really enjoy listening to them both.

i think that any conflict that exists does so primarily in the ear of the beholder. maybe not even there. maybe just in the closed mind-set. in my opinion it just ain't the instruments. its what people do with them that counts. and that is down to the breadth of each player's personal horizon.

for example i really enjoy the blues and r&b and am the first to recognise the impact of this genre on 20th and possibly 21st century music. and yes it can be - but i hope we would all agree isn't always - great music to listen to and to play .... BUT we do need to recognise that if the talent that made this magic from a combination of thin air, dust and bad whiskey had been focussing on how music was made nearly a century earlier, in other words on how music SHOULD be played .... the blues just would not have happened. full stop.

the musicians who made the blues were innovators who could pull a riff out of a piece of wire nailed to a shed door. so while all respect is due to the music it wouldn't hurt if the idea of development started creeping into some blues disciples' headphones. rather than spending valuable playing time, not to mention the money, trying to replicate little big willy frogmorton's distinctive harp tone which he originally achieved on an instrument of hand carved whalebone and buffalo hide with his head six inches under the mud on the south bank of the snake-lash river in catfish creek, mississippi at 3:47 pm on friday 13th june 1922, i suggest maybe we could look to the future.

so why don't we stop bitching about how wrong the other guy/girl is. and by default pumping our own approach up. lets honour the guys who made the stuff, rather than slavishly copying them and get on and make some music. while we've still got the breath to blow. and suck of course.

* having said that its often not as ennui inducing as listening to them actually play. in my experience those who choose to exercise their intellect on such trivia tend towards the extra tedious in their musicality also. whether they play with a slide or not.

© Patrick Ellis 2005

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