What? Music is not about the instruments?
Um, riiight. Is this guy smoking something? Not at all! Let me explain.
Music is created by instruments, sure. No one can deny that fact. An instrument is an instrument because of the role played in creating the song. A strum of a guitar chord, the bashing of the snare drum and the human voice are all musical instruments by definition. Hell, even a ping pong ball can be an instrument (cue Enrique!).
So instruments are required to make music, yes. But music is still not really about the instruments.
Let’s use an analogy: A car is a function of the engine, gears, exhaust, wheels, tires, chassis, fuel tank, etc. Is the car about the engine, gears, exhaust? Some would argue yes, but really the answer is no. The car is not about the engine, gears, exhaust and those other things; it’s about what that car can dowith the engine, gears, exhaust, etc. For a standard car it can take you from A to B. A slightly more high-end car could take you from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds or allow you to venture off-road (e.g. a 4×4). Hopefully you can see how this all translates to music.
As a musician, I’m a guitarist first and foremost, and being a guitarist I of course have huge appreciation for good guitaring, a great lick, riff or solo. But my excitement is not because he played a B, C#, D over an A chord or whatever. It’s not the technicalities or music theory that excites me, it’s thefeeling that he generates with those notes that makes me giddy!
There are a range of minimalistic artists/bands out there today, and a specific New Zealander comes to mind, the super-talented Lorde.
Now the instruments in her songs aren’t going to wow you. You’re not going to bow down at the incredible, impossible-to-replicate instrumentation. No, you’re going to bow down to the gift of using few, well placed instruments to generate a feel that resonates with people all across the globe.
This feel aspect is at the core of every instrument. The feel of a I chord is considerably different from the feel of a IV or V chord. The feel of a major chord is remarkably different to the feel of a minor or diminished chord. The feel generated from the sound of a mandolin is totally different to the feel created by a grand piano. Often we lose sight of this, and the need to demonstrate technique and skill clouds the importance of generating feel.
I have developed quite a wide taste in music over the last few years. I equally enjoy the above mentioned artist’s music as well as more guitar-driven artists. At the core, it’s always about feel.
One of my absolute favourite bands, Alter Bridge, is technically brilliant. Marc Tremonti has won guitarist of the year more than once over and yet if he didn’t create feel, energy and excitement, there would be nothing to hold my interest. Maybe I’d admire his technical playing ability, but I certainly wouldn’t have pre-ordered their latest album if I didn’t feel something in their music.
My encouragement to you is to think about the feel you’re trying to create the next time you write a song. Think about it again when recording and mixing. The original feeling can quickly get clouded by lead guitar after lead guitar after lead guitar, just because “it sounds cool”. It can get clouded by a bad mix. Get new opinions or take a break and listen again with fresh ears. If something is not adding to the feel, remove it. More is not always more.