On the Decline of Virtuosity

Recently I came across a discussion at guitar forum in which people were posing question like "Where is the new Van Halen?", or "Why aren't there guitar heros any  more?" Many were opining what they termed the "decline of virtuosity".

At the time all I could think of to say was "Huh?" Here is a more thoughtful response:

Huh? What decline of virtuosity? The overall level of guitar virtuosity seems higher than ever to me. When I was a kid I knew a couple other kids who played guitar, and we did our best to learn songs from records and the few printed resources that were available. Nowadays kids can hop online and meet thousands of peers or find free lessons/video examples in about three mouse clicks. They are observing and learning from one another via social networking at a faster clip than ever before. I can find 14 year olds all over Youtube doing some pretty accomplished things on guitar.

The only reason we're not seeing a lot of instrumental "viruosity" in popular music right now is because it fell out of fashion, just as everything fashionable eventually does. And it will come around again, just as everything fashionable eventually does. Besides, being an accomplished musician hasn't been a requirement for becoming a famous "musician" for a long time.  

Let's not forget that at the same time we had Eddie Van Halen we also had:

Sex Pistols
The Clash
The Police
Black Flag
Dead Kennedys

... not to mention:

New Kids On the Block
Flock of Seagulls
Milli Vanilli

...all for whom instrumental virtuosity was not a priority. I could easily make similar lists for the 70's, 60's, and 50's.

As for me, I'm really enjoying the current musical climate, and I don't understand a lot of the cynicism I hear when these kinds of topics come up. Virtuosity isn't the only doorway to great music. Many of the bands listed above created some pretty great songs, and if ones seeks it out there is still a lot of cool musical creativity going on today...and a lot of "virtuosity" too, if one is into that sort of thing.

There is no "new Van Halen" because musical tastes, approaches to playing, recording techniques, and public sentiment have all changed in the last 30 years. What there is instead is a plethora of interesting new music and musicians, for whom the tools of learning, creation, duplication, and distribution are more accessible than ever - and that's a good thing.

* photo by Abhisek Sarda


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