Across time, as musical styles evolve, there is a tendency for them to ossify and solidify in time. For example, when is the last time there was a new era in Jazz or Blues? We play the same type of sounds that were played years ago.
We look at genres in the same way we look at classical music– frozen in time. This allows us to say “this is country music,” “this sounds like rock and roll,” or “this guy is ripping off Charlie Parker.”
While there is nothing inherently wrong about this, I do notice a specific trend: Technicality of the music becomes the paradigm. For example, many types of modern metal music feature quick and accurate guitar licks. Or, in Blues music, the technical virtuosic playing of Stevie Ray Vaughn is a far-cry from the slow and vocal-like playing of Muddy Waters.
As I mentioned, this technicality is not a bad thing, it is a natural aspect of a music evolving within a form. Over time, once what was considered a “bluesy” sound becomes agreed upon, the logical next step is for players to become virtuosos in the style and hone the skills that led to making the great players great. In other words, we focus on the means to the end.
However, this is a quantitate approach. Once speed, accuracy, and vocabulary become the paradigm of what makes a “good player,” it becomes a game of measurable quantifiers. The best player would be the fastest, the most accurate, and the player with the most licks.
These aspects of music should be looked at as aspects of quality, a means to an end, instead of an end in itself.
After all, many great players from across genres often did not play fast, or particularly accurately, or have an endless bag of sounds.
Look no further than Townes Van Zandt to see a great musician than often played slowly, sometimes ‘sloppily,’ and played with a distinct but specific bag of licks.
While many consider Townes’ music ‘simple,’ keep in mind simplicity does not always equate to quality. Simplicity, like speed, is just a means to an end.
It’s not what you play, it’s how you play it.
The goal of music should be to express something to the listener, and only a focus on quality will ensure that every note is a piece of the message.
If you are learning to play an instrument, or just a music fan, look for quality in what you play or what you hear.
Music should represent the player to the world.
The music should be an end in itself.