Technique, Style and Significance

I get a lot of material for these blogs while driving down the road. Seems nothing frees your mind quite like traveling down a road, even if it is a busy one. Before I know it, I’ve a new idea to blog on!

Today was no different; I was going to the other side of town and I was thinking of a recent CD I bought. It wasn’t a very well-known work, and after hearing it, I realized that there were lessons for me to learn about what to value in music as well as what not to value.

Certainly we can value a banjo in other musical contexts than strictly bluegrass, old-time, or jazz. But I see a pattern here, regardless of musical style. Ponder these statements; mull them over in your mind for a while and see if you agree.

Technique Serves Style

Style can be defined as an overarching pattern that characterizes a subset of a musical genre. In other words, we can recognize a particular style by listening to the predictability of the elements that compose it: rhythms, voicings, motifs and the variations on these techniques and how they are handled. Even the message conveyed by the song can be a part of that style.

All of these various techniques are applied to the song in that particular style. Change the techniques and you have changed the style. Think about all of the remakes of well-known songs you have heard. Ofttimes, the remake is in a completely different style, or even a different genre. “She Thinks I Still Care”, by George Jones, is a good example. Jones recorded this as a country song before  James Taylor redid it as a popular soft rock song. Many songs we know in one style would just as easily fit into another style or genre, if we could just hear it differently in our minds, but that is the difficult part for most of us.

Change the technique and you can change style, or even genre; but change genre or style and you must change technique.

Style Serves Significance

I’m thinking of this relationship a good deal differently from the relationship between technique and style as mentioned above. Here, it has more to do with the outcome of what a musician does with finished products – songs. A carefully crafted and well-thought-out style serves a musician well by making his or her works a matter of significance. Conversely, to have a style that does not compliment your goals and abilities is to be counterproductive, thus decreasing your musical significance.

Develop your style and your efforts increase your musical significance; neglect it and your efforts become less significant.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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