Should Music be Cubby-holed?

A friend and I were talking about various qualities of musical instruments and he made the comment that guitars, banjos and such instruments can easily play alone, whereas a brass or woodwind instrument, say, a trombone, really needs other instruments in order to keep the beat going.

Having never been in a marching band or orchestra while in school, I wasn’t aware of this distinction. But it makes sense for the way we are accustomed to thinking of music. In our current way of thinking, we usually relegate all musical instruments to their respective cubby-holes based on either their physical qualities (such as the banjos’ short sound duration or the gentle quietness of a dulcimer) or on the current social perception (once again, the banjo, with its’ red-necky associations, the fiddle with the devil, or the electric guitar with youth and rock). Interestingly, the sitar in India is associated with being played mostly by women.

So is it a bad thing; to cubby-hole music or musical instruments? Many a musician cringes to see his or her style lumped in with what seems the most logical. So I’ve heard, Charlie Rich, who recorded ‘Behind closed doors’ – a huge hit back in the 70s, wasn’t especially fond of being classified as a country entertainer. He was very much of a cross-over artist between country, R&B, rock and jazz. But record stores didn’t have a ‘R&B-Jazz-Country Crossover’ section, so people had to put it somewhere – Charlie’s songs wound up in the Country aisle. Interestingly, that lumping of Charlie Rich into the Country bin in and of itself was also a definite influence on Country music as well.

Which brings up a good point to cubby-holing music: doing so brings a direct influence of the cubby-holed instrument/musician to bear on the category into which they have been lumped. It’s kind of like when you get your house for sale listed in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) via a realtor. Your exposure is greatly increased. If a musician can bear the though of being lumped into what he or she at first deems an intolerable lot, then they might find it actually a good thing in the long run.

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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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