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Musically Speaking: Who's The Best?

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JJ Rocks Article # 66: Who's the best?

A new student asked me today “Who do you think is the best rock guitarist?” I found myself pausing for a moment without being able to answer by using only one person’s name. After he left I started to think about the word “best” in general and I realized that at least for me that question is impossible to answer. That’s because I might like a solo that someone does on one particular song but not on another. Or maybe I will admire a certain guitar player’s technique, but I may not think that they are playing very melodic. And that also works the other way around because I can absolutely love a player’s melodic abilities but feel that he or she doesn’t show a good command over their instrument. But some people make excuses for a players lack of technical abilities by saying “man, that guy is very tasteful”. And another critic who enjoys flamboyance will bring up someone else and say “he’s the fastest guitarist there is” or “He can play three parts at once”. Personally I look for a good balance between the two. This is the way I think when it comes to all instruments, not just guitar.

When it comes to criticizing a musician (even though it goes against my beliefs) there’s one thing that I feel should come first. And that is the ability to distinguish the difference between the words “the best” and “your favorite”. Saying that someone is your favorite is a very personal statement and leaves no invitation for criticism. Your favorite is just that and can not be argued with. But saying someone is the best at anything is the kind of statement that should be made only by a musician who feels that he or she has the abilities and credentials to perform any musical dissections on another persons desire to express themselves through a musical instrument. In short, if you are not at least as good as the person that you are tearing apart it’s best to just keep your mouth shut and try to appreciate their efforts.

Some times when I go and see a band I hear people commenting on a certain player’s abilities and saying “he’s better than so and so” or arguing over someone’s opinion on who’s the best. When did music shows become sporting events with judges and referees? This type of thing turns my musical stomach. And sometimes I just want to walk up to a player who is talking about his chops compared to someone on stage and say “yeah, but would your mother recognize you on the radio?”

What ever the reason is that makes someone get on stage and play I’m sure that at least part of their motivation comes from wanting to entertain and be enjoyed by the listeners, not to have someone keeping score on their abilities. Personally, I never get up on stage with the intention of trying to impress someone, only to be part of what’s happening. I haven’t done that since I was a child. If I get inspired and start to play something that has a bit of flare it’s only because it happened spontaneously and not preplanned. That’s why someone would have to see me play in many different musical situations and styles to even begin to criticize me. But not matter what, even if it’s the first time someone hears me, there’s always at least one “know it all” out there trying to keep my scorecard because of the lack of confidence in their own abilities. The good thing is that no matter what someone says, the truth always prevails. The people that talk the most always play the least.

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