Looking at the crystal ball into the future would have had me shaking my head and not believing what I was seeing…
The ubiquitous guitar is falling out of favour with the new generation of musicians.
Yes, you are reading correctly! Both electric and acoustic sales are dropping through the floor. The big guns of the guitar world, Fender and Gibson are facing hardships. In fact, Gibson, have already begun bankruptcy proceedings.
The six-stringed instrument has been the virtual logo for rock and pop since its inception. No-one ever suggested substituting a piano or keyboard as a sexy alternative to the guitar, but it appears that could now be the case.
And while you’re at it, you may need to add a laptop computer as well. Yes folks, these are the items that are causing a huge drop in guitar sales, MIDI keyboards and music software.
The March of Progress
Having watched music technologies progression from my teenage years with interest, I’ve probably witnessed the biggest change in music since its inception, thousands of years ago.
In its earliest incarnation, hitting sticks or rocks in a rhythmic pattern, may have not required extensive learning, but as the centuries passed, playing the more intricate instruments required instruction, practice and ultimately time to become proficient.
Towards the end of the 20th century and now into the start of the 21st century, some people decided that music should once again be something anyone can express, whether they have talent or not.
From the 1960’s onwards, popular music was performed by some groups or solo acts that did not let their lack of musical talent stand in their way. In fact, many bands had worldwide success, without knowledge of their chosen instruments! After watching countless music documentaries, it seems that eventually, these bands realised their shortcomings and as time went on, began to become more familiar with their instruments.
The Arrival of the Synthesizer
The period from the late 1970’s onwards, saw the game changing introduction of the synthesizer.
Suddenly, a huge palette of sounds, both imitative to imaginative, became available to the public at an affordable price.
Further down the track, home studios switched from analogue tape to digital recording, leading to the mushrooming of bedroom producers.
These practitioners still required some knowledge of the piano keyboard and chordal theory, but with the advent of programs such as Abelton Live, Reason, and the Apple computer’s stalwart GarageBand, importing WAV or MP3 file waveforms and moving them around on the computer screen means you are now ready to be labelled as a musician.
The late 20th century trend of performing music whether you had talent or not (albeit on real instruments), has now reached towards its logical conclusion, with people not even requiring any type of musical skills to immediately make songs that are ready for public release.
Has this come about because each subsequent generation has a shorter and shorter attention span?
Is the time it takes to learn a musical instrument now considered a waste, because D.J’s, producers and chart-toping acts use these music programs so effectively?
Present and Future…
A cursory glance at the current top 40 music charts show the once-strong dominance of guitar-based music is missing. Even in current songs that may have guitar sections, the other instruments are quite likely to have begun life on a piano-style keyboard.
This presents a huge opportunity for both piano educators and pianists alike.
Many budding producers nowadays don’t exhibit high grade piano skills. Many have started out using programs like Abelton Live, Reason or Fruity Loops, and only need to push samples together like a Tetris computer game to produce their tracks.
But as they strive for something more inventive and original, their limited skills will be magnified and the need for education becomes a necessity.
To play a keyboard like a hoofed animal and then quantize the life out of it can only take the new musician so far before frustration sets in. That 70s funky-sounding bass-line isn’t going to play itself, and the last time I checked hooved animals weren’t the first choice to complete that type of task!
“There is gold in them thar hills”, a Yukon prospector is alleged to have exclaimed – and that seems to sum up the music scene at the moment. Especially if you have proficiency on the piano and keyboard.
As pianists ourselves, we already realise the amazing compositional tool the 88 keys give us.
Almost all of the great composers used the piano as their go to “workstation”, and now in the 21st century this is even more patently clear.
If you want to make it in today’s music scene, whether it be film-scoring, composing, writing songs, music licensing, beat-making, production and so many more branches in the category of musician, then starting on the piano keyboard is really a necessity.
With the whole colour palette laid out for you on the piano keys, it’s such an advantage over other instruments.
Having grown up in an era where guitar totally dominated the pop/rock music scene, it now seems the humble piano has an integral part in the modern music landscape.
Simon is a pianist and award-winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music