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Taylor Swift is a one of the most popular and iconic pop figures of this century. It’s only natural that people wonder about just about every aspect of her life. One question I noticed: since Taylor Swift is a singer-songwriter and has played the guitar for years--is she any good at the guitar?
Although Taylor Swift is not famous for guitar solos or advanced guitar playing techniques, she has extremely well-honed guitar performance skills which can easily classify someone as good at the guitar.
What do I mean by guitar performance skills? Well, you should read on, there might be more to Taylor Swift’s skill than you might think.
Taylor Swift’s Secret Guitar Skills
On the outset, almost every immature guitar player has probably thought that they were way better than Taylor Swift at the guitar. There’s some good reasons for that.
Reasons People Think Taylor Swift Is Not Good At the Guitar
Would-be guitarists like to make fun of Taylor Swift’s guitar skills for a few reasons--I’ll try and draw out some of the obvious:
- Simple chords: A lot of Taylor Swift’s songs are made up of extremely simple open chords, which is pretty common for pop songs.
- Use of the capo: The capo is often used by amateur guitarists who don’t want to play songs outside of the key of G or C.
- Lack of shredding: Taylor’s focus is on the lyrics and not the guitar solos--you’ll notice a lack of any type of shredding in Taylor’s playing.
These are excellent points. One huge advantage for Taylor Swift’s music for an absolute beginner at the guitar is that within 3-6 months of practice they can play a huge number of her songs.
Once you can play and transition between the basic and most common open chords, you are definitely capable of playing her songs.
So, it’s natural to think, wow, Taylor Swift must not be that good!
But are you right about that?
What if her guitar skills were strategic?
Reasons Why Taylor Swift Is a Good Guitarist
Taylor Swift doesn’t focus on technical guitar skills not because she’s incapable learning it, but because it doesn’t make sense for her music. If you remember Steve Vai and Jimi Hendrix, their vocals definitely added their own soul to the music, but their music isn’t the kind that gets played on pop stations because of its complexity.
Taylor Swift’s songs and chord progressions are simple because it makes her music more approachable and universally appealing.
As a reference, I’m going to embed a video of Taylor Swift performing in the Tiny Desk. It’s recent, and she’s not accompanied so you can really hear and see what she’s playing.
Let’s dive into some reasons why Taylor Swift is a better guitarist than you might think:
- Solid Rhythm: Taylor Swift’s keeps a strong rhythm as she’s playing. I tested this with her Tiny Desk performance--she had no other instruments playing and she was maintaining her 105 bpm fairly consistently in her first song. This is a feat even if you can do this for 10 seconds. On top of that, she’s performing!
- Performing skills: Related to that, if you watch Taylor Swift play and sing at the same time, it’s clear she’s a very confident performer. Facial expressions, flipping hair, singing with emotion, etc. This may sound trivial, but it’s definitely something that only comes from years of performing experience. Playing the guitar while performing is a skill unto itself.
- Complex ornamentation: Doing my own research for this topic I noticed that Taylor adds subtle ornamentations between her chords and in transitions. Even though her chords are very simple, an intermediate guitar player would have to practice the song extensively to add the same ornamentations.
- Precise Arpeggiating: Using her pick she’s able to play “Death By a Thousand Cuts” precisely whilst performing and singing. An intermediate guitar player could figure out the main riff within a few days, but the entire performance and putting together the whole song would take a lot more practice. There’s a lot of performance skill that’s going on in this song.
That’s why at the beginning of the article, I described that Taylor Swift’s strong suit are guitar performance skills--it’s obvious she’s not trying to impress guitarists with her killer riffs. Taylor Swift went a different direction and focuses on the lyrics, vocals, and the delivery of the song through her performance.
I really enjoyed this YouTube video from Art of Guitar. I agreed with many of his points, even though I think he is definitely on the “Swiftie” spectrum:
Watching some more YouTube videos, there’s definitely a sentiment in the comments that it’s shameful to be compared because people automatically discount Taylor Swift’s skill--most likely because of her simple chords and the fact that she’s a pop artist.
However, all in all, I’d say Taylor Swift is a decent guitarist.
Some purists might be offended--so it’s time to get a little philosophical. Let’s try and understand what a guitarist even means.
Is Taylor Swift a Guitarist?
Taylor Swift is not Steve Vai, nor is she Jimi Hendrix, nor is she John Mayer.
However, if you think about it, the greats of the guitarist world are incomparable to any other guitarist because they have achieved a niche and style all their own. It’s not a very fruitful discussion to try and compare Steve Vai to Jimi Hendrix, because these two were artists. It’s like trying to compare apples and oranges.
In other words, if being a guitarist was about how fast you can play complicated scales up and down the fretboard without messing up, then it would be easy to objectively decide who the greatest guitarist ever was and we’d be done with it. However, it’s not like that.
The truth is that music speaks to us all differently, Hendrix reaches different fans than Vai.
So, in terms of technical complexity, Taylor Swift is probably not highest on the list, but she is absolutely one of the highest in influence because of the reach of her music. The fact that she writes her own songs and sings and performs requires different skills, but none less important.
So, in summary, if you were trying to come up with a way to assess someone’s guitarist-ism, to coin a term--think of how that person has influenced the lives of others with the beautiful and amazing music of the guitar.
Like a tree that falls in the forest--if someone who is technically brilliant at the guitar and doesn’t perform, then they probably still would be considered a guitarist--however, the joy of the instrument and of music doesn’t spread.