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Remember college dorms? Didn’t it feel like that at every social gathering there was always that guy/gal who was playing the guitar? And they always seemed to have a small crowd? What gives? Does everybody play the guitar? Why on Earth is guitar so popular of an instrument?
Guitar is one of the most popular instruments because it is versatile, as it can play melody and rhythm, so it is often a choice for modern rock, folk, or indie bands. With just one instrument you can have a band.
Because of the characteristics of the guitar, it is now even more popular simply because most bands that we listen to use the guitar. However there are some other compelling reasons why the guitar has made it into the mainstream to the extent that it has. Let’s dive in to find out why:
Is Guitar Worth Learning?
There are so many reasons why the guitar is so popular but I will list a few of the most important reasons. Maybe by the end of this you will realize how great a choice the guitar is even though it is so popular.
If you’re like me, you might think…well, it’s no fun to play if it’s such a popular instrument–there’s more to the story, there are actually many reasons why it’s worth playing even though it’s so popular: Check out my article here to learn why guitar is worth learning even though it is one of the most played instruments.
1. Guitar is Incredibly Versatile
In a traditional orchestra every instrument plays a part in creating a beautiful symphony. The trumpets add energy, while the clarinets add to the mood, while the flutes fill out the soundscape. The trombones add support and the a percussion section keeps rhythm for the entire orchestra.
All of these instruments play a part in making sure the song sounds the way the composer intended it. While all of these instruments are amazing and beautiful in their own right it’s rare that you hear music with just that one of these instrument unless you are really into that instrument. What I mean, is that most bands you hear on the radio usually don’t just play the trumpet, or the flute, or the clarinet, or the violin all by themselves.
Guitars are a little different because they can make melodies when you pluck the guitar one or two notes at the same time. Guitars can even create harmonies with itself because of its six strings. Harmony is the basis of creating complex and interesting melodies. In comparison, no matter how good at the trumpet you are you can never harmonize with yourself.
Besides melodic capability, if you strum or use a plectrum (pick) with the guitar you can create distinct sounds, which combined together, can make a rhythm.
In fact there is a term often used for a guitar in a band called the rhythm guitar where the principal responsibility of that guitar is to add and keep the rhythm of the song. The guitarists plays chords in tight rhythms with the bass and drums which fill out the soundscape and keeps the rhythm of the song.
That is distinct, and amazing. Guitar can keep rhythm and play melody.
This is the reason why the guitar so popular for so many bands. Rather than paying 10 musicians you can pay a couple guitarists to fulfill several of the same needs in a composition.
One last reason why the guitar is so versatile, is that you can play low and high notes at the same time. This is true for the piano, of course, but the guitar is constructed in such a way that you can put all these notes together seamlessly, creating complex chords that span octaves in ways the piano can’t.
2. The Guitar Is Great For Writing Songs
As you read from the previous section the guitar is a fantastically versatile instrument. Because of this it is ideal for composing music.
When you’re trying to come up with a chord progression it’s hard to do this if you’re playing instrument that can’t play chords, like the trombone. Guitar and piano are some of the best instruments for creating songs because they can actually play multiple notes at the same time.
Chord progressions are fundamental to making a song, as the song structure is what adds variety and interest to the song.
The chord progression is like the foundation of the song, and on top of that you can add melody with either vocals or the guitar itself by plucking individual strings.
If you’re ambitious you can makeup tunes and melodies and sing while playing chords at the same time and instantly you become a singer-songwriter one of the most iconic and recognizable symbols in the music industry for the last hundred years.
In summary, the guitar is ideal for composing due to its versatility.
3. Guitars Are Cheap
Trust me, I’m not advocating that you should get the cheapest guitar if you want to learn and enjoy the guitar. however, you can find a used electric guitar or acoustic guitar that is a decent quality for under $150 that would suit a beginner.
Of course, these aren’t the cheapest instruments you can find, but in reality, that is not very much money to get such a such a powerful instrument. Good luck finding a good quality piano for that price for example.
3. Some Of the Most Famous Music Artists Play Guitar
I could make a list pages long of famous artists that play guitar. Here are just a few:
- Taylor Swift
- John Mayer
- Jimi Hendrix
- Van Halen
- Nora Jones
- Steve Vai
I’m not trying to compare Jimi Hendrix to Taylor Swift. Many guitarists would think that sacrilege and that those two people don’t belong in the same bulleted list. However, the point is that everybody more or less recognizes these names. And guitar has been pivotal to many of these players’ success.
That’s just some of the lead players that play guitar but there are thousands of bands that we all know and love that feature the guitar as a main instrument.
As influential bands began using the guitar in earnest a halo effect developed where more bands wanted to play guitar because they saw other successful bands play the guitar and soon that compounded over the years until we have what we have today where a huge percentage of bands have the guitar in their music.
4. Guitar Players Are Cool
So… I’m not saying guitar players are automatically cool–there’s cool people and then there’s not cool people. Same with guitar players. However, there is a perception!
Whether or not a guitar player is actually a cool person, there remains the fact that over the years as we have been exposed to so much great music from so many great guitarists, there’s now a kind of mysticism around the guitar for those who can’t play.
So, this mysticism creates kind of a persona that if you play guitar it’s just cool! You don’t even have to be very good (among guitarists), just the fact that you play guitar has a perception that it’s cool. Drummers have a similar perception.
This is a perception that not every instrument has. For example, most people don’t think French horn players are cool. I for one think French horn players are super cool, but I know not everyone shares my same sentiment.
Is the guitar better than the french horn? Of course not–but the merciless social perception stands.
There’s probably a thousand reasons why it’s cool to play guitar. Why is doing some things considered nerdy while another thing is considered socially acceptable? Why were video games nerdy in 90s, but now they are a part of normal culture now? Who really knows all the reasons.
In any case, while guitar players are idolized to different degree every year they still remain in the cool category and probably will for years to come.
5. So Many Guitar Books
One thing that perpetuates the popularity of guitar is its own popularity itself. Over the years as guitar skills have been sought after by so many people there are now thousands of different resources that exist.
Resources including books, entire YouTube channels, an abundance of guitar teachers in every city, and more. This means that it is easier to learn guitar than other instrument because there are so many resources.
I’m not saying the guitar is an easy instrument to learn, far from it. However, I am saying that it’s easier to start playing guitar then some obscure instruments just because there are so many available resources (many of them free) and the resources have to compete with each other and so the best has risen to the top over the years.
Stop for a second and compare the learning experience for someone who’s playing the harp. You’ll see that there are plenty of resources for the harp but not nearly as many as there are for guitar.
In my opinion, though, this can make guitar even more difficult to learn because it seems like there are so many resources, it’s really hard to choose from them and find something you’re satisfied with.
6. Guitars Are Portable
One advantage the guitar has over the piano, the harp, the cello, and even the tuba, is that the guitar is very portable. You can still take your guitar as a carry-on item in many flights even today.
For street performers, this makes the guitar extremely appealing–which over the years performers have had to find other ways to differentiate themselves–but in the 70s and 80s where the guitar’s popularity soared, the guitar’s shape and size made it an easy instrument to pack around for a roaming band.
Is Guitar Losing Popularity?
Now, I just finished telling you 6 reasons why the guitar is so popular. It is true that the guitar is still one of the most popular instruments–however, it is true that guitar sales have been declining over the years. One blog (ReverbNation) blames the popularity of electronic music as much of pop music uses electronic music nowadays.
This is true even for guitar’s popularity in Google search history, the guitar in popularity has declined slowly over the years.
Will it disappear? No–the guitar is the foundation and backbone for much of the music we listen today, even if there is no guitar in it, and thus guitar will likely remain as one of the most popular instruments for years to come.