What qualities are needed for success in the various fields of the guitar? By Richard Smith.

At USC, by the senior recital , our students know (through performance, analysis and study), the music and historical significance of not only Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky, Ravel, aSchoenberg and Copeland, but the history, literature and repertoire of Charlie Patton, Lightning \Hopkins, Blind Blake, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Charlie Hunter, Michael Brecker, Joe Diorio, George Benson, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour (an SC alum), Jeff Beck, Steely Dan, Jay Graydon, B.B. King, Ry Cooder, Albert Lee, The Police, Missing Persons, James Brown, Tower of Power, Joe Sample, Vince Mendoza, Nuno Bentencourt, Steve Morse, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Scott Henderson and whomever else deserves to be studied as a practical lesson in music which will enlighten and prepare. By their senior recital, the seniors read music, well. They know from memory at least 50 jazz standards, as well as many of the important James Brown compositions. They own their own effects pedal board or rack and a variety of instruments, and know what kind of microphone to use on an amplifier, and which to use on an acoustic guitar. Most of them are composing their own music and are ultimately empowered by a sense of legitimacy and knowledge of the rich history & versatility of the guitar. Becauseif you don't know where you came from, how can you know where you're going???

Graduates have performed with an astounding variety of contemporary artists including: The L.A. Guitar Quartet, Ray Charles, Mel Torme, Cleo Lane, The Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, Shadowfax, Kitaro, Joe Mc Bride, Lee Greenwood, the Drifters, Marc Antoine, Sergio Mendez, Brother Jack McDuff, Lee Ritenour, Paul Jackson Jr. and many more.

Lets take three categories which are common among professional guitarists. I have listed some of ithe skills that characterize "winning attributes" for some of these jobs. It is interesting to see that all of the attribtutes that come in handy as a professional guitarist, are used on a daily basis as a college student. Winning skills of guitar playing paths:

  • styles/chops
  • compatibility
  • touring
  • studio
  • emulating/copying recorded tracks
  • interpretive skills
  • nerves of steel
  • styles/chops
  • creativity
  • sounds/colors
  • interpretive skills
  • literacy (reading) skills
  • diplomacy / political saavy
  • nerves of steel

  • composition
  • arrangement
  • creativity
  • unique, solidified style
  • specialist
  • strong desire
  • diplomacy
  • political saavy
  • organization
  • management consistency
  • shameless self promotion
  • physical stamina
  • a record deal
  • nerves of steel
  • nerves of steel
  • interpretive skills
  • strong belief in your "mission"
  • styles/chops
  • compatibility
  • emulation
  • diplomacy
  • consistancy
  • nerves of steel
  • interpretive skills
  • creativity
  • diplomacy
  • political saavy
  • composition
  • arrangement
  • resoursefulness
  • strong organization skills
  • strong desire to succeed
  • patience
  • modesty
  • the ability to write term papers and take examinations
  • pass language requirements
  • sight sing
  • conduct
  • do score analysis
  • play piano
  • classical guitar repertoire
  • compose chorales with correct voice leading
  • identify and analyze concertos, symphonies, contatas and tone poems,
  • etc. etc. etc.

A student of the guitar who has a strategy aspires to all of the catagories above, he has the farthest to go, and the least amount of time in which to do it.. What binds the winning attributes together effectively is professionalism - the ability to do and be all of the above, all of the time. How to prepare for college (early strategies):

  1. Cultivate a strong mentor and like-minded peers,with a great teacher in a charged learning environment.
  2. Hard, focused practice - Many hours a day.
  3. Play every type of engagement (and love it!) that comes along.
  4. Study the masters, develop a variety of techniques.
  5. Do cartage or technical assistance for a professional.
  6. Begin assembling an arsenal of amplifiers, signal modifiers and guitars.
  7. Work (play and learn) with a sence of urgency.
  8. Learn how to read music, as well as develope a strong jazz vocabulary and knowledge.
  9. Become involved with your school's band, orchestra or choir; begin learning the language of organized music education an academia (surprisingly, you can do all this, and still be a rebel!)
  10. Begin a lifelong search for your voice on the guitar.

Find the genre in which you feel you can express yourself best. This is a crucial task if you desire a fulfilling, successful life in music. The single most important thing to remember in looking for a school is to find one which is best for your needs and musical goals. Be sure to apply to as many as possible, then research and interview faculty, facilities, location and most important the focus and philosophy that the school has. Is it for you? If this important issue is not addressed - before enrolling - you will be wasting your money and valuable training time.

A Masters of Music is often the bare minimum educational requirement for the position of professor, and depending on the department and school, a Doctorate may also be required

Graduate School

Because of the huge influx of schools now offering guitarists undergraduate degrees in jazz, commercial, contemporary, studio or other non-traditional music, there is a widening demand for graduate schools with a similar focus. I feel that this is an extremely important area, because as music schools become more open to non-traditional music forms (in many cases in order just to survive), openings as lecturerers, instructors and professors will become more abundant. A Masters of Music is often the bare minimum educational requirement for the position of professor, and depending on the department and school, a Doctorate may also be required. USC offers a Masters of Music in Studio/Jazz guitar performance, and now has three D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) candidates in Studio/Jazz guitar who, after graduation will be qualified to teach and administer a range of topics from Jazz and contemporary guitar performance, classical guitar performance, jazz studies, ensembles and performance and a variety of music technology subjects. The success rate for college level teaching positions after graduation is very high.

The traditional music school is changing in many ways. The right school can and should train guitarists with not only the foundation of musical knowledge and artistic beauty which goes back over a thousand years, but also provide the tools that are needed to go forward and contribute to this profound legacy in their own way. For guitarists like us, the gap between the real world and the school world is smaller than ever.

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