Would you play a one-string guitar?

You don’t have to be a guitar player to know that a musician would not opt for a one-string guitar, in lieu of the standard six-string instrument ( original article, Virginia Griffin and inspired by Ian Prinsloo, former Artistic Director at Theatre of Calgary). The magic in making music and listening to music comes from the rich harmony of notes and chords. Talented artists mix and mingle the guitar strings to create a range of rhythms and melodies. Fewer strings would compromise the music and render the guitar barren. The six strings of a guitar parallel our six senses. So I pose, why do ‘humans’ often opt to utilize one sense, when we have six? Why just hear, when you can see, smell, taste, touch and of course, intuit? Why settle on being ‘rational’, when you can embrace what is relational, emotional, and physical? Imagine the richness of experience that awaits you, if you consciously employed the senses available to us. Performing artists are immersed with the senses daily. Their work is dependent on it. Their world is configured by it. Are you leading playing a one-string guitar? Why? Walk around your office space several times. First focus on seeing. After awhile add seeing and hearing. Then pay attention to the smells and the taste in your mouth. How did your experience change? What possibilities do you think await you if you choose to play all six strings?

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  • Travis Richardson

    You need to remember what music is, and what it does, rather than prattle on about the senses and things that "you don't need to be a guitar player" to know.

    Firsly, most people in any given audience don't know or care HOW many strings a guitar has, only that the person playing is making a sound with it that they do or don't like. I've heard plenty of crap playing from fully strung guitars.

    Secondly, most people are not bohemian all-six-senses at-the-same-time type aficionados of music that you'd like to think they are. For the most part, the audience is full of normal workaday people that just want to hear decent music.

    Thirdly, the reduction of strings and the use of sub-standard equipment has proven over time to be more highly entertaining that the use of stock store-bought equipment. The audience sees the performer using, say, a beat up old guitar with three strings perform a song adequately. The then see a second performer use a normal guitar and perform about the same. Which performer will that viewer remember, and why? "Hey, you gotta see this, that guy plays with only THREE strings!!" is a common, youtube-era comment. Billions of people have normal six string guitars and do nothing interesting at all with them.

    What we have to remember is not the head-up-our-own-rear mentality of WHAT instrument we play or HOW many strings it has. Instruments for centuries have had many different numbers and arrangements of strings. It's only in the last two centuries that the six string guitar has become a standard.

    The real question should be:

    COULD you play a guitar with one string?

    Could you possibly pull enough talent and charisma out of that one string actually IMPRESS any audience if you were reduced to one string? Or are you stuck in the six-string rut with every other half-baked MTV generation low brow that thinks that if it's not shiny and doesn't have all six strings then it's not a real instrument. Strum away. But unless you do something REALLY original with a six string guitar, it's not going to impress anyone.

    A real musician has a richness of character and showmanship that should shine through no matter what instrument they are playing.

    Is this you? Could you perform with a limited set of strings? Could you improvise with a bucket rather than a bass drum? Could you capture an audience with JUST your VOICE and SINGLE STRING? These are all relevant questions, and if you can't answer them, then I think your OPINION about the "richness" of music is quite irrelevant.

    Richness is not just the complexity of a thing, it is a measure of quality.

    A measure by which I'd say your opinion may fall amusingly short.