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Vivaldi’s “Summer” on electric guitar (with distortion)

Music for the electric guitar (with distortion) is, to be sure, an acquired taste, but for those of who have acquired it, this link offers a treat–a now-viral video of a teenaged guitarist alternate-picking her way through Vivaldi‘s “Summer.”

Tina S. playing Van Halen; photocredit: Metalinsider

Tina S. playing Van Halen; photocredit: Metalinsider

Like most of the posters on the WQXR blog that I link to above, I think Tina S. does a great job. Classical purists might quibble with the fact that she plays with her left thumb around the neck of the guitar (technically regarded as a mistake in classical guitar playing), but I think the “mistake” is more than made up for by her fretting and picking techniques–and by the way she sounds! (Most modern electric guitarists hook their thumbs around the neck, and it would be absurd to suggest that, say, Albert King didn’t play the guitar “properly” by classical standards because he put his thumb in the wrong place.)

One rather silly poster insists, on unspecified “theoretical” grounds, that Tina S. can’t “theoretically” play the guitar. Hmm. Well, I have at least a passing interest in both music theory and guitar playing, and I’m not really sure what that’s supposed to mean. One interpretive possibility that comes to mind: Tina S’s Platonic Form doppleganger can’t play Vivaldi on the electric guitar (without distortion) in a realm outside of space, time, and causality. That may well be true. In response, however, I’m reminded of a passage in Aristotle: “The facts, however, conflict with these claims, and that is not surprising” (Nicomachean Ethics, IX.8, 1168b1-2).

Irfan

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3 Comments

  1. djr says:

    Very nice. As a once full-time guitarist, I acknowledge that there are many things that one can’t do, or can’t do nearly so easily, with the thumb around the neck. That’s why Tina *does* position her thumb “properly” in many cases. But electric guitars tend to have considerably thinner necks than classical guitars, so the thumb doesn’t present much of a problem, and there are even possibilities for using it to fret the E string. A more practical than metaphysical analogy: good technique is a constitutive means of excellence, but we should assess good technique by achieved excellence, not the other way around. Anyone seriously complaining about Tina’s thumb is probably just ashamed that he can’t play so well himself.

  2. irfankhawaja says:

    Exactly. I had to chuckle a bit at your comment, because my “thumb” remark wasn’t directed at any actual person; it was a kind of pre-emptive strike against a criticism that no one had actually made. The one person I’ve heard making that criticism was Sharon Isbin (I forget where), but I’m not sure how seriously she intended it, and she’s in any case rather eclectic in her musical tastes. If you click the preceding link, there’s a video of her playing with Steve Vai, whose thumb is….etc.

    Another instance of your claim: if string-bending is intrinsic to a certain kind of guitar playing, and it’s easier to bend with your thumb around the neck, then it makes good sense to put your thumb around the neck. (Likewise fretting the E with your thumb, as you say.)

    Disclosure: I was once a 1/12th time guitarist. And pretty damn good, by those standards.

    Irfan

  3. djr says:

    There really are people out there who deride the non-classical placement of the thumb. I’ve met some. I suppose pedantry can find a home anywhere.

    I was a full-time guitarist in my youth, but not a professional one. Hence I now regard academia as pretty lucrative, even at my level.

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