Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

Music: There’s More Than One Way to Do It


Greets friends.  I am riding the train across Germany on a gorgeous August morning.  Now I’m just passing Bonn – Beethoven’s hometown.

This past week I taught a small workshop with 6 attendees.  A few of the students were semi-pro players.  Over dinner one night, a very interesting discussion arose with the students.

They were very passionate and thoughtful listeners and lovers of guitar music. Not to mention they were all very smart guys; some were doctors and scientists as their full time jobs.

“Don’t forget about being a true artist” one of them told me.  “Some musicians compose completely their own material.”  Issued as a soft warning after attending  my concert which had many many cover songs.  Another told me “Maybe, don’t start your concert so strong, but start quietly and build up.”

This post is neither to defend or attack anyone’s position or ideas…I found the discussions very thought provoking. It’s always good to revisit past approaches and see if they still apply.

This churned up a lot of thoughts for me, as a composer, performer, entertainer and as a musician who wants to entertain and therefore get booked, play concerts and live off my guitar work.

All professional musicians to some degree need to do something to survive, whether it’s music related work or not.  Also, most of us musicians are envisioning an ideal audience whom we want to please with our music – whether they are our families, teachers, fans , critics or whomever.  The want of survival and approval…here are the 2 big human issues, intertwined with music, once again.

I am not saying that just “working” is the most important thing….however once my tummy growls and my rent needs to be paid, the “idealism”  of art starts looking a little pale!  Mozart, Bach and Michelangelo all worked as artfully as they could, within the confines of doing a good job for their bosses.

Chances are that if you do something that a lot of people don’t like, your art could become a “hobby” and your tummy will get filled from income form other work that serves people.

I am not making a judgement call….just stating the fact.  Our tummies growl, every day.  Whether we provide music or not, we must still provide value in some way to someone.

My “art” is to play with the best groove, touch and sound that I can, and to do it with confidence and give pleasure to a listener.  It also gives me pleasure to find “counterpoint” (more than one part) on the guitar in ways that help bring across tunes one would not normally think are possible on a single guitar.

The “what” of my music leans toward cover songs, and it has helped bridge a gap between me and an audience that may not have heard of me before.  The “how” leans towards doing it as best as I can.

And…if I can play guitar for an hour and delight an audience, that’s my art – the crafting of that entire one hour experience.  This includes what I say, what I wear and how I make people feel.  It ain’t just pickin’! (at least for me…)

  • If a cover tune makes it easier to communicate, is it still art?
  • Is entertaining with showmanship art?
  • Should we require that an audience have the patience to listen to hushed, whispery introspective tones?
  • Should we do music that is easy for them to tap their toes?
  • Who should work harder – the performer or the audience?
  • Will they listen intently to something they’ve never heard?  Should they?
  • Or will they want to sing along to a familiar tune?
  • If an artist discovers a solution that works to entertain and repeats it for other audiences is it less valid?
  • Who are you playing music for?

My answer is – there is no answer, there is more than one way to do it.  

What do you think?  Comment below, please.

Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

9 thoughts on “Music: There’s More Than One Way to Do It

  1. Good perspective and article, there is more than one way! Hope to be able to remember it.

  2. If a cover tune makes it easier to communicate, is it still art?

    The art is in what you bring to the song. I believe everyone will agree that an exact replica of a recording is an admirable technical feat but not necessarily an artistic one.

    The original song is the springboard to your art, the song is just the beginning. It provides a familiar framework that allows you to work within it or around it. You can emphasize parts that have been more restrained or, better yet, surprise your audience who have been lulled into familiar complacency.

    The best is that you take the song and make it your own. The Simon and Garfunkel covers that are most memorable to me are Yes’ version of “America” and Aretha Franklin’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Both are tours de force where the song is scaffolding to the performers’ personality and style. The same could be said about versions of “I Got Rhythm”: Thelonious Monk’s version reflects his personality, Sonny Stitt’s reflects his personality.

    Is entertaining with showmanship art?

    Only when the showmanship is at a very high level. But showmanship in itself is important – your goal is for your audience to enjoy themselves and come away with a deeper understanding so they can say years later, I remember when I saw Adam and he …

    Should we require that an audience have the patience to listen to hushed, whispery introspective tones?

    Children at a museum are required to be hushed but it won’t make them listen. You can’t require anything of an audience, You need to build the dynamic into your show so they’ll want to go there and the hushed tones better have excellent content as well.

    Think back to good teachers who would read a story after recess. My third grade teacher was especially good at this. By the time the story is over, she had taken an audience that was impatient, rambunctious and restless and got them to listen raptly to the hushed, whispery introspective tone of her voice.
    But it especially worked because of her skill and her ability to connect and because Charlotte’s Web or the Little House on the Prarie series is such good content for introspection.

    Should we do music that is easy for them to tap their toes?

    Why stop at tapping their toes. Make them want to dance. Look at some videos of Sam and Dave concerts: the audience is well mannered and sitting, simmering is more like it. They want to get out of their seats! They want to dance! Don’t you want to dance when you hear “I Want You Back”?

    Who should work harder – the performer or the audience?

    Of course the performer – but it shouldn’t look like he’s working, just having a good time!

    Will they listen intently to something they’ve never heard? Should they?

    Depends how much. Everyone will listen to *some* new stuff especially you’ve established your presence and the material blows them away. Jazz fans will actively look for new stuff but that’s not very common.

    Or will they want to sing along to a familiar tune?

    You can build your show to be participatory or be an observation. You want your audience to be involved but you also want them to listen – otherwise, you have a sing-along and you will be remiss cause you didn’t bring the marshmallows. Making them bounce in their seats is one way to involve them – getting them to sing is another but it’s a different show. It’s best to have parts in the song that are participatory and parts that are observation.

    If an artist discovers a solution that works to entertain and repeats it for other audiences is it less valid?

    It’s only less valid when the entertainer becomes bored and disconnected or plays the exact same thing each time. Jeff Beck repeats licks across multiple concerts but he also adds new ones or brings old ones back. But he’s always involved and doesn’t coast.

    On the other hand we have Sam and Dave again – they had dance moves they repeated in different concerts and sang the same licks, but Sam Moore put so much of himself into every phrase he sung and every step he took that I could listen and watch again and again … and I’d be bouncing in my seat.

    Who are you playing music for?

    Everyone. The best is that you play it for yourself and people like what you bring to the table so they listen.

  3. I don’t see any issue about playing covers, especially for instrumental music – it’s a practice that goes back to the “golden era” of jazz, when “standards” were staple fare, and musicians were expected to display creativity in interpreting familiar melodies.

    Of course, if you can write tunes of a comparably high quality to the classics, they belong in there as well – and may find more sympathetic ears when mixed with more well known tunes.

    Nice post. Thanks for the thought provoking ideas.


  4. The age old originals vs covers discussion. After studying jazz for 4 years I just wasn’t getting the work with all the over the top 20 minute solos and self indulgence and playing with bands proved to be too unreliable so I went solo and learnt how to sing. I have no shame, I’ll play Abba, 500 miles, the gambler.. anything people want to hear. I did take some heat for it, but I was getting booked more than ever, I take very short solos now and just rip through the hits. I still write and play my instrumental stuff, just not at gigs. What’s good for the art isn’t always good for the bank account. I now make a living out of it but am looking at moving states to continue study in music so will have to start from the ground up again…

  5. Ideal audience: Appreciative! …Survival and Approval…interesting topic! You mentioned that even the Greatest artists had to “create for an audience” Mozart had his Divertimentos for example. There IS no one way. That’s the beauty of art! Right? In performance art and music everybody has there own rating system. Some value technique, some emotion, some pyrotechniques and grandeur… I try to avoid approval seeking when I perform but when I do get it from the audience I absolutely love it! It’s kinda weird! Like I’m doing what I love anyway. It shouldn’t matter but it does… Also these comments you receive about your concerts are just opinions and to be taken with a grain of salt….I remember on your super freak vid someone posted, “Your beat boxing needs to be more deep” or something to that effect! What are they comparing it to? The Fat Boys? It is what it is, isn’t it? – Dave

  6. Great blog post and something that has run through my mind more than once. I play instrumental celtic music on solo guitar. There is a small audience that is into it, but I feel that is not grab the average listening who just happens upon my music. Some of it it toe tapping and fast, but I am sure some of it falls into that “hushed introspective tones” category.

    I think alot about how to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Tony Mcmanus has made it work. John Doyle has mixed the instrumental stuff with high energy songs, but at the present I don’t sing.

    So at the present my rent and belly are fulfilled by the day job.


    • Anton – thanks. First order of biz – play what you love. Also, I spend so much time on the logistics of my career, I may as well call it a part time job!

      If you vary the repertoire enough, change grooves and tempos – that’s what you need to keep a set rockin, no matter what the style.

      Just don’t put em to sleep, and you’ll be ok!!!! Or, I’ll be ok….I should say!


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