Friday, April 8, 2011

History of the Guitar - The Beatles

Playing by ear on the piano is the same as playing the guitar.  Both require you to play chords as a condition of mediocrity.  Both can be learned with about the same amount of effort.  Yet, the piano is not viewed or taught that way.

There’s no reason it shouldn’t be the #1 instrument, but the piano takes a back seat to the guitar which dominates music as the modern-day-sensation instrument of choice.  It wasn’t always like that.

The Guitar Did Not Come to the Forefront
of Our Attention Until 1964. 

 In 1964 the Beatles took America by storm with an intensity that only a few artists per century ever reach.  In the 1930s it was Sinatra.  In 1956 it was Elvis.  In 1964 it was the Beatles.  These overpowering music forces were met with stiff resistence.  The kids loved it and the parents wanted to ban it.  It was the start of the boomer rebellion. 

Let me synopsize the Beatle experience:
1.    They were the first “stadium” band
2.    They were cute, white and respectful young men
3.    They were from mysterious England
4.    Their wore their hair long (actually tame today)
5.    Girls would not stop screaming.
6.    They wrote, sang and played their own stuff
7.    Their music was like nothing we had ever heard

We couldn’t get enough of them.  In 1964, the Beatles had six #1 hits and rocked our culture to the core.  They recreated the music business practically overnight.  Before the Beatles came along, there were only a handful bands that wrote, sang and played their own music.  Almost overnight, anyone with a guitar could become a star.

The Beatles Got Our Attention

The Beatles single-handedly caused an entire, industry-wide,  music-scene explosion.  From 1964 forward, guitar bands came out of the woodwork from England and the United States  playing folk, rock and blues.  Everywhere you looked, somebody was playing a guitar protesting the “man,” the war, civil rights and exercising civil disobedience.

 The Girls Will Tear You Apart

In 1967, a group called The Byrds had a song called “So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star” that typified the current music scene.

Part of the lyric went:

“just get an electric guitar and
 take some time and learn how to play.
 Then in a week or two if you make the charts
  the girls will tear you apart”

That made it sound easy.  It wasn’t long before everyone was learning three chords and playing the guitar quickly.  They didn’t have to become stars.  A lot of guys were motivated by the idea that if you could play, you could get the girls.

The guitar was linked to simplicity, quick results and sex. That was the perfect recipe for motivation.  That’s how the guitar became the modern-day-sensation instrument of our time.

The Time Machine - The Rise of the Piano 

If we reeled back 300-plus years to the dawn of classical music we’d find that the piano was the modern-day-sensation instrument of that time.  Back then, like the guitar today, the piano’s rise to popularity was driven by the current music scene that we call “classical” today.

However, in the classical era you really had to work hard to become a “Rock Star.” It wasn’t perceived as an overnight thing because to be a good follower required lots of practice.  I’m sure the motivation to get the girl was probably still there. We haven’t changed much in that regard.

Back To The Future 

Fresh back to the future we find ourselves confronting the fact that classical isn’t the driving force it once was.  Popular music today is based on improvisational styles which cannot be taught using the classical approach.

It’s a dilemma, entrenched in a 300-year old tradition, that views deviations from the status quo with great resistance.  The classical approach won’t teach you how to jam and there’s no indication that anything is going to change that fact.

Today our focus is on becoming modern-day rock stars and play like Elton John.  We want to jam with friends and write our own songs.  We want to play by ear.

The piano must be reinvented to become the NEW MODERN DAY SENSATION instrument based on today’s standard of popular music and teaching technologies.  To do that, you must apply the same mind set you would to learn the guitar.

It’s as simple as that.  Take a lesson from the guitar and drop all the baggage you think is associated with the piano.  It’s a chord instrument and that’s where you should eat, sleep and breath if you want to get good.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc


  1. I agree with the ultimate point you make in this blog but I think you've overlooked the fact that the Beatles and other Euro-bands were influenced by American music like Rock and R&B. Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Clapton and many others were the ones that made the electric guitar so popular. The Beatles were a great band but not the best band to use to make your point of how the guitar basically took over the piano as the star.

  2. Thanks, you’re right about that. The guitar’s rise to dominance is a multi-dimensional topic. I like the theory that the Beatles starting the explosion but there are a lot of other valid opinions on the subject as well.

    What bands do you think were key in getting the guitar revolution going?

  3. When the electric guitar came out it put the instrument on an even playing field with the rest of the band. It quickly became very popular. By the time the Beattles came along the guitar was allready the driving force for popular and many other styles of music. More so than the bands it's was all the strong guitar players that started the revolution. I imagine the electric guitar mfg's spent so much time working the the weaknesses of the amps that caused distortion when the volume was cranked up. I'm sure they did a lot of R&D to correct this problem. But the funny thing was the noise is what actually helped bring the guitar out front and especially as a solo instrument. So once things got a bit wild the players like I mentioned exploded in fame. By the time the Beattles came along it was the entire make up of the group that made them so poular. The guitars were more like props and they nver really did anything special and kept it simple. The songs were so catchy that it really did start an amazing revolution but it wasn't really about the guitar. It was the cute guys with the catchy songs that made them so popular.

  4. My research shows all the strong guitar players came after the Beatles. A lot of them came along with the '64 English Invasion so maybe maybe the entire EI should be credited. Before that, with some exceptions, it was mostly teens singing professionally penned songs (I love you Carole King).

    The point I make with the Beatles is that they wrote and played their own material. While they may not have been the first to do that, they were the first to drive a movement. Everybody wanted to have a guitar band and it wasn't long before they did.

    You make all good points and it's a broad subject. Thanks.

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