By: Erik Ringstad
Why should you learn and listen to other styles of music that may be outside your main interests?
The Beatles are my first musical heroes. Believe it or not, I
a Beatles fan when I was just three. I spent years at the turntable as a kid listening to them, and watching their TV cartoon on Saturday mornings (anyone remember that?). My friends and I even pretended to be them, and gave concerts to our parents, with tennis rackets for guitars, boxes for drums, and pillows for amplifiers!! Their amazing songs still hold up today. For me, they are the greatest pop songwriters ever. How they could write something so simple and make it sound so right, so often, is astounding. They also were the model for bands that write and perform their own music, as that really didn't exist on any large scale before they came along! As an instrumental solo guitarist, I have played their tunes a lot at gigs, and they usually work great on the guitar as solo pieces, too -- a testament to their strong melodic and chordal sensibilities. Check out The Beatles' "Oh Darling" here!
2. Steely Dan
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Well, they were categorized as rock when they were active in the 70's, but they used jazz harmony in ingenious and nontraditional ways, mixed with rock rhythms and virtuosic solos in their music. What a combination! They were my bridge into jazz. I used to learn a lot of their tunes, and I could play their music, but I didn't understand a lot of what I learned from them (unlike most of the other music I learned back then) until I went to music school and learned about harmony. Then, I really came to appreciate them even more -- genius songwriters who used the best studio musicians in the country to realize their vision. They combined sophisticated musical concepts with cryptic, sometimes subversive or blue lyrics, along wiht brilliant performances. I don't think any other band has managed to push the envelope of extended harmony in rock like Donald and Walter. The AJA album for me, was a landmark recording that perfectly encapsulated what they were about. Check out Steely Dan's "AJA" here!
For me, the all time underappreciated genius was Frank Zappa. Frank was a prolific composer of rock, classical, jazz, avant garde music, who dabbled in many musical styles. He was a singularly unique guitar stylist (no one played like him), and he wrote music that could be funny, sarcastic, silly... but even then it was also dense, difficult, serious, and beautiful. Franks was a social satirist, a politically active rabblerouser, was extremely intelligent and dedicated to his craft, and stone cold sober (yes, that's right!). I also consider him a role model. He hired great players for his bands and exploited their unique talents. He was a strict disciplinarian as a bandleader, rehearsing his bands hard every day while preparing for tours. This helps to explain how his bands could pull off some of the most difficult music ever written for rock bands. Check out Frank Zappa's "Inca Roads" here!
Who are your musical heroes? I'd love to hear from you!
Erik Ringstad is a guitar instructor and is Real School's Director of Curriculum, and serves on the Faculty Leadership Team. Erik has been writing and recording original music for 25 years, with approximately 1,000 titles to his name. In 2006, Erik completed a new recording entitled Reflections, a solo project consisting of original ballads and jazz. He has also been performing with fellow Real School instructor Vykki Vox for 12 years.
Real School mandolin teacher Steve Levy at the Traditional Music Project plays a duet with student Tom Salzer.