When you think of the guitar, what comes to mind? A killer rock song? A soulful folk ballad? A vibrant, high-energy punk jam?
If you’re like most people, you probably answered yes to one of the above. Guitar has long been a vital player in a wide range of music genres.
That said, those genres that do heavily feature the guitar all seem to branch off from common roots. Rock and roll and country birthed the majority of the music styles that still use the guitar today.
Other genres, like hip hop and electronic music, have featured the guitar far less. In fact, one of the defining lines in between these genres seems to be the difference in musical instruments they feature.
But that’s all changing. Genres are blending and warping, and the lines between them are far blurrier than they once were.
With this development, the guitar is getting the spotlight in places it has previously been a minor player (if it featured at all).
How did this come about? What forces are behind the guitar’s expansion into new genres? And what does this mean for the broader musical world?
Let’s start by looking at the major turning point, the game-changer, the infinite landscape of possibility: the internet.
A New Realm
Prior to the internet, musical genres progressed in somewhat linear forms. There may have been a lot of branches coming off of each particular genre, but those branches had some sense of cohesion.
This was largely due to the fact that musical styles developed in physical communities. Musicians in the south shaped the blues, Californians created beach rock, and the east coast gave birth to new wave.
There are a lot of factors involved in birthing a new genre, but broadly speaking, they used to develop in bubbles, with musicians in the same areas influencing and shaping one another.
Then came the internet.
Niche Becomes Normal
It should come as no surprise that the internet has revolutionized just about everything. Music is no exception.
Thanks to the internet, music became extremely easy to access. While CDs and radio had long made music accessible, the internet allowed for deeper exploration of niche genres.
A kid in their bedroom could fall down a rabbit hole, discovering dozens of new artists in a single night, many of which may not have been available in a local record shop.
This allowed the bubbles to expand, making the “local scene” far less relevant than it once was. Now someone in the midwest could be just as well versed in LA’s music as someone living in LA themselves.
A Broader Audience
On top of that, the internet allowed a flood of new musicians to share their work. Platforms such as Soundcloud made it possible for anyone with a simple recording device to create and share songs.
With this development, experimental music gained a wealth of opportunities, opportunities it would never have within traditional commercial spheres. No barrier to entry meant anything and everything was on the table.
So, how does this tie back to guitars?
Well, as one of the most commonly used instruments in the US, many aspiring musicians were guitar players. The ones who were most likely to be on the internet were also young kids, heavily influenced by the pop music of the era. That music tended to be hip-hop or electronic in nature.
We have a mess of young guitar players who want to create music modeled after traditionally non-guitar heavy music. The guitar is primed for a new chapter.
So we have a large group of guitarists looking to recreate genres that the guitar typically wasn’t associated with. We also have a wide open space for young artists to experiment with genres.
While this was new and highly experimental at the time, they found a surprising amount of success. This was largely thanks to the internet’s ability to connect them with a young, open-minded audience.
With guitar riffs and melodies combining with heavy bass drums and synthetic hip-hop like beats, this emerging genre brought the guitar into a territory it had never featured in prominently.
A Collage of Sounds
Things didn’t stop there. The young audience consuming this new music set out to create their own experimental styles, largely borrowing the format laid out by the first wave of artists bending genres. They realized all the potential hiding in combining previously separate stylistic elements.
More “emo rap” emerged, much of it leaning more heavily on punk influences, with guitars providing the foundation of the beats.
Metal and other guitar-heavy genres also got drawn into the rap scene. The genre known as “trap metal” is essentially traditional metal with hip-hop elements mixed in. This creates a very intense sound, one that hasn’t found commercial success, but has found a loyal niche audience.
Hyperpop, one of the newest and most radical genres of music to emerge from the online space, features guitar loops as well. These guitar loops are often altered using synthetic means after recording, further expanding the reach of the guitar into the electronic space.
Guitar Expands into the Future
While all of the above-mentioned stylistic expansions of the guitar may seem rather niche, the fact that they have reached such a wide audience through the internet has had downstream effects in the commercial space.
Additionally, the lines between genres are increasingly blurred and, in many cases, irrelevant. Post Malone, for instance, has gone on record as saying he just makes music, refusing to confine himself to a genre. He features heavily in the pop and hip-hop space, but many of his songs feature acoustic guitar.
Far from being seen as a thing of the past, the guitar is refreshing preexisting genres that traditionally stayed away from it. With more and more experimental, up-and-coming artists looking at combining genres, you can be sure that the guitar will continue to see exciting new applications in the many new musical genres to come.