Do Musical Instruments Have Souls?

date: 06/03/2014 category: features
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Do Musical Instruments Have Souls?
There is no doubt that all music has soul. Whether it's high speed shredding to soul music itself the sounds that we all create contain soul to one degree or another. Sometimes, while practicing I find myself wondering, what about the guitar I have in my hands? After all, without our instrument(s) there's no way we could make music. Instruments by thesaurus definition are a synonym to tools. But is your instrument more than just a hammer that can make pretty sounds with the right set of fingers? Well, that's what I hope to answer in this article.

First before we delve into the spirituality of the materials around us we should take a moment to develop a background on the relationship between materials and spirituality. The vast majority of aboriginal peoples present in North America and around the world believe in Animism. When I searched up the definition of Animism on Google I got two definitions, that Animism is "the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena" and that it is also the "the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe." Considering that our guitars aren't getting up and walking about (I hope) it's safe to say they're definitely inanimate objects. In the traditional Native American beliefs every rock, plant and animal is considered to have a soul. By this belief, the rocks that contained the various ores used to make the metal on a guitar has a soul, the wood of a violin has a soul and the various plastic parts used on many different instruments has the soul of the fossil fuels used to create it. Then there is the question of the supernatural power that brought the parts and materials together to make the instrument you cherish. Whether you believe in God, the all-powerful Spaghetti Monster or nothing at all your instrument was brought together for a reason. For example Carlos Santana said that the guitars Paul Reed Smith first gave him "were an act of god." I personally am not religious, but believe that things happen for reason, though often times you need to make things happen as well if you want to be where you want to be. Regardless of religious views, our instruments are created to accomplish at least this one basic goal: to create music.

Though I somewhat know my way around a bass, enjoy fooling around on percussion and will sometimes try my luck at vocals, guitar is my great passion. To myself and to many other guitarists our instrument is an expressive one. It can sing, it can growl and it can even squeal. But the ability to express oneself on any instrument does not rely only on that instrument, but on that player's ability. Though you may aspire to play astonishing fusion melodies like Al di Meola, you probably won't come close if you've only been playing for a couple of months. This raises the question of whether to play with soul and expression requires technical ability. Personally I believe that it isn't a matter of pure technical ability but rather experience. If you spend hours on end almost everyday practicing one thing you should get pretty good at it. By developing this experience you can find your style and musical voice. If fast paced, sweep heavy shredding is your voice then by all means pursue it, but if simpler folk rock with smooth melodies is more your thing then pursue that instead. Still, this doesn't answer our main question, the soul of the instrument? The reason behind this paragraph is to develop what we truly use our instruments for. More to the point though, why do we end up loving the instruments we chose in the first place?

Consider this situation as a guitarist: you're trying any guitar that isn't yours (at least not yet), you play it and its exactly what you want, the frets, pickups and the wood create the sounds that express your emotions, this is the instrument for you. In this situation, the guitar has a character that matches yours perfectly. It's like you soul mate but it doesn't argue with you about it's parents. I've been in this situation before. I've owned a decent amount of guitars but the only ones that get a permanent place on the rack are those that I connect with, those that I can feel. This is why I believe that instruments have souls. They have character. I hate EMG pickups, but for others they're the best. As in most things in life what is perfect for you may not be perfect for someone else. It is in that first moment that you play the instrument that you feel it is right for you that you know no matter what you're going to walk away it's owner. I've had this experience and it definitely doesn't come with buyer's regret. 

As musicians when we look at a certain instrument, in my case a guitar, we think of what it sounds like, what it feels like and even what it acts like. We create a whole character for an instrument we haven't even played and probably won't ever see again. All humans do this to people too. Have you ever been on the metro (subway for those unfamiliar with Montreal jargon) and seen someone and started imagining what they're like, who they are? I've done this and probably so have you. To us musicians at least, we view our instruments as more than objects, but as an item that has it's own unique character.

For you skeptics who believe that music is more that a bunch of predetermined notes strung together consider this: singers use their vocal cords as instruments . The thing is that you can't just go into a music store and buy a brand new set of vocal cords (at least I hope not). The vocal cords are part of the human body. The vast majority of the world believes that we as humans have a soul in one way or another. Whether you are a devout Christian who feels part of the holy spirit or an atheist who chooses that their defining actions are chosen by oneself, your body in one way or another has a soul. Vocal cords are part of that body and a musical instrument at the same time. So if your body has a soul wouldn't your vocal chords have some of it as well? And if your vocal chords do have soul wouldn't that also make all other musical instruments have some form of soul? As I said earlier, I believe that the guitars I have downstairs do have their own souls, but what do you think? Share your thoughts and two cents in the comment section.

P.S. The silly screen name was automatically given through my email as it's a younger sibling's name for a gaming account.

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