I remember a few years ago reading a great quote by a famous musician, it went something like, ‘the only thing more beautiful than one guitar is two’.
Apart from the aural beauty of the sound of the guitar for the listener, there are also a number of other benefits for the player of the instrument. Throughout my guitar life I have played in numerous guitar duets; these duets were for me, more beneficial than playing with a lot of other larger musical line ups. The reason for this is because of the nature of the guitar, it’s flexibility in the roles that the player needs to take on and the broader opportunity for experimentation.
Most musicians would have probably realised that the more instruments there are in a musical group, the ‘tighter’ the playing needs to be, as many of the musical frequencies will be covered by the other instruments. There is lot less room for the player to work in when playing in a larger group setting. And by ‘tighter’ I don’t mean being stricter with the musical basics such as timing, I mean less adventurous with your harmony and chord voicings for fear of clashing with the other instruments.
Playing in a guitar duet will give you the opportunity to play all roles; you get the chance to play melody, to phrase it just the way you like, or play a harmony or some type of counter melody, to be the soloist or accompanist. By having just two guitar players playing a few sets per night, you very quickly realise that there is a need for diversity in your repertoire. This will really force you to dig deeper and develop a lot of different ways to play accompaniment, such as arpeggios, moving bass parts, fingerstyle as well as plectrum rhythm parts (if you are not just playing classical), maybe more percussively or very openly. And something else that you probably will find yourself doing as your playing gets stronger, will be playing solo arrangements of tunes. As I’ve said in previous posts, when working with a singer I learn to play all the songs solo, meaning a complete guitar arrangement of the tunes. This is a very nice way to start some songs and build them, one guitar begins and will hold it together by themself and then the other one starts later and it turns into a duet.
Guitar duets don’t necessarily need to be complex, they can be very simple and still be effective, they seem to work in any style at all. It is a great way to learn to create complimentary musical parts. I highly recommend working in a guitar duet for some period of your musical life.
To name a few of the great guitar duets over the years have been:
Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn
Larry Corryell and Philip Catherine
Pat Metheny and Jim Hall
Strunz and Farrar
John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner
But my favourites ones have been the ones I’ve played in with two of my good friends Bill Stewart and Robin Chambers.