Guitar hero

Taylor Swift is now doing what Eddie Van Halen once did for guitar playing, music teacher says

Taylor Swift performs at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., March 27, 2013. (Richard Perry/The New York Times)

The above question is the one that Phillip McKnight posed in a video he posted on YouTube last year. McKnight, 42, is a guitar player from Arizona who opened a music academy about a decade ago. His story appears near the end of a recent feature by The Washington Post that explores why there’s been a dramatic decline in sales of electric guitars in recent years. The conclusion the piece reaches seems to be a mix of demographic and cultural factors, including the fact that the music scene just doesn’t have “guitar heroes” the way it used to, with the Jimi Hendrixes and Jimmy Pages of yesteryear.

Or does it?

In 2012, McKnight noticed the beginning of a trend at his music academy: The gender makeup of the students signing up for guitar classes began changing drastically. At first McKnight only had about eight to 12 girls taking guitar lessons, but within a few years that number had increased as much as tenfold.

He wondered why girls were suddenly outnumbering boys in his classes and, he explains in his video, he asked his female students what was inspiring them to want to learn to play the guitar. The answer he got from eight out of 10 of the students he asked:

Taylor Swift.

And McKnight is not the only one who’s convinced that Swift is inspiring teenage girls to play the guitar the way legendary axe-grinder Eddie Van Halen did for teenage boys in the early 1980s. Andy Mooney, the CEO of Fender, one of the leading guitar manufacturers in the world, says Swift is “the most influential guitarist of recent years. I don’t think that young girls looked at Taylor and said, ‘I’m really impressed by the way she plays G major arpeggios.’” Mooney added. “They liked how she looked, and they wanted to emulate her.”

But McKnight says not to be fooled by Swift’s pop genre and commercial success. “Sometimes she’s discounted as a pop star, but let’s be honest: She is a musician,” he said. “And she is creating new musicians.” And for anyone who might need proof about her guitar chops, just look at the little live performance she surprised a 96-year-old war vet and huge T-Swift fan with last Christmas. People who can’t play guitar don’t play impromptu and intimate gigs like that with no amp, no effects and no microphone.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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