[Above photo: The Beaches' Jordan Miller & Kylie Miller. Credit - Kelly Mercer/Flickr]
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) has released new research led in conjunction with Egg Strategy, detailing the current state of guitar playing in the United States and United Kingdom. The research was commissioned to better understand the current generation of guitar players, their needs, desires, and overall lifestyle preferences. The findings revealed that the archetype of the “guitar god” in music and culture has evolved. Musicians are playing guitar now more than ever, but in new, innovative ways in today’s diverse, popular music landscape. With the rise of streaming and sharing platforms, artists around the world have even more access and empowerment to create and share music. In tandem, Fender consulted with award-winning neuroscientist, musician, record producer, and author Daniel Levitin, who is best known for his New York Times best-selling book This is Your Brain on Music, to dig into the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of playing an instrument.
While the “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players” research revealed a number of guitar playing's educational benefits, six key insights emerged:
· Women continue to define the emerging guitar market, accounting for 50% of all beginner and aspirational players
· 72% of respondents said they picked up guitar for the first time to gain a life skill or as a means of self-betterment.
· Players in the U.S. and U.K. cited differences in where they play, with 50% of respondents in the U.K. listing “playing privately” as their preferred environment, 18% more than U.S. players.
· Respondents had humble aspirations and were not looking for rockstar status with 61% of guitar players simply wanting to learn songs to play by themselves or socially. In most cases, new players are looking to play favorite songs for their friends and family, with 46% wanting to make music with others.
· 42% said they viewed guitar as part of their identity.
· Beginning and aspirational guitar players ranked online, video-based tutorials as the “most-effective resource to learn guitar,” even over private lessons.
Diversity: The research found that the guitar players of today are more diverse than ever before. Women continue to define the emerging guitar market, accounting for 50% of all beginner and aspirational players. The growing diversity of players expands beyond gender, as well. Both African-American and Hispanic consumers now represent a significant and growing share of new players. African-Americans account for 19% of aspirational players, while Latin players make up 25% of beginners.
“Today’s players have grown up in a different cultural context and popular music landscape, and rising artists like Mura Masa, Tash Sultana, Youngr, Daniel Caesar, Grimes, and Ed Sheeran are changing the way guitar is being used,” says Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender. “As a brand, we are committed to creating tools – both physical and digital – that this generation of creators needs for self-expression, now and in the future.”
Motivation: The evolution of the players themselves leads to the question, “Why are people today picking up the guitar in the first place?” Fender’s research found that currently, new players’ motivations are intrinsic, with 72% of respondents saying they picked up guitar for the first time to gain a life skill or as a means of self-betterment. To dig deeper into the insight, Fender consulted Daniel Levitin who shared, “Playing an instrument can certainly improve a person's overall well-being. Playing even five minutes a day can lead to a range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.”
Health & Wellness Benefits: Research participants confirmed that they experienced obvious emotional benefits, such as increased creativity and self-expression, but also cited less obvious benefits like increased patience, confidence in self and skills, work ethic, and persistence over time. Beyond the emotional component, playing an instrument also has proven physical benefits, including enhanced hand-eye coordination, a boost to the immune system and enhanced brain development, especially in youth and older players. Learning an instrument can even help stave off Alzheimer’s disease, Levitin said. “After 60, playing an instrument can help you retrain and remap neural circuits that are inclined to atrophy, which helps you stay mentally young,” he adds. “Learning an instrument can also help develop your brain when you are a kid.”
Mental benefits were another potential result of playing an instrument. “Playing an instrument has a meditative aspect that can release positive hormones in the brain and can reduce the stress hormone Cortisol, increase productivity, and create social bonding to combat loneliness in the digital age,” adds Levitin. “Playing music with other people produces the chemical oxytocin, a binding chemical that promotes trust and social bonding and makes you feel better.”
According to Levitin, other mental benefits associated with playing music with others include increased feelings of compassion, bonding, empathy and generosity toward others, as well as heightened self-efficacy. “Playing a musical instrument is a valued skill,” he added. “When we play an instrument, it allows us to see ourselves differently – taking on something that is seen as being a masterful skill in society.
The mental benefits of playing an instrument extend to all types or players – from beginners to artists. “One thing I always emphasize now, is the importance of taking care of yourself and your mental health,” says Joe Barksdale, NFL athlete and long-time Fender artist. “It took me a long time to get to a point where I put my mental health above other things, and I can honestly say that it has helped me grow leaps and bounds as an individual and performance-wise.”
Global Insights & Playing Environment: Players in the U.S. and U.K. cited differences in where they play with 50% of respondents in the U.K. listing “playing privately” as their preferred environment, 18% more so than U.S. players. “Letting your mind wander is the key to reducing anxiety,” Levitin said. “We get our minds to wander by walking in nature or playing music – that’s what hits the reset button on the brain. Even just 15 minutes of ‘wandering’ and playing an instrument can increase productivity.”
The type of music most played also differed between the two countries with rock, classic rock, hip-hop, and country more prevalent in the U.S. and blues, indie rock, and reggae favoured among U.K. players. The lifestyle of players in both regions is also contrasting, with U.K. players inhabiting more urban areas than their U.S. counterparts, who tend to live in more suburban settings; however, both have humble aspirations and are not looking for rockstar status, with 61% of players simply wanting to learn songs to play by themselves or socially. In most cases, new players were looking to play their favourite songs for their friends and family.
Challenges & Barriers: The research did reveal challenges around learning to play guitar, with lack of free time and the long process of acquiring skills cited as the primary barriers. “Like many things in the digital age, new guitar players want quick results and learning an instrument is not an overnight task,” said Matt Lake, Fender Play Instructor. “To quickly and reliably learn, players need tools for learning they can use in their own environment, and at their convenience.” Nearly half of beginners stated they quit learning an instrument due to time constraints, and 33 percent of beginners shared they were not growing skills fast enough or as fast as they thought they would. The reality is that it's much easier for a person to binge-watch a Netflix series in their free time than learn guitar, but the rise of digital technology also has an upside, especially for specific types of learners.
Levitin shared that when it comes to learning, there are different kind of students. For example, autodidacts thrive in an online learning environment, because they are good at teaching themselves – as opposed to conventional learners, who are schooled and formally trained, he said. Levitin also added that the best way to learn is through “playing your favorite songs” for 5 minutes a day every day at the same time of day, rather than two hours one day. “Fender Play is special to me because not only does it provide me with the tools to pick up the guitar at my own pace, but the Fender Play Facebook community has really provided me with the support I need to stick with it,” said Fender Play student Keith Means.
For more information, go to www.fender.com.