Here’s a topic that gets talked about a little bit, but not nearly enough. Because I think it’s THE main distinction between pro-level musicians and aspiring amateurs.
In our CCLI Veritas Guitar Giveaway article, legendary Nashville session guitarist Dave Cleveland focused on it in both of his comments about our finalists.
“What I liked about Alex was his touch on the instrument. He made things that I know are hard to play seem effortless. Beautiful job!”
“I loved Richie’s approach and style. His tone and touch were just brilliant.”
Drummers focus on brands, setup, tuning techniques, sticks, and so many other details. Electric guitarists focus on brands, pedals, amps, more pedals, and more amps. Acoustic guitarists focus on brands, pickup systems, capos, alternate tunings, and, oh yeah, more brands. Bass players focus on brands, and Victor Wooten. Keyboardists focus on brands, action, software sounds, and brands of software sounds.
Yet I’m still convinced that the most defining factor for any player is touch—or lack thereof. Even if I’m playing keyboards or acoustic guitar on my least favorite brands and models, I still mostly sound like me.
Let’s say you’re playing with a new drummer. Doesn’t the first crack of the snare and the first thump of the kick tell you pretty much everything you need to know? Okay, you may also need an 8-bar groove to determine whether he/she can stay with a click, but even then, the first few tones will tell you—pro or pretender.
What is touch? Well, it’s hard to describe, but you know it when you hear it. It’s a very unique package of dynamics, sensitivity, confidence, agility, gracefulness, precision and probably 8-10 other attributes that are impossible to pin down. Maybe the best description is—it’s musical.
There’s no real shortcut to touch. It comes from hours and hours of practice, and typically, it takes years to develop. It’s painstakingly-crafted, hard-fought, and well-earned. But it unlocks all the musicality of music. It’s all the emotion, inflection, and nuance of playing an instrument well. It’s what brings music to life.
And it’s undeniably powerful. Before he slew giants and commanded armies, David had developed a master’s touch on his lyre, and it was the only thing that could soothe the rage of a tormented king. (I Samuel 16: 14-23)
In the context of Worship Musician’s mantra, “Better by Sunday,” improving your touch may not happen by next Sunday. But it can happen one Sunday. And it will be worth all the time and effort.