I had to put ‘classical guitar’ in quotes because if you search that term on YouTube the first page of results includes a guy playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on a classical guitar, another guy playing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and someone else playing the theme to a video game. Nothing wrong with any of that, of course, except that it’s not what most of us think of as ‘classical guitar’. The good news is that apparently tens of millions of people watch this stuff. The bad news is that those millions aren’t watching Aniello Desiderio tear up some Scarlatti (he also appears on the first page of search results, and a not shabby 200,000 people have seen him).

Since I troll YouTube from time to time for great performances of classical and flamenco guitar, I keep coming back to this fact and asking myself if it’s just another sign of the decline of what many of us think of us as culture, or if it’s exactly what we need to introduce another generation to classical music. My introduction to flamenco was an episode of the Odd Couple in which Roy Clark played ‘Malagueña’ on a steel string. Never mind that Lecuona’s ‘Malagueña’ isn’t flamenco. I saw a great musician play a piece that appealed to me, asked my mom about it, and for better or worse she made the mistake so many make of thinking that that’s a flamenco piece, and went and found a record for me. I was off and running.

So in theory we should be happy that millions of kids may learn the theme to ‘Super Mario Brothers’ and thus kindle an interest in the guitar that may lead them to a good teacher. And yet the numbers for Aniello Desiderio don’t seem to climb at the rate of those for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I guess I choose to be optimistic and hope that since you’re not likely to find, say, an oboe version of  ‘Super Mario Brothers’, that maybe the guitar’s mass appeal is just what’s needed to bring a new generation into the world of classical music. Or perhaps that YouTube is how we kill time, and not how we actually receive culture.

p.s. I just checked, and if you search ‘oboe’ in YouTube you do, in fact, find a video of a kid playing ‘Super Mario Brothers’ on the first page. I’ve included it, along with some videos you may be familiar with, for your listening pleasure.

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16 Responses to ““Classical Guitar” on YouTube”

  1. Christopher says:

    Youtube, like any other search algorithm, is very much a rich get richer sort of thing.

    Part of what factors into a youtube search is probably views: thus the things that go viral (like the first three classical guitar results) continue to rank well for that term. So it’s not a signal for a decline of what many of us think of us as culture, but rather something that indicated how limited a machine really is in deciding what’s relevant for a given query.

    An algorithm doesn’t care what classical guitar is, it can only look at the data the the video uploader and viewers supply: tags, titles, descriptions, views, and social graph metrics (likes, dislikes, shares, etc).

    Maybe it is what we need for introduce another generation to art music. If you really want to see if those top three videos are doing an effective job of doing that, look at the related videos on each of them: are they driving people to watch “real” classical guitar music?


  2. Kai says:

    Thanks for the more nuanced understanding, Chris. But that part about the machines deciding this stuff for us feels funny….

  3. Emrah says:

    The classical guitar is one of the most expressive and richest instruments and it is made to make music. As long as the music that is played on it is good does the genre really matter? What’s the big deal? Classical music is one of the genres of music that can be played on the classical guitar, perhaps you can think of it as the beginning of the classical guitar but not its end.

  4. John B says:

    We’ve seen it go the other way too, haven’t we? How many current classical players started out as rockers or folk or country players? I know a 19 year old who was the lead player in a hardcore/metal head bangin band who decided to pursue a career as a music teacher. He hasn’t played his steel string rockin axe in almost a year and is incredibly fascinated with classical music on a nylon! Not to worry. The classical guitar and its rep is one sticky spider web!

  5. Miguel Neiret says:

    I believe that music is divided into 2, the good and bad. the fact that some popular compositions fit the classical guitar does not mean decadencioa means open-mindedness. classical world generally has been closed. I think this classical guitar at an early stage of evolution. only time will tell what really has value. pd: excuse my English is very poor!

  6. ronjazz says:

    I perform many styles of music, mostly on the nylon 7-string. When I’m working with a singer or as a sideman, the introductions always include a proud reference to “classical guitar”, even if the music doesn’t include a single classical guitar piece, as such. Of course, the tow biggest requests on the “classical guitar” are Classical Gas and Malaguena.

    Americans have been poorly served by spending more money on wars than on education.

  7. Tom Silver says:

    Try out Stairway to Heaven on classical guitar sometime (Stan Ayeroff arrangement) – it sounds great. And it’s constructed along classical lines – theme and variations.

  8. John Ferrara says:

    We have nothing to worry about.
    Great music never goes out of style & great music is what truly produces incredible artists such a Aniello Desiderio! I have read about him for quite sometime but never have had the chance to see him live or find a CD of his anywhere. Thank God for you tube!! It is a great avenue to discover all sorts of new artists from around the globe.

    Most of the You Tube Vids that are the most popular are ones that are foolish or comical & are passed on to friends etc. We all need a good laugh once in a while but as far as Super Mario Brothers, Stairway to Heaven & others go…..
    If they are good versions & played well (like the above versions are) I think that is great too! It is exposing what the classical guitar is truly caple of. The more diverse the players, the more diverse the repertiore, the more diverse the audience! A young child is more likely going to be turned on to classical guitar by clicking on Mario Bros. before a Bach or Scarlatti work so whats the harm?

    You tube is a Godsend for classical guitar. It could not be easier for the average person to explore & be exposed to the highest order or playing by some of the best professional & amature players in the world be it Bach or Mario.

    Keep Sharing Yor Guitar Music!!!!!!

  9. Sojourn6 says:

    I would agree with John, had it not been for You Tube, and Peo Kindgren posting ‘stairway’ there may not be much notice to the additional music he recored such as Galilei and Jean-Marie Raymond . YouTube is a God send and also a means to find out where the guitar is going and it’s historic past both in terms of music and instrumentation.
    Look at the resurgence of period instruments and focus by many artists on specific genres of music.
    You might start with the tunes of Super Marios Bros., and Stairway but end up with composers the likes of Marek Pasieczny and De Falla, and on the way discover the artistry of Asaya Selyutina and Stewart French.

  10. Brian says:

    The great sadness is that yet another generation of kids are going through life without even knowing Classical Guitar exists. Their tastes are being influenced by TV talent shows like Pop Idol and by the pronouncements of people like Simon Cowell. What they don’t realise is that Simon and his ilk are marketing experts – NOT music masters. When they say “This boy is AWESOME…” they are thinking of his potential to become a media favourite and a big dollar/pound/Euro earner. So, the kids watching and listening accept this as the yardstick against which all else is measured and they join the hordes of the indoctrinated to spend their money on records by those praised by the TV “experts”. This in turn creates a very vicious circle – TV producers are only interested in making programmes which attract big audiences (the criteria for advertising and marketing companies) so Classical players have no chance of getting even a toe in the door. In my own case I never heard Classical Guitar – despite having made a reasonable living playing in pop and rock bands throughout the 60s and 70s – until, at the age of 40, my wife bought me a cheap “nylon string” and a World’s Favorite Solos book. I was hooked – but it was too late! The Head of Guitar Studies at a local conservatory once told me he would instantly Grade me and I could pursue a career in teaching, a certain well-know British superstar of the Classical world lamented on my lost opportunity and generously told me I could have had a decent career if I had begun serious studies earlier. But it was too late, too late…! Two years ago the BBC made a low-budget series on the search for a star theme, but this time they were looking for a Classical performer with potential. In the finals they had two violinists, a pianist, a brass player and, wonder of wonders, a great 16 year old guitarist. One of their tasks on the way to the final was to give an impromptu recital before an audience of teenagers who knew nothing about real music. I’ll always remember the looks on the faces of these street kids when the young guitarist started to play. One member of the audience – a guy with tattoos, an earring and a baseball cap skewed on the side of his head – had tears running down his cheeks. Afterwards he said to the programme presenter “Man, I never heard music like this before – why did nobody ever tell me a guitar could sound like that…?” They didn’t tell him – or me – because the media were too busy pushing the dross that was easy to produce and easier to sell. Am I bitter? Not at all. I still play for the sheer joy of the music coming alive under my fingers. But I deplore the conveyor belt of ignorance I see churning out generation after generation of youngsters who are pulled into this marketeering farce in the name of “music”. I feel physically ill when I see a “Music Poll” acclaiming some three-chord trickster as No. 1 in The Entire Universe. And I positively palpitate when someone asks me “Why don’t you play something we know?” To which I reply, “Why don’t you know something I play?”

    • Lawrence Tendler says:

      Sadly so true, and the “CLASSICAL ” label does not help neither ,a jumped- up and miscontrued word which puts a lot of folk off the “classical ” guitar unfortunately.

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  12. Monte Ewert says:

    Great topic, one of my favorites anyway. I think it is a great opportunity for everyone. The classical/flamenco guitar gets exposure and those who are able and willing, are given the chance to educate, and turn people on to some kick backside music and playing. I asked my friends who teach what impact guitar hero has had on student enrollment and everyone basically says that it has been positive. People grow tired of toys and learn to play the real thing. Perhaps that will be the case with the youtube “classical” dilemma but it has been around for a long time and we have survived. I’m sure all of us have been asked to play stairway or freebird from time to time. A few years ago I was playing one of my pieces and this young guy with a big smile came up and said “hey man, that sounds like Stairway to heaven”. It threw me a bit but then I thought; 25 years ago I would have loved a comment like that and it would have possibly sent my spirit soaring to the houses of the holy….or at least the misty mountains. So, I said “dude, check this out” and played an Alman by Robert Johnson and said “that song is 400 years old”. He dug that and I referred him to one of my trio mates for lessons. He is still playing.

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  14. Nambot says:

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