Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section B01. The Guitar as Cross Cultural Matrix

What links the pickers of the Goa Guitar Guild in India with pluckers of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society in Nashville, suave bossa nova stylists in Brasil, or Hawai’ian steel and ki ho’alu (slack key) players? The guitar, embedding a simple matrix formed by the crossing of strings at a perpendicular to frets, became, through the process of European expansion and colonialism, a complex ground upon which different systems of music encountered and changed each other. Among of the set of concepts which European sailors carried with them overseas, tonal harmony – the European system of scales, chords, and keys – undeniably exerted what Ghanaian musicologist Kofi Agawu terms a powerful “colonizing force”[1] upon local musical traditions; at the same time, local musical systems from Indian raga to Arabic maqam have at times had a profound impact upon the guitar and the music it voices. The seminar examines the guitar’s role in spreading European musical concepts as well as documenting the ways in which it has been the “object of assimilation, appropriation and change in local settings.”[2]

Sources cited:
1. Agawu, Kofi. “Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions.” New York: Routledge, 2003.
2. Dawe, Kevin, and Andy Bennett, editors. “Guitar Cultures.” Oxford: Berg, 2001.

Matthew AllenMatthew Allen
Professor of Music