Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section A01. 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 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 practices; at the same time, important musical systems ranging from Indian raga to Arabic maqam have had a profound impact upon the guitar and the music it voices. Through consideration of several vibrant contemporary musical cultures, the seminar documents the guitar’s role in spreading European musical concepts and, at the same time, the ways in which guitar has been the “object of assimilation, appropriation and change in local settings” (2).

Matthew AllenMatthew Allen
Professor of Music