If you were asked to name
the top ten female guitarists how would you go?
There's Mary Osborne (jazz
guitarist), Carol Kaye (bassist), Jennifer Battern
(rock), Emily Remler (jazz), Lita Ford (rock) and a
handful of other excellent guitarists who are known
exclusively for their instrumental guitar skills.
However, most of the famous
women guitarists - Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Snow, Bonnie
Raitt, Joan Baez, Melissa Etheridge, Tracy Chapman and
others - are all known for their singing and songwriting.
There are virtually no female counterparts to Chet
Atkins, Eric Clapton, Andres Segovia. Why not?
In some guitar-related
activities, many women are disadvantaged by
physiological factors. One example is hand and arm
strength. According to Dr.Theodore Hettinger of the Max
Planck Institute in Germany, in studies of the four
muscle groups pertaining to guitar playing activities -
women possess from 55% to 75% of the strength of men,
although these differences do not exist between males
and females under the age of ten.
Forearm strength is
particularly important in guitar playing, since the
fretting hand must press down firmly with a bent wrist.
Bending the wrist reduces
grip strength by about 13%, and muscles in the wrist and
forearm are slightly more strained than in stiff-wrist
gripping; therefore the 45% female disadvantage in
foreman strength may place some women below the
threshold of strength necessary to play many
male-designed, male-manufactured, and male-tested
Lack of strength is a likely reason why women don't take
up - or stick with - the guitar.
Since those troublesome
fingerings, particularly barre chords, may require
substantial strength which can sometimes intimidate
beginning female students more than men. This is in
spite of the fact that chords usually only require great
strength in the beginning, and that much of the energy
expended by most beginners - male and female- is wasted
anyway, and that the more a person plays, the more
proper chording depends upon coordination and efficiency
rather than sheer strength. Nevertheless, hand strength
is advantageous in guitar playing, particularly for the
beginner, and a young female student may not realize
that playing basic chords is not a lifelong struggle.
There are specific remedies
that anyone with small or weak hands can employ to
decrease the difficulties of chording during the initial
period when playing is particularly awkard. Many
beginners mistakenly assume that only expensive guitars
are easy to play when, in fact, any decent instrument
should be at least moderately comfortable.
Some people do not realize
that a guitar's factory-set action is often too high
even for experienced players. Also, many people play the
guitar for a long time before realizing just how easily
a "nonadjustable" bridge maybe lowered or how
inexpensive it is to have a string nut filed down by a
repairman. Some teachers suggest detuning the guitar a
whole step or putting a capo on the first or second fret
in order to substantially reduce string tension.
Finally, there are even special instruments specially
designed for players with small hands.
A common sterotype is the
"girl singer" who uses the guitar only as an instrument
of accompaniment - with concentration on finger picking,
open chords and nonmelodic techniques - rather than
pursuing it's solo capabilities as well. Since women's
voices do not change in adolescence, young women tend to
be less self-conscious and more confident of their
singing voices. Perhaps the emphasis placed by parents
and school teachers on vocal training for females tends
to distract them from instrumental development. One fact
is certain; there is a cycle of stereotype: women
perform music in certain ways, so they are expected to
perform in certain ways, so they do.
However, the female
guitarists who persist and overcome these physical and
stereotype issues bring a depth of musicallity that is
rare in their male counterparts.
Here's is two examples of
female guitarists/bassists who have played a major role
in the music we here today.
Carol Kaye.Never heard of
her, right? but unless you've been living on Mars, I'll
bet you've heard her music. Carol was probably the
busiest studio bassists in Los Angles.
Remember the Beach Boys'
"Good Vibrations"? Remember Glen Campbell's "Witchita
Lineman"? Remember Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright"?
Her film credits include:
Mission Impossible, Bonanza, Airport, Bill Crosby, Bob
Hope, Academy Awards special etc., Busy isn't the word
How's this for an impressive
list of performers she's backed on record: Ray Charles,
Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Stevie Wonder,
Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert, Mel Torme etc.,
Maybelle Carter: Was the
creator of the "Carter Lick" on the guitar - the playing
of the melody with the thumb while brushing the strings
for rhythm. This style had a profound effect on
guitarists of her generation and those that followed.
She also incorporated hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and
folk-type embellishments into her style.
Her recorded output is
large, and much of her best work can still be heard. By
today's standards her guitar work, has none of the flash
of recent players, but its clean, understated elegance
tell volumes about the times and the places that
produced one of country music's most important pioneers
50 plus years ago, and about this shy, reserved woman,
one of America's most infuential guitarists.
About The Author:
is a guitar teacher, author, performing musician and
session guitarist with over 30 years of professional
experience. Mike's methods are legendary and have earned
the praise of top authorities in guitar instruction. He
reveals his guitar secrets at