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Are guitar heroes a thing of the past? Part I

Posted: April 7, 2022
I was extremely intrigued by an artist. Her name is Gretchen Menn. Gretchen immersed herself in study to expand her skills not just on the guitar, but in composition and orchestration. Her releases album releases reflected her timeless efforts and abilities. She has gained praise around the world. Her style and sound have been compared as “blending disparate jazz, prog, and world-music influences into a tasty, guitarist thrill ride”. – Guitar Player Magazine.

Photo by: Renee Jahnke

Are Guitar heroes a thing of the past? As it seems there are some that believe, all you need to learn is the basics to become a guitar player. I had a friend of mine, once say “all you need to learn is 4 chords to play the guitar”. While that may be true in some circles or genres of music, it certainly doesn’t hold water with many who consider playing the guitar an art form. I personally have shifted my attention from the quality of an artist’s voice to their ability to play the guitar. I have always been a fan of the electric guitar. Even acoustic guitars as well. I suggest that you really put forth the effort to learn how to play, before adding an instrument to your performances. If you are performing before an audience, they are not going to be focused on your guitar skillset. They just want to be entertained. They want to hear a musician with a good voice, only.

I have been reviewing and representing artists for many years. My focus was on their vocals and stage presence. Even with the best vocalists, I always felt there was a missing component. It was usually a lack of guitar skills, or they didn’t know how to perform with an instrument. Some might not relate to its importance. However, it is extremely valuable in differentiating yourself from other musicians. It is true, that not every artist will need an instrument to become successful. However, it adds to the quality of your performance. You are put into a different class or level than other artists. It is intriguing to see an artist become a true student of the art of music. If you are truly interested in a music career, learn how to perform with an instrument. Also, learn how to play using more than just 4 chords. Can you imagine, how difficult it would be to communicate another language with just 4 words?

I was extremely intrigued by an artist. Her name is Gretchen Menn. Gretchen immersed herself in study to expand her skills not just on the guitar, but in composition and orchestration. Her releases album releases reflected her timeless efforts and abilities. She has gained praise around the world. Her style and sound have been compared as “blending disparate jazz, prog, and world-music influences into a tasty, guitarist thrill ride”. – Guitar Player Magazine.

While earning a degree in music at Smith College, Gretchen’s adventurous approach to her education would foreshadow her approach to the guitar. She convinced a professor to allow her to launch a special studies project on the music of Frank Zappa. Her analyses of “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango” and “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress” showed an interest in genre-bending composition that would manifest later in her original instrumentals.

After college, Gretchen began considering her career path, and how she might prevent a situation she sought to avoid: tainting her love of music with the necessity of paying rent. The solution? She went directly from college to flight school, and two years later was flying regional jets for the airlines. Yet she was never without her guitar, and after a year at the airlines she found the life incompatible with the focus she needed to truly pursue music. So, she relinquished her position in the jet and embarked on a more direct approach to her musical goals. Let’s take a moment to get to learn a bit more about Gretchen Menn, as she sits down for some Q&A with CMV Music Network.

Interview with Gretchen Menn and Guitar Thrills Magazine

Guitar Thrillls: Hi Gretchen. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I am really impressed with your line of work, and your ability to play the guitar. Some of the questions, that I have are directly related to your skill set. What inspired you to pick up the guitar? Also, at what point did you decide it was going to require more training than anticipated?

Gretchen: Thank you so much for having me! I became captivated by guitar-oriented music as a teenager—Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Extreme, Mr. Big, as well as classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. But it was when I heard Eric Johnson play that I knew I needed to pick up the guitar. I’m always uncovering just how much work anything takes if you want to do it well. Music is an endless path, but fortunately a beautiful one.

Guitar Thrills: Learning how to play guitar is not easy. Much effort, time and practice is required. Especially if you are going to learn to play more than 4 chords. Who can you attribute your desire and determination to keep playing despite any setbacks?

Gretchen: I think it’s as simple as my love of music and my fascination with it as a language. I have wide tastes and diverse interests, and I feel compelled to be constantly expanding my musical vocabulary in order to express what I want to express. Some people’s inclinations mean they only need four chords for that, and there can be a lot of beauty and economy in that. But I think all of us would be well-advised to look honestly and openly at what our muses demand, and do whatever work will mean genuine and fluent expression.

Guitar Thrills: I listen to several releases on your website. The songs have their own unique blend of sounds. There is almost a dark feeling regarding your lyrics and music. What is the story behind your style?

Gretchen: My music is instrumental—so no lyrics. Some of it has darkness, and some of it has more light. The intention is to channel different aspects of my tastes and experiences into my music, and that is a whole spectrum. Compare “Scrap Metal” to “Fading” on my first album, Hale Souls, or “Beast” to “Grace” on Abandon All Hope. Though I haven’t consciously engineered a sound, I am continually developing my compositional and musical voice. As for everyone, my music is the culmination of my inspirations and influences, as filtered through my brain, perspective, and experiences. I listen to and study from rock musicians, jazz musicians, classical and modern composers… I find inspiration almost everywhere.

Guitar Thrills: I can’t imagine you having any challenges with your level of talent. However, have you experienced challenges in the music industry? If so, what did you do to overcome them?

Gretchen: That’s very kind. I am always confronting challenges—internal and external. I try to focus more on the ones over which I have some degree of control, and those pertain to areas in which I’m striving to grow as a musician. I look closely and critically at myself and my abilities, and work in furtherance of my goals. I’m not immune to external challenges, of course—no one is. I try to plan for the obvious and predictable ones and just do my best when life throws a curve ball.

Guitar Thrills: I really like your tutorial videos on your website. It takes a special kind of person to teach. Is teaching a side project, or is it part of a brand you would like to launch?

Gretchen: I don’t have time for individual students, unfortunately, but I love geeking out about music and doing my best to help others—through videos, articles, masterclasses, my JamPlay course, or my book, The Way Music Works.

Guitar Thrills: Do you have any releases that you would like to talk about? Also, if your fans would like to see you perform, where can they access your schedule?

Gretchen: I am currently working on two more albums—one of primarily solo guitar pieces, and a continuation of the Dante journey that Abandon All Hope began. My website is gretchenmenn.com, and all my socials are

Guitar Thrills: I am happy that you had a moment to speak to Guitar Thrills Magazine. I think you are talented. I think guitar students can learn a lot from you. Your effortless style is impeccable. Thank you for the interview today. We hope that we can schedule another round of Q&A soon. How does that sound?

Gretchen: I’d love that! Thank you so much for having me, and it has been a pleasure.

Guitar Thrills: Excellent. Thanks again.

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