Why You Shouldn’t Obsess Over Virtuosity, The Black Crowes Guitarist Explains: ’Don’t Lose the Human Element in Your Music’

Although admitting that it’s impressive to play fast and have absolute control over your instrument, The Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson says that you shouldn’t care too much about being super precise with your instrument.

To be fair, there’s really no one exact way how to create good music. In fact, what’s “good” or not is entirely subjective. And sure, there’s obviously some meritocracy, if you will, in the sense of precision of playing a certain musical piece. But if we’re talking about the free spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, then there’s a lot of room for creativity in all sort of ways.

And that’s exactly what Robinson aimed at during his interview for Total Guitar recently. Virtuosity is all great, but there’s got to be the human element in there as well.

Rich Robinson @ Woodstock Sessions

“Those virtuoso guys are great players and they can do everything on the guitar,” he explained (via Guitar.com). “They can do gymnastics, run up and down, anything you could possibly ask them to.”

“But sometimes it’s more fun to hit one note and see what happens, see if it can mean as much. Sometimes, it can mean even more!”

Obviously, when there are talks about this, someone will mention Led Zeppelin legend Jimmy Page. And according to The Black Crowes guitarist, he’s the finest example of “hitting one note and seeing what happens.” Robinson continued:

“Jimmy Page was great at that, I think it’s why he’s considered to be so brilliant. Melodically, he knew when to play less.”

A GUITAR LESSON WITH RICH ROBINSON (Black Crowes/Magpie Salute) - Guitare Xtreme Magazine # 87

And when it comes to playing less, there’s also the misconception that it’s much easier to pull things off if they’re slow and steady. However, Rich recalled another example of a guy who used to leave a lot of space in between notes but technically skilled in his own way

“Jeff Beck is absolutely another one,” he added. “Those two had the technique, but more importantly, they knew when to use it and when not to.”

All the discussion and theorizing aside, the whole point Robinson is making here is that you should just try and enjoy music without being too much of a perfectionist. Again, it’s a personal preference, but not everything has to be so detail-oriented.

“We don’t have to be so uptight about everything being perfect,” he said. “A song can speed up going into a chorus and then slow down – and that’s okay. When you add vibrato on slide, it doesn’t have to be exactly note-perfect the whole time.”

And it’s in these imperfections that we get to hear the humanity in music. This is where you’ll create something that listeners will actually enjoy. Robinson concluded by saying:

“Don’t worry too much about intonation or technique because it’s all relative. Just don’t lose the human element in your music.”

Rig Rundown - The Magpie Salute's Rich Robinson and Marc Ford

Speaking of a more “loose” approach to guitar playing and making music, Robinson praised Jimmy Page in an interview from 2023, addressing the accusations of the Led Zeppelin guitarist being “sloppy.”

“Anyone who calls him sloppy or whatever, f*** that,” Robinson said. “He’s a God of guitar, which should be obvious. So, to get up there and play those Zeppelin songs with him and then to have him play my songs during those two summers that we toured with him, those are some of the best moments of my life.”

“He’s just one of those guys who can take apart those songs and inject this tone and feeling that you can’t duplicate, no matter how hard you try.”

The Black Crowes' Robinson brothers talk music and family

“Having listened to and loved his music my whole life and then having played with him, I have absolute respect and reverence for Jimmy. When I look back on the entire thing, taking the stage with him was nothing short of a gift for me.”

Another guitar player to praise Page’s approach to music was also Joe Bonamassa, who said:

“A lot of people like to call Page sloppy, and that’s fine. You can call him sloppy all day long, but can you play it? …Try to play ‘The Rain Song’ as well as he played it. You won’t be able to. Not a chance.”

The Black Crowes: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

“The thing about Jimmy Page that most people don’t realize is he was a very in-demand session guy before the Yardbirds and Zeppelin. He did boatloads of amazing things before he even was in those bands… Call him sloppy, but he was a once-in-a-generation talent.”

Photo: JazzyJoeyD (Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.