Are there wrong notes for virtuosos?

There is an assumption that the higher up the food chain a musician is considered to be, the less likely a faux pas is made. Let's be honest, we expect more polished performances from virtuosic rock or jazz musicians than from newly formed indie rock bands, don't we? So should we be surprised when a 'good' player releases an album that features a 'suspect' moment or two?

Recently I came across teaser footage (the joys of Youtube!) of a new CD release from an iconic guitarist. I like this musician but during his performance of a world famous tune he played, to my ears, a considerably suspect phrase. As the backing was sweetly diatonic (nice chords, smooth string arrangement), his outside altered line stood out like a sore thumb.

Thinking it was just my sensibilities, I forwarded it to several friends (some GT tutors, others not) for their reactions. Largely the feedback was that it wasn't ideal and seemed more a product of a 'muscle memory' lick that he liked to play rather than thinking of its suitability against the accompaniment.

So, we didn't consider it ideal but obviously the artist did to allow it on his album. Of course, 'suspect' can be in the eye (ear) of the beholder - one listener can very much like the 'suspect' moment, whereas another can baulk at it. Like all art disciplines, how we perceive a work is only half the story as art is the meeting place for a creator's desires and an audience's perceptions.

In Guitar Techniques magazine we focus a lot on note usage by advising why a player's choice is good and/or how the most ideal scales can form your solo's content. We want you to play well and the notes you use are a fundamental part to achieving this. For sonic bliss to ensure, avoiding 'suspect' notes is one route, another is to know how to handle them within well formed tension-release phrases.

That said, there maybe moments when you play a phrase and like it but find that others don't. At times like this, you could do worse than to consider iconic guitarists like the one I mentioned earlier; stick to your decision and to hell with the nay sayers! Happy soloing!