“Music has to flow through you” – Tommy Emmanuel offers some sage advice for guitarists

Tommy Emmanuel 2022
(Image credit: Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images)

Tommy Emmanuel is an acoustic guitar phenomenon.

A prolific collaborator with dozens of releases to his name, his breathtaking technique and incendiary live shows have been drawing audiences since the 1960s.

Decades on and he continues to entertain crowds around the globe while educating and inspiring generations of guitarists.

You cannot force music

Tommy Emmanuel

One of the greatest fingerstyle players alive, Emmanuel recently appeared on the Acoustic Guitar Podcast where he talks about his creative process, playing live, working with other musicians and more.

“You cannot force music,” he tells host Nick Grizzle. “It doesn't work. It has to flow through you. It has to come to you and flow through you.

“For me, it's important to play what I think is right – to serve the song properly. I could play all over the place in every song if I wanted to, but why would I wanna do that?”

Elsewhere in this fascinating podcast, Emmanuel shares some of the valuable lessons he learned from Chet Atkins when it comes to reworking songs for guitar instrumental pieces. 

“One of the best things I've learned from Chet is: learn the melody,” he reveals. “Even if you change it and make it your own thing, still learn the original melody properly and then go from there.”

Atkins' advice extended to learning the words, even if the aim is to perform an instrumental piece.

I'm basically two songwriters

Tommy Emmanuel

“Chet Atkins said to a lot of people, ‘When you learn a song, make sure you learn the words so you know what you're playing about and you know what the song is about,’” recalls Emmanuel.

Later on, we get to hear about the virtuoso’s approach to songwriting.

“I'm basically two songwriters,” he says. “There's one up here in my head, which has all the ideas and is throwing ideas at me all the time. 

"The other one is down here in my heart and soul. And that one must be pleased.”

Browse the Tommy Emmanuel catalogue here.

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.