Once you’ve been playing the guitar for a number of years, you’ll start to find your own style and habits. This is a good thing and shows that you’ve reached a level of maturity in your playing that comes with consistent practice.
In general, when I look around at the different guitarists I have known, or the famous guitarists I have observed over the years, I notice two broad categories of musician. This is of course a massive generalisation and oversimplification of the reality, but bear with me while I explain.
You see, at one extreme end of the spectrum you have those guitarists who are motivated by the competitive urge to dazzle their public with amazingly fast solos that set the stage on fire. These guitarists focus on technique and tend to do a lot of very fast “twiddly-diddly” picking or bi-manual work, which utilises both hands tapping on and pulling off the strings on the fretboard to create a rapid-fire series of notes that combine into a very impressive wall of noise. They often categorise themselves as “shred” guitarists and pride themselves in being able to play very fast. They are amazing to watch and listen to. But after a little while, I’m afraid that I find them, well, boring.
If I had to pick on one of them to give an example of what I think is wrong with this style of playing, I’d choose Yngwie Malmsteen. Watch his video below and you’ll notice that he makes a great show of how many different modes and arpeggios he’s about to play. He even calls it “Arpeggios From Hell”. He got that right – it’s all fine and dandy as an exercise, but I think it is too clinical and lacks emotion. Not what music should be about at all. And yes, it would be my idea of hell to be forced to listen to that nonsense for longer than 2 minutes forty-two seconds.
Anyway, have a listen and see what you think (try to ignore the bad hair and ludicrously tight trousers)…
See what I mean?
A True Guitar Hero
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find the “feel” guitarists. These guys are able to put so much emotion into so few notes using their guitars that it sends shivers down my spine whenever I listen to them. They place great store in precise intonation, emotionally loaded string bends and lead parts that often emulate the vocal part. I think that is one of the keys to the emotional content of their playing – it sounds quite like a vocal part. Examples of feel guitarists can be found in the blues masters such as B B King, and of course, one of the greatest feel players for my money – David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.
Listen to this masterful performance of the solo from Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” by David Gilmour and tell me you don’t feel the emotion coming through in his playing.
Sorry Yngwie, it ain’t you. David plays a fraction of the notes that you do but his solo has way more impact.
So which are you, technique or feel? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to explain why.