Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Op-Ed Piece: Is There More to Being a Good Guitar Player Than Shredding?
When I first started playing guitar a decade ago, I wanted to be the next big guitar hero like many teens who pick up the axe. I had dreams of learning all the scales, chords, techniques, etc. and being on the same shred level as greats like Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Buckethead, etc. Over the years as I progressed in my learning and playing however, I came to realize that there is a lot more to guitar than just being the fastest and most technically inclined.
Let's back up a little bit, though. I grew up with a HEAVY leaning towards blues based rock n' roll from an early age. I was inundated with Motown, soul, 50's rock n' roll, etc. Stuff like James Brown, Elvis Presley, The Jackson Five, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, etc. As I started to get a bit older though I became starstruck by the likes of bands like AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, etc.
Those are the bands I started listening to ALL the time. The blues had essentially become ingrained in the very core and every fiber of my ever living being. When I finally picked up guitar at the age of 16 that was the kind of music I primarily leaned towards even though I had the desire to become some world renowned guitar virtuoso. All of the songs I was learning were based in the blues in some way or another, whether they were classic rock, punk, metal, or any other genre.
That said, that's not to say I didn't learn to play fast at all. After a few years I learned quite a few hot licks and patterns that I could execute at a respectable speed. Got me noticed by quite a few of my peers around the area. Some of it was positive, some not so much. That's a whole other story, though. That said, they were primarily in the style that I had come to love over the course of my entire life.
As I got older I got a bit bored of listening to the same bands over and over again. I decided to venture outside my box a little bit and discovered a handful of newer bands that were actually to my like, such as: The Black Keys, The White Stripes/Jack White, Rival Sons, etc. These bands over time also began to have a noticeable impact on my style of playing. It was still the blues, but just a different way of playing it.
What I began to notice though was one thing these bands had in common: simplicity. Some of the sounds they made might seem wild and out there, but the technique and playing itself was rather simplistic. It was a million miles a second like the guitar wizards I mentioned earlier, but it was still mind blowing. It wasn't because of how much technique they had down or how much speed they had, but because of the way they could take something so simple and make it sound so unchained and expressive; unlike anything I'd ever heard before.
These guitar players would make a straightforward riff or lick that might have been boring before come sparkling with new life in the kinds of layers of sound they added onto it either through amplifiers, pedals, modifications on the actual guitars, or some other method. It made me realize that there was a whole side to this instrument I'd spent the entirety of my adult life learning that I had never fathomed before. It was something I could latch onto as firmly as a clamp.
Getting back to the present, I've learned as a player that it is more about nuance, expression, and engaging your listeners rather than trying to learn every last musical technique and bit of theory that ever existed. As long as you have been honest in your playing, entertained your audience, and left them something worth remembering then you have done your job as a musician. You can learn all the technical stuff and become super robot fast if you want if that's really your thing, but it isn't necessary.