Ever since I can remember, guitar players and their fans have had a love affair with just how fast someone can play. To be honest, I really have never been able to understand the basis of this assessment of a musician's value, because technical skill is only one piece of the entire pie. I'd like to spend this edition of "Coach's Corner" elaborating on this issue, and share some pearls of wisdom (as I often do) from my late father.
First of all, I'm a firm believer that the development and efficient use of technique is critical to successful performance. Unfortunately, the pursuit of technique itself is often over-emphasized, with the final result being a player with phenomenal speed who simply says nothing "memorable" when playing. This is analogous to someone speaking so fast that you can't understand what's being said. The irony here is that the player may indeed have something significant to say, but the "quest for speed" gets in the way of musical communication.
Okay, first line from my dad. Pop used to tell me "Son, if you can't walk away from a club humming the solo you just heard, it wasn't worth remembering!" In retrospect, this is so true. Like any other player, I find myself impressed with all aspects of another guitarist's ability, including their technical prowess and speed. But while I may be initially knocked-out by the speed factor, that impression is always short-lived if I'm given a diet of it for too long. "In one ear and out the other" is how the saying goes?
One observation that I should point out is that all of my favorite players do possess tremendous technique and speed, but the key factor is that it doesn't come across that way. The speed never gets in the way of the "message," because the skill wasn't attained at the expense of being "musical." This, to me, is real technique. You don't even notice how fast the artist is, because the more important dynamics are stressed instead.
Time for line two. Pop would say "You guitarists are so consumed with how fast you can play. Remember, speed often hides a multitude of sin!"
I often ponder how great it was that my father was a horn player (trombone), because the obvious need to "take-a-breath" between ideas simply leads to superior phrasing and a more conversant style. I think that's why he took the time to make those observations to me. The funny thing is that Pop always felt that he had technical shortcomings and limitations as a trombonist, though if he did no one was ever aware of them. He also told me to work very hard at my technical ability, so that I would never have to use one hundred percent of it to accomplish the task at hand.
Now a good "coach" never likes to leave his players in the dark regarding their musical "game plan," so as I conclude this article, let me leave you with some solid advice and tips:
As I've mentioned in the past, avoid abstraction in your daily practice habits. Make music your technique, not the other way around. Replace anything in your current review that you wouldn't perform for someone. If you must practice redundant finger exercises, assign them a very small percentage of your overall study time. Remember, you are what you practice! Ciao for now...
"Coach's Corner" is an ongoing addition to Vision Music. The purpose of these brief articles is to share philosophy, offer practical insights, and to enhance your musical studies.
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