Every month, Justin Sandercoe of justinguitar.com lends GT his insight as one of the world’s most successful guitar teachers. In his third column, Justin asks: “Do you feel it?”
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Being a first-hand purveyor of online ‘debate’ (and trolling!) one of the more common arguments I see is over ‘feel’ and ‘soul’ of certain guitarists – do those who play fewer notes, have more ‘feel’ than those who play a lot of notes? Does it matter?
Please note that this is just food for thought (not concrete) and there are many areas in between and beyond. There are a few interesting thought streams to explore here though – and a good one to start with is what ‘expression’ means in a musical sense. When you ‘hear’ a musical idea in your head (or heart, or wherever it is you feel it) and can make those sounds come out of your instrument, then you are expressing yourself in a pure form (and we’ll be exploring this concept in much more depth in a future article).
However, it is equally valid to express yourself using the physical motions of playing guitar to release your energy, anger or feeling. For some people the physical thrashing out of some chords (in a punk rock band) might have a similarly satisfying release as banging your fist on a table in frustration, and it would be arrogant to think that a blues or jazz guitar player that ‘hears’ his licks is any ‘more an artist’ than someone who gives it all they’ve got in a different way.
It’s also valid to express ‘intellectual stimulation’ of complex ideas, some kind of concept that has been practised and refined and is then brought forward in a musical composition to be admired and ‘understood’ by those that ‘get it’ – maybe this idea could be considered a bit elitist but is again equally valid expression.
And then there’s interpreting written music (such as classical guitar), which can be technically simple or incredibly difficult, and it is the job of the performer to breathe life into the dots on the page. I found studying and performing classical guitar to be one of the most effective ways of ‘learning to express myself’ which I found had a positive impact on everything else I played. What I found was that, when you have set (written) notes to play you have to find other ways to project your expression through the music (dynamics, time, touch and tone, just to start with) which can enhance your playing in any style. To pick some popular favourites, I think that we should appreciate Neil Young’s passionate raw solos as much as BB King’s tasteful melodies; John Scofield’s complex, angular jazz lines or Joe Satriani’s technical mastery. They are all ‘expressive artists’ with vastly different technical abilities, but what matters is that they say something and mean it, which makes for music that connects with many people.
We all feel music differently, and that is what makes us unique and beautiful – there are no right or wrong ‘answers’ here, just lots of questions. Sometimes thinking and debating such things with yourself or your friends can lead to profound personal insights. So how do you express yourself? Are you aware of what methods you use? How they make you feel? Is it worth exploring others? Of course it is!
Safe travels. J.
when you have written notes to play you have to find other ways to project your expression
Justin asks us: “What is expression?”