Every month, Justin Sandercoe of justinguitar.com lends GT his insight as one of the world’s most successful guitar teachers. This month: Is My Technique Good?
Food For Thought, Session Shenanigans, Jam Tracks tips, That Was The Year, Phil Hilborne’s One-Minute Lick and more.
Acouple of students recently had a question that’s very common, now the Internet has given us such a big window to see so many other guitar players. Their question is basically this: Is my technique good?
This question leads to some pretty profound thought streams to explore, and for most players it’s well worth giving it some time and making some decisions regarding practice time and aspirations.
There are some players who base their output on technical ability. I’m sure they ‘feel’ it but it would seem their expression is formed around specific techniques, which may take 100s of hours’ practice to perfect. While this type of music is unlikely to flick my switch it’s certainly valid, but it leads to the question of technique in the performance of art.
Obviously development vital. It’s good to play clean chord changes and notes that are clear and without open strings ringing. But look at Kurt Cobain. Incredible writer, singer and performer, but his technical skill might not be what most people would call ‘good’. His time was solid but his sloppy power chords really helped define the Nirvana sound (laying the 3rd finger slightly too flat so sometimes the fourth string rings out the 4th on a root-5th power chord). But his solos were melodic and passionate because he had no great technique to rely on. Would I recommend you aspire to Kurt’s level of technique? Of course not, but he was amazing.
How about David Gilmour? One of the finest guitarists to ever grace our planet, but if we compared his speed and overall technique to someone like Guthrie Govan… So what makes his playing so special? Maybe it’s got nothing to do with technique? But it must in some ways because David’s bending is awesome, he’s always in tune and never struggles to express his ideas.
Maybe Eric Johnson has the answer (see p9)? His technique is flawless, he has incredible tone, writes great melodic melodies and is one of the greatest players of all time. But I’ve met many guitarists who don’t connect with his music. “Far too technical,” they say. Maybe Joe Bonamassa knows the answer? He can play all those burning Eric Johnson licks but usually chooses to play a lot less. Does that mean he’s playing with ‘more emotion’? Does it really mean that playing fewer notes is somehow more emotive? “BB King says more with one note than ‘X’ says with a thousand.” Heard that before? So what’s it all about then?
That good old joke about jazz musicians playing 10,000 chords to four people and pop musicians playing four chords to 10,000 people does not make either musical style less valid. They’re just different and there’s excellence and rubbish in all genres.
My personal conclusion is that I want my technique to be good enough to express any musical ideas that I’d like to come out of my guitar. Maybe I aspire to make my technique a little above what I need so that the ideas come out smoothly and without too much effort. But as my technique develops, my musical ideas develop more complexity, so the technical development journey never seems to end. But maybe that’s not a bad thing either?
There’s no right or wrong - it’s just food for thought!
Justin asks, “How good do we really need to be as guitar players?”