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Technique Vs. Composition: The Guitarist's Blindspot?


elctmist

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Serious thread for a change.

 

It often seems to me that guitarists -- particularly rock-based guitarists -- either have good writing skills or great technical skills but not both.

 

Is there something about guitar culture that promotes this division? It doesn't seem to apply so starkly to other instrumentalists.

 

A quick illustration of my point. Check this video:

 

http://www.zippyvideos.com/5681785161088116/adam_fulara-goldberg_no_1/

 

Pretty impressive, especially if you've never seen people playing things like the chapman stick. But wouldn't have been even more impressive if the kid had played something he'd written himself?

 

Maybe that's the nub of it? By the time you've dedicated that much time and effort to learning to play like that you pick vehicles that show off your talents?

 

I'm aware this is a generalization and there's plenty of players that fall between the two camps but do you think you have to make a choice somewhere along the line?

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hmmm....
well, for the past several decades there has been a deliberate choice on the part of guitarists to be "rough around the edges." this is an approach taken for the most part from blues musicians (even though many of those were quite slick players). in many cases the "rough around the edges" approach was chosen to counterbalance the slick song-writing. examples: neil young, elliot smith, sonic youth, the stones, etc.

of course, that only addresses one part of your question.

your example is really an extreme, but to follow it through, i'll simply say that technique doesn't matter to me. now before conclusions are jumped, let me also say that if you're going to play j.s. bach you better do it pretty damn well cuz you have a lot of competition. but if you write the most beautiful song in the world and it's a 2-chord vamp, i don't care if you can play j.s. bach.

in short:

all the technique you need is what's required to play what you want to play most effectively.

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Guitar is one of the few instruments that has no common structure by which the instrument is learned. It isn't taught in lessons or classes, and the books that are available on the subject generally suck. Consequently, there is no real focus or method for how to learn good technique. The few guitarists that learn it often spend so much time working on the emulation process that they forget to (or elect not to) work on other aspects of their musicianship. Additionally, much of the best technical guitar playing has been done on some of the worst tunes ever. There are plenty of guitarists out there who spend so much time trying to cop another George Lynch lick that they forget to listen to...y'know...good music.

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most guitarists are guitar-players who may or may not go on to become musicians. the same is not true of most other instruments.

moreover, rock (and it's sub-genres), is one of the few forms of modern music where it is still considered cool to be musicallay illiterate.

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There is a certain attitude among guitarists to make music a competition, and that is the worst thing you could ever do to music. Someone ask Miles Davis or Wayne Shorter if the best sax player is the one who plays the fastest lines. That's complete bs.

Guitarist are also the only musicians who are permanently comparing and laughing about others. "Haha, look at him he plays a Crate" or "That dumbass can't even play the Enter Sandman Solo". Also the only ones that would run into a music store to show off their skills.

I went to a music store once to check out some guitars with a friend. Some kid was playing Enter Sandman in the amp room. My friend thought that kid sucked at it so he grabbed an ESP, ran into the amp room, fired up the Rectifier and blew away that kid, who was trying to check out a little H&K combo.

See what I mean? There is some kind of codex... no it is even a battle. I know I am exaggerating and that sure does not count for every guitarist. But there is so much hate and arrogance.. all that energy could better be put into just the music.


Technique vs. composition... Why is John Petrucci considered to be such a great soloist? I know he did good stuff. But most of his soloing is completely boring to me... the faster the better, just many parts which don't belong together in any musical sense. There are a few solos of his which are awesome. But all that extreme sweeping stuff etc. just for the sake of being fast. I used to dig that but I don't get the point. It's mechanical ability and he masters it, I respect him for that. But music is NOT mechanical ability. Bach and Mozart did music on a paper. And on the paper fast lines are only a stylistic device and NOT the end in itself.

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Originally posted by Metal-Militia

See what I mean? There is some kind of codex... no it is even a battle. I know I am exaggerating and that sure does not count for every guitarist. But there is so much hate and arrogance.. all that energy could better be put into just the music.





yepper!;)

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Playing fast is fun. It's facinating to watch your fingers do things that look impossible, and doubly bizarre to find yourself able to do those thing while not watching.

The problem is when such a person is in the right place at the right time to, you know, get a record contract, or maybe hang out with Frank Zappa for a while.

I dodged that bullet...

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I think it's easy to get in to the technical stuff because after the honeymoon period of learning guitar your playing ability tends to plateau, so you think 'hmm i should learn to finger tap now'.

Not many people realise that theres much to be said about playing steady rhythms or writing good songs. Also the most important rule of all 'less is more'.

If you want to know how good someone is at either composition or technique give them an acoustic guitar.

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Originally posted by alex_law

The problem is when such a person is in the right place at the right time to, you know, get a record contract, or maybe hang out with Frank Zappa for a while.




Well Zappa said he hates this kind of soloing. He said it was like watching someone masturbating. :D

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well most wankers are either 1)wankers from the start, those who admire other wankers and aspire to meedly meedly all the live-long day, and basically play what sounds and looks "cool", ooor 2)they start out genuinely wanting to express themselves and play music, learn how to two-hand tap and go "wow, this is much cooler" and decide to learn more technicality and become more skill-based... and it doesn't go much deeper than that. and some guitarists who are really inspired sometimes only choose to go as far as their inspiration takes them, and are too worried about becoming wankers to study theory and lose their perspective on the emoting and soul in music.

the problem is there are lots of ppl who don't fall into either category, but others don't perceive those who encompass both aspects of musicianship to be very technically skilled, just bc they're more pragmatic in their approach as to what to utilize musically, as in... not much tapping and sweep arpeggios

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for myself, i don't like tapping cause for it nothing more than wanking. so i refused to learn it....

...but as someone said (i think it was guitar world or so), david gilmour propavly can express more in 5 notes than malmsteen can in 100, but both are genius guitar players

so wanking is not my style, i'm more the "little is more" guy

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Interesting thread.
IMO I and experience it's easy to get "boxed in" by the guitar because of the way it has been used in popular music.
I mean, the first way you try to "solo" is usually a blues based pentatonic scale (actually it's pretty prevalent in many cultures) and you bend and try to make it sound "right" to you which is usually based on what you've heard growing up. There is nothing wrong with that, since that just means that the music is part of your culture- but listen to something like West African guitar players and HOW they use the instrument- not just what they are playing, but their sense of rhythm and the way the guitar fits into ensemble playing. They grow up hearing the guitar differently.

That said, I am not a "real" guitar player- I played bass in all the bands I was in (although I've been playing guitar now for nearly 25 years!! as well :eek: ) But I'm not that good IMO.
I can't really solo and aI don't really know exactly what I'm doing- but having said that (and not to sing my own praises :bor: )
Many of my guitar playing friends have complemented me on my guitar parts (when writing songs) because of their sheer simplicity and what they consider to be unexpected because I'm not coming from years of actually trying to get "good" on the instrument- however, I often wish I could just go off in a solo and do things that would make me proud...something unusual...something like an ANdy Summers excursion or some Alex Lifeson phrasing (honestly Alex's solos are rather odd) or even some Hendrixian psychedelic blues based madness- I sure wish I could do that sometimes...

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It's much more comfortable psychologically speaking to judge yourself by relatively objective standards like speed and other technical skills than by the relatively more subjective things like songwriting ability.

You have to rely more on yourself to define your worth as a musician than if you choose to focus on technical ability, which can be quantified much more easily...

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Originally posted by elctmist

It often seems to me that guitarists -- particularly rock-based guitarists -- either have good writing skills or great technical skills but not both.


Is there something about guitar culture that promotes this division? It doesn't seem to apply so starkly to other instrumentalists.



There surely is a syndrome of "getting locked" in technique as soon as you have reached a certain point. Nearly all guitarists I know personally, including myself, once they got to play fast they have some problems slowing down. Same with specific tecnhiques: I had a problem with artificial harmonics in my early days of playing, because when I discovered how to do them easily, I started doing them way too often.

Furthermore, creative skills cannot be learned, writing talent can be enhanced in certain ways, but IMHO it cannot really be learned if you don't have it.
Skill talent instead can be always learned, provided you dedicate yourself to it, even if you have zero at start.
So those who have little creative talent (myself), end up choosing the other path and stick to playing covers (or they should ;) ).

Why isn't it the same for other instruments? Certainly not because of the instrument, but because of the culture. Guitar still has the aura of "coolness" which attracts the largest number of kids compared to other instruments, and creates the competition culture mentioned before.

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Originally posted by incubass

It's much more comfortable psychologically speaking to judge yourself by relatively objective standards like speed and other technical skills than by the relatively more subjective things like songwriting ability.


You have to rely more on yourself to define your worth as a musician than if you choose to focus on technical ability, which can be quantified much more easily...

 

 

 

Good point! Didn't think of it this way...

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I don't think it's a guitar thing.

Music is hard. Very, very difficult. To really pull off something on the guitar with great technique and a really great sound and all takes a lot of concentration. It's very difficult, and takes up a lot of brain, and when you're really doing it right, you have to concentrate so hard that you can't even turn your memory on. Ask someone to tell you about their best performance ever and they'll just say "it was really great," but ask them about their worst and you'll get a whole litany of details and a long story. Try it sometime. It's true. So, playing guitar technically well is really hard.

It's also really hard to write music. And kind of mysterious, too. Ask most people how they write music and they say weird stuff like "I start with the lyrics" or "I don't know, I just do," or "I try to avoid parallel fifths." And I've never seen anyone actually write something from scratch at, say, a party. Because it takes up all of your brain and you need to be alone to concentrate.

Anyway, different people have different brains, and different things they want to pay attention to. It's okay by me, I like Charles Parker and Dizzy Gillespie both fine, even though Parker never wrote anything from scratch and Gillespie played trumpet just like Roy Eldridge.

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Originally posted by elctmist

Serious thread for a change.


It often seems to me that guitarists -- particularly rock-based guitarists -- either have good writing skills or great technical skills but not both.


Is there something about guitar culture that promotes this division? It doesn't seem to apply so starkly to other instrumentalists.


A quick illustration of my point. Check this video:




Pretty impressive, especially if you've never seen people playing things like the chapman stick. But wouldn't have been even more impressive if the kid had played something he'd written himself?


Maybe that's the nub of it? By the time you've dedicated that much time and effort to learning to play like that you pick vehicles that show off your talents?


I'm aware this is a generalization and there's plenty of players that fall between the two camps but do you think you have to make a choice somewhere along the line?

 

 

What about the possibility that super fast/flashy playing just doesn't = good song writing? So therefore they can't really fit all that well? I'm not saying that's the answer, just an arguement one could use.

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Originally posted by ginnboonmiller


And I've never seen anyone actually write something from scratch at, say, a party. Because it takes up all of your brain and you need to be alone to concentrate.

 

 

I did that once with some friends - then we "performed" it. Yeah....that song didn't turn out so well.

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My sister plays Viola in a college orchestra. She can play licks that I can barely comprehend let a lone play. Most people would probably consider her to be a "technically" better musician than me. Myself included.
However, the concept of writing songs is completely foreign to her. As is "jamming" or even improvising. In these areas she finds herself jealous of me and the freedom that I have w/music.

Also related to this topic is the fact that (severe and worsening) cts has slowed me down a lot and has greatly reduced my stamina. Being a little leary of the surgery, I decided to make some stylistic changes w/a new emphasis on phrasing and note choice. Even though I can no longer physically play much of my older stuff, many long-time fans of my band tell me I've never sounded better.

BTW...I would love to hear from anybody who has had cts surgery.

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Yeah, a lot of guys are attracted to guitar because it's loud fast and exciting. We hear it in rock as kids and say "that's badass."

I think there's too much shame associated with not being able to write. Everyone has this idea that if someone is able to play guitar they should write songs. It doesn't really make sense all the time. If you play guitar all it means is you play guitar. People talk about how a guitarist isn't good but he can write great songs, but the opposite I hear complaining all the time "well yeah, but can he write a good song?" Well..{censored} if I know, he's a guitarist. He may not be able to sing or play drums either. But he's here to play guitar, so there you go. Then those guitarists feel pressure and they end up writing bad music and it just perpetuates the problem.


Although I would also argue that someone who is very much into Petrucci's soloing is probably very much into his compositions and would argue that he's a great songwriter. (I guess..I have no idea if he writes songs or not.)


I hear a lot of people going on about "wanking" but I think it may be hard to agree what wanking really is. Playing a solo? Playing a fast solo? Playing a solo that is meant as a showpiece and not to enhance the music. I probably disagree with most people here on what does and doesn't compliment a song.

But equally annoying to my ears as someone wanking is like when you listen to a lot of pop, nashville country, and there are these fantastic guitarists, musicians in general that are just filling these records and songs with the perfect licks here and there. Yeah, I get it with the perfect licks. You can play them, I know them. They're boring. They can compliment the music..but use sparingly.

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Originally posted by t_e_l_e

for myself, i don't like tapping cause for it nothing more than wanking. so i refused to learn it....


...but as someone said (i think it was guitar world or so), david gilmour propavly can express more in 5 notes than malmsteen can in 100, but both are genius guitar players


so wanking is not my style, i'm more the "little is more" guy

 

 

 

That's something I hear guitarists say all the time. It makes no sense, we're not trying to win a government contract here, we're saying Malmsteen plays with more notes. He plays faster. Gilmour's no more efficient than Yngwie Malmsteen, he just plays slower.

 

I notice people start getting real edgy when you start talking about non guitarists though. So can David Gilmour express more with 5 notes than John Coltrane could in 100? If so then why did he play so many notes?

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Originally posted by ginnboonmiller

To really pull off something on the guitar with great technique and a really great sound and all takes a lot of concentration. It's very difficult, and takes up a lot of brain, and when you're really doing it right, you have to concentrate so hard that you can't even turn your memory on. Ask someone to tell you about their best performance ever and they'll just say "it was really great," but ask them about their worst and you'll get a whole litany of details and a long story. Try it sometime. It's true. So, playing guitar technically well is really hard.



:thu:

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Originally posted by Thelonius

I notice people start getting real edgy when you start talking about non guitarists though. So can David Gilmour express more with 5 notes than John Coltrane could in 100? If so then why did he play so many notes?

 

 

Context. Coltrane played behind Miles Davis and in front of Elvin Jones. Yngwie plays behind a man with no testes and in front of a man who spends his spare time studying the finer points of the percussion stylings of Tommy Aldridge.

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