A Different Approach
Well, I’m back. Excuse my prolonged absence from this hallowed electronic tome, I’ve been on a bit of a musical journey trying to finish everything I’ve started – basically a backlog of twenty uncompleted tracks. Sure some are bull, some are great, and some need a LOT of work to reach their potential, but its worth it – or at least will be – when its all done. However, this process kind of inspired my column this month, when it dawned on me that most ‘shredders’ rarely progress to become musicians, let alone artists. I haven’t done this type of written column before, and usually bombard you lot with eight finger tapping licks, but without sounding overly pretentious, let me explain…
First, a little fun. Lets compare two guitarists; guitarist A and guitarist B. Guitarist A is none other than the talented Mr Steve Vai, basking in his glory as one of the most highly acclaimed guitarists in the world; while guitarist B is the average internet bedroom ‘bad ass’ shredder, who has good technique too. Thinking carefully, can we spot the difference? While most of you may be laughing at the obviousness of this silly task, I really think it’s an overlooked situation. Stripping commercial success away, one can look back at young Vai’s ‘Flexible’ album, and, without any difficulty, see that it is a work of art – original, emotional, powerful. It is a display of music, channelled through creativity, driven by technical grasp of the guitar. And perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to be a guitarist to appreciate it. Next, we take ‘Shred Guitar Licks Vol. 1’ by guitarist B (who calls himself ‘King Shred Bad-Ass’ or something equally amusing on-line). Well… a barrage of repetitive pentatonic licks, a few Malmsteen-esque harmonic minor runs later and a poor excuse for a ‘chorus’ which is nothing more than an uninspiring melody double-tracked, and even the most committed guitarist has to switch off before their ears bleed. Maybe this has offended some people reading this, but those people know without a shadow of a doubt its undeniably true; a lot of lead guitarists have little real musical ability or creativity, let alone the power to create truly phenomenal works.
Technique becomes a substitute for anything of real musical value.
People sometimes ask me why there hasn’t been a new successful instrumental guitarist in over a decade; while the description above is obviously not the situation in every case, thanks to rivers of musical crud, ‘shred’ has developed the certain reputation for mindlessness that make most people sneer at it without a genuine listen – and to be honest, can one blame them? Do a search on the internet – for every thousand Malmsteen wannabe’s, there is only one guitarist of any true original talent that totally blows the other nine hundred and ninety nine away. And the chances of this fine player being noticed and taken to their full potential is… well… little. Shred should be used as a vessel to channel musical and creative ideas – I recently went to a Joe Satriani concert for his Strange Beautiful Music tour, and let me tell you this – even with the smallest amount of promotion, it was a sold-out UK tour with an audience of every age group. From old beardy rockers to middle aged women, to the fifteen-year old with the Slipknot t-shirt, it shows that good music really does transcend all age and genre groups.
So. We understand now that we aren’t the great musicians we think we are. We can’t write a good song, we can’t pen a good melody, but we can shred… what now? Well, one technique that seems to work is visualisation. Instead of sitting down with a guitar in our laps, adamant to write a hit, fiddling with familiar patterns and clichéd licks… try putting that six string away, and thinking of how you want your music to sound. Lets take a solo – many great songs have shit solo’s that don’t do anything for the rest of an otherwise superb song. Instead of saying to oneself, “well I like sweeping, lets sweep away to merry hell”, try thinking of how that would sound in context instead of recording the first set of notes that pour from your able fingers. Be humble, objective, consider the note choices and how it will all sound to a listener. Most shredders are self-indulgent, and I admit I have been no exception to that in the past, but again without trying to sound pretentious, I feel I have moved from that, and tried my very best to form a complete sonic picture with my newer material that totally fits together without sounding repetitive or self gratifying. In any case, nothing is worse than hearing a solo that portrays great technique for the sake of it. Visualise a blueprint of your masterpiece, even individual notes in faster runs, and how everything fits together. You might find that some parts work best with simpler sections to them, highlighted and contrasted dynamically with a more complex part that shows a greater level of musical ability to progress without sounding repetitive. Think of cadences, crescendos, subtleties, extremities that when formed together create a work of art that does not rely on overkill tapping, sweeping or picked sections… blend it all together, here and there, to really come up with something sonically interesting. Best of all perhaps, because you have technique, you are then able to recreate these ideas physically and make your wildest musical visions manifest themselves into songs and solo’s that you otherwise would never have been able to create… you may find the results of such a process revolutionary, and the next step in your musical development.
Contending such an article, I can only say that good music is always relative, so don’t be afraid to accept criticism from others who can’t see whatever genius is behind your latest work – it could even be that they are right, and musically, you have not created anything special. Though this is a negative thing for any musician to say, my point is that over time such a process will develop, just like writing stories, you will have better, grander, ideas that are aching to break free from the confines of your head. You may find many subtle influences that aren’t normally a part of your playing style creep forward as you become less involved in trying to create a specific style or sound – invariably, you will create something far more original if you listen to the little voices inside your head, telling you that something sounds right or wrong. Other than that, good luck, and I am keen to hear of any developments any of you might have utilising such a method. As for my music, I’ve started work on new material that truly is my very best to date that I simply can’t wait for you to hear – many of the tracks are completed but need copyrighting and vocals, so if anyone reading this is interested in singing on some cool weird new stuff and lives in Leeds or Lancaster in the UK, mail me!!!!