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Shred Vs. Emotion

In my previous articles I talked a lot about the practical things that one can do to take their playing to the next level. In this essay I would like to discuss one common misconception that a lot of students have about the role of speed in guitar playing.

Nearly everyone who plays guitar wants to play fast. Many people spend countless hours developing their technique to virtuoso level. Speed adds elements of power and intensity to music which is why when used properly it can be a beautiful thing. Ironically, many virtuoso players such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Rusty Cooley get criticized for playing “too” fast. It is common for these high caliber players to get labeled as “shredders” and “players with no emotion”. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. When people make such claims it quickly becomes obvious that they either:

  • Do not understand that there are many DIFFERENT kinds of emotions such as (to name only a few): anger, depression, sadness, anxiety, despair, happiness, triumph, glory etc…
  • Only listen to what other people are saying and not bothering to THINK and form their own opinion on the matter.
  • Lastly (this one is most common), the people putting down great players are simply jealous because of their own lack of ability to play guitar at such a high level.

It is obvious that we do not live our lives in one dimension. Emotions that we feel as human beings manifest themselves in so many different ways. It is only natural that they should be expressed in different ways through music. Which is why some players choose to play hyper fast at times (or maybe even most of the time). Oddly enough, you never hear about BB King or Eric Clapton getting criticized for playing too slow. So what is going on here? It is simple, these players (Clapton, BB King, or Rusty Cooley to name just 3) have found a way to express what they want to say and they kept on doing it. For some musicians it may require a great amount of technical skill, while others may be perfectly content with more modest levels of ability because it is enough for their needs. Moreover, various emotions need to be expressed in different ways. Hence the need for different techniques in playing and musical ability. A slow blues bend has emotion WITHIN ITS CONTEXT but so does a lightning fast solo. The music is expressive and carries emotion when the performer feels something while playing the music. My friend Tom Hess who happens to be a virtuoso player himself states that “generally people who cannot shred at a virtuoso level will not be able to understand the emotion behind the shred (although some may)” So what does this mean? It means that the emotion IS there, and it is up to the listener to learn to hear it WITHIN THE CONTEXT.

Of course most of the people that criticize virtuoso players and their music, are wannabe shredders themselves who are frustrated with their lack of progress and ability. This criticism of speed in guitar playing is nothing more than an excuse for laziness and mediocrity. Such people, instead of practicing their instrument would rather try to convince others that they are great because they play with more emotion than the virtuosos. If you think about this, it becomes clear how absolutely ridiculous these claims are. If you have technical ability to play at the speed of light, it does not mean that you should play super fast all of the time. However, it is obvious that having superior technical skill will allow one to express various emotions more perfectly. So speed definitely does not negatively affect the amount of emotion in music, if anything it only adds to it!

Furthermore, not everybody has to like shred guitar music (it is obviously not for everybody to like, just like no single style of music is), yet for some reason it is often the most criticized style. So what would a reasonable person do after having listened to a CD in a style that he/she is not able to appreciate? It is simple; DON’T listen to that style if you don’t like the music. Spend your time listening to the music that inspires you. Yet some people choose instead to criticize other players who have spent years mastering the instrument and invested thousands of dollars into releasing an original CD. And most of the time the critics themselves are far from being qualified to make a judgment of the music in question (or any music). It is unheard of for virtuosos such as Vinnie Moore or George Bellas to criticize other “shredders” or put down any other style of music and these musicians are obviously much more qualified to state their opinions on music than the average critic who has little to no musical credentials. So the lesson to be learned here is this: If the critic is from the “wannabe shredder” group, he should simply practice some more and eventually attain the same level of mastery. (and he will inevitably gain a much greater appreciation for virtuoso guitar playing) And if the critic belongs to the second group who simply are not able to understand the music, then the answer is to stop listening to the music and listen to something else. It is a simple solution to a seemingly complex problem.

One reason why I chose to write about this topic is because I think that such insecure criticisms and immature put downs of virtuoso guitar music are part of the reason why great guitar playing is generally not recognized and appreciated in the mainstream music as it should be.

So I hope that you will walk away after reading this article with a greater appreciation for this underground style of music or at least having learned a new way of looking at and thinking about the subject of expression in music.

For further reading, check out this column by the Insane Guitar Webmaster Joel Wanasek titled: “Guitar Player Etiquette 101

You can contact me at mikephilippov@yahoo.com I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I reply to all e-mails.

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©2005 Mike Philippov All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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