Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Excellence - The New Black?

 So, continuing on my theme of linking current events to guitar playing philosophy (no matter how tenuously!) - we're basking in the glow of frankly astonishing Olympic success while the Paralympic boys and girls are midway through repeating the feat, showing just how far it is possible to push the human body. Excellence and achievement is very much IN – and it's beautiful to see!

So what does this mean for us guitar players? Well, maybe it's a generational thing – I learned to play in the mid 90s when guitar playing was reacting against the perceived excesses of the 80s and the idea of “too much technique” was in fashion.. Guitar solos with “too many notes” were sneered at and a generation of guitar players were raised with the notion of “playing for the song”..

Which, to be fair, is not a bad idea. But it did swing a little too far- players like Noel Gallagher and John Squire did a fine job supporting the songs with carefully crafted melodic rhythm parts and guitar solos, but then pretty much anyone who could string two power chords together was lauded as the new “anti-hero”. Being good at your instrument was deemed “uncool” by the music press, and with it the idea of exploring the potential of the guitar, learning and understanding technique and theory became viewed as something to apologise for.

Happily, as with all fashions, they are fleeting and through the early Noughties we saw a resurgence in guitar virtuosity, particularly with the runaway success of unashamed hair metal renegades The Darkness making solos cool again, and players like Andy McKee and Newton Faulkner breathed new life into the acoustic guitar, building on the legacy of underground geniuses like Michael Hedges :

 With the internet giving exposure to bands an artists who might never have had a chance at being heard in the mainstream, we seem to be hitting a point where a player like Tosin Abasi is as widely known as Taylor Swift, and his talent and dedication to his craft can serve as an inspiration to another generation.

So the point of all this? There's room for both – if you just want to chug power chords or view the guitar simply as a tool for writing songs, fair play to you. But don't underestimate the player who's chosen to research his or her instrument a little deeper, in order to find alternate voicings for those chords, create riffs or textural parts to enhance those songs. And don't assume that just because they know their scales they're going to widdle tastelessly all over your prized musical creation – a truly good player understands the tools at their disposal and uses them according to the situation. Arpeggios, for example – you can use them to burn like Malmsteen: 

 or soar like Gilmour:

Technique, then isn't simply the pursuit of being able to play lots of notes really fast. It's about being able to size up the song and find exactly the right part to enhance it, whether it's a blistering face-melter solo or a subtle textural part composed of interesting alternative chord voicings – and then being able to play that part well. Consider, for example, “Sweet Child O' Mine” - and imagine it without the intro. Technique makes it possible to play that part, and you can't argue that the song would be poorer without it.

Next post, we'll be discussing how we can apply this approach to theory to help develop that most elusive of qualities – feel. Till then, keep pursuing excellence and be proud of it!