In the last blog entry I said I’d talk a little about technique as I’m asked a lot about the subject. I’d like to start off by saying that I don’t give guitar lessons, but if you catch up with me at a gig or clinic I’m usually more than happy to run through a few licks/ideas and offer any advice I’m able to.
Before I begin to talk about technique, I’d like it known that technique alone does nothing for me. I don’t find it remotely interesting to hear someone playing as fast as they can, nor weaving in and out of as many modes as possible. Neither of these constitutes great musicianship in my eye. Music for me is an emotional affair, I like music to stir my soul in one way or another, from an adrenaline rush to a deep spiritual high that send chills down my spine.
Whilst it’s undoubtedly great fun to play fast, speed out of context is pointless and silly. The obsession with speed seems to be peculiar to the electric guitar and the ‘shred’ genre as I don’t know of any other musicians; ie pianists, classical guitarists, saxophonists, cellists, etc. who are concerned with playing as fast as they can all the time. I know that Nicolo Paganini, the Romantic period violinist was renowned for his blinding speed, but – it was also well documented that he was capable of making his audience cry with his slower emotive playing.
Before learning to play fast, it’s very important to learn all the basics that are sadly neglected by some players. Tone, string control, vibrato, rhythm and finesse are lacking in many of the solos I get asked to listen to. I’ve heard countless solos by guitarists who can alternate pick a scale at speed and sweep arpeggio shapes, but this is then usually let down with uncontrolled vibrato, or out of pitch string bends, poor tone, bad rhythm playing on the backing track, etc. It’s always wise to learn to walk before running.
Often overlooked by guitarists focusing on soloing techniques, rhythm is one of the most important aspects of guitar playing and music in general for that matter. I hear many demos from aspiring instrumental guitarists who give little thought to rhythm, their rhythm guitar playing is usually surprisingly basic with just a few power chords here and there, and they have little sense of rhythm and timing whilst soloing. Practice your rhythm playing and listen to players and music with great rhythm and groove.
When you reach a certain level with your ability, you should start to hear your own style and sound developing. I don’t believe style is something that can be pre-planned, it just kind of happens on its own.
Perhaps the worst thing a guitarist can do is copy note for note solos and ideas from other guitarists without adapting them slightly. There are many players out there who sound like a mish-mash of several other players, and they have no particular style of their own. It’s perfectly ok to have a favorite guitarist, but don’t copy him/her in a parrot fashion or else you’ll just end up sounding like a cheap imitation of them.
Other common questions I get asked are about the neo-classical guitar style as I’m often associated with the genre. Although my own guitar style contains some elements of neo-classicism, I would say that my style is more a hybrid of rock, blues, fusion, flamenco and neo-classical.
Harmonic minor scales played at speed and diminished arpeggios do not constitute true ‘neo-classicism’, but if this were so, then Django Reinhardt, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia, and many other jazz and flamenco guitarists could be regarded as pioneers of this guitar style and were playing like this way before anyone in the rock world was. The fast picking of scales and arpeggios has long existed within the jazz and flamenco genres, check out some of the albums I listed in the previous blog entry below.
Whilst there are several styles within the genre, the most common neo-classical sound and style is played by guitarists who have taken elements of Ritchie Blackmore’s and Uli John Roth’s styles (but just played faster) along with some of Bach’s more basic ideas, and who focus mostly on the Baroque sound and harmonic minor scales. I agree with many that this particular sound has now become tedious and repetitious, and I think this neo-classical style should move on.
If you’re interested in neo-classical instrumental rock guitar music, then my advice would be to listen to as many composers as you can, and not necessarily just violin based music. You don’t have to focus purely on composers from the Baroque period either, I personally prefer the late Classical and Romantic periods.
I’ve listed below some of the classical music (in no particular order of importance) that most influenced me when I was young:
Paganini – Caprice 16 in G Minor
Paganini – Concerto No. 5 in A Minor (Finale - Andantino quasi Allegretto)
Schubert – Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (Allegro)
- Dvorak – Serenade For Strings in E Major (Tempo Di Valse)
Beethoven – Concerto for Violin & Orchestra in D Major (Rondo – Allegro)
J.S. Bach – Double Violin Concerto in D Minor (Vivace)
Massanet – Meditation from Thais
Sibelius – Valse Triste
Allegri – Miserere Mei, Deus
Mozart – Piano Concerto 25 in C Major (1st Movement)
My last piece of advice on this subject is that if you want to develop a neo-classical style, I would recommend you experiment with classical elements and try and come up with something fresh. There are far more possibilities within the neo-classical genre than just the key of E minor, harmonic minor scales, pedal point licks and a diminished arpeggio ;-)