Is My Technique Good?
Students I meet at workshops inspired me to write this article. They often have a very similar question. A question that seems very common, especially now that the internet has given us such a big window to see the world – and compare ourselves to other guitar players.
The question in its most basic form is: Is my technique good?
The great thing and the problem here is that this question leads to some pretty profound thought streams to explore. For most players, It's well worth giving some time to these thoughts. It can help you make personal decisions about how you spend your practice time and your aspirations.
Some guitar players base their musical output on technical ability – it seems that they base their expression around specific techniques. In these cases, it may take hundreds of hours of practice to perfect a technique with which one would base a composition.
While this type of music is unlikely to flick my switch, it is certainly a valid expression, and I'm sure that they 'feel it.' But it leads to the question of the relevance of technique in the performance of art.
Obviously, technique development to some degree or another is very important. It's good to play clean chord changes and ensure that notes are clear and without unwanted open strings ringing out. Right?
Kurt Cobain is a fun first example. Incredible songwriter, singer, performer, and guitarist, but his technical guitar skill might not be what most people would consider good! His time was solid, and that's important, but his sloppy Power Chords helped define the Nirvana sound! It also meant that his solos were quite melodic and full of passion because he had no technique to rely on. Would I recommend people to aspire to his technique? Of course not, but he was amazing.
How about David Gilmore? One of the finest guitarists to ever grace our planet, but if we compared his speed and overall technique to someone like Guthrie Govan… what makes his playing so unique? Maybe it's got nothing to do with technique? But it must do in some ways because David's bending technique is incredible. He's always in tune and never seems to struggle to express his ideas.
Maybe Eric Johnson has the answer? His technique is flawless. He has incredible tone, writes great melodic melodies, and is one of the greatest players of all time. But I've met many guitarists who don't connect with his music at all, "far too technical," they say.
Maybe Joe Bonamassa knows the answer? He can play all those burning Eric Johnson licks but usually chooses to play a lot less. Does that mean he's playing with "more emotion"? Does it mean that playing fewer notes is somehow more emotive? B.B. King says more with one note than X says with a thousand. Heard that before? So what's it all about then?
That good old joke about jazz musicians playing 10,000 chords to 4 people and pop musicians playing four chords to 10,000 people does not make either musical style less valid. They're just different, and there can be excellence and rubbish in all styles.
My conclusion is that I want my technique to be good enough to express any musical ideas that I'd like to come out of my guitar. Maybe I even aspire to make my technique a little above what I need so that the ideas I hear in my musical imagination come out smoothly and without too much effort.
However, it seems that as my technique develops, my musical ideas become more complex. The technical development journey never seems to end. But maybe that's not a bad thing.
There are no right answers to these kinds of questions; it's just food for thought.
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