Is My Technique Good?

This column was inspired by a couple of students I met up with recently that has a very similar question which seems to be very common, especially now that the internet has given us all such a big window to see the world and other guitar players.

So the question in the most basic form is: Is my technique good?

The great thing (and the problem) with this question is that it leads to some pretty profound thought streams to explore, for most players it’s well worth giving some time to it and making some personal decisions regarding practice time and aspirations. 

There are some guitar players who base their musical output on technical ability. I’m sure they ‘feel’ it, but it would seem that the basis for their expression is formed around specific techniques, which may take hundreds of hours of practice to perfect. While this type of music is unlikely to flick my switch is certainly valid expression, 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 notes that are clear and without 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 good! His time was solid, and that’s important, but his sloppy Power Chords really helped define the Nirvana sound (laying the 3rd finger slightly to flat so sometime String 4 rings out the 4th on a root 6 Power Chord!). 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 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… so what makes his playing so special? Maybe it’s got nothing to do with technique? But it must do in some ways because David’s bending technique is awesome and 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 for sure 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 really mean that playing less notes is somehow more emotive? BB 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 own personal 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 actually I aspire to make my technique to be a little above what I need so that the ideas come out smoothly and without too much effort. However, it seems as my technique develops, so do my musical ideas develop more complexity, and so the technical development journey never seems to end. But maybe that’s not a bad thing either?

There are no right answers to these kinds of questions; it’s just food for thought. 

Food For Thought