Music Versus Technique

Music Versus Technique

Think about this. Would you rather have someone come up to you after a gig and say: 

“I love your music.” 

or

“You are an awesome guitar player.” 

Both are compliments and good things. But the first comment focuses on the music you made (artistry), and the second comment focuses on your guitar playing ability (technique.)

Having good technique should make it easier to make good music and get the first compliment. But good technique doesn’t guarantee good music. And if technique is the focus of a performance, artistry can suffer. 

There is certainly nothing wrong with striving for good technique. I think every guitarist should try to be the best player, technically, he or she can. Many of my favorite guitar players have awesome technique (Phil Keaggy and Jeff Beck are good examples.) However, they mainly use their technique to serve the music — not the opposite.

For some players, however, technique becomes the goal and music is often written or chosen to show off their technique. We’ve all seen players blazing up and down the fretboard in an endless barrage of notes. Or doing some form of guitar gymnastics. It is quite impressive — for a few minutes. Yet after it’s over I usually don’t remember a thing that was played. It’s all technique for technique’s sake. Nothing to grab hold of and remember, or want to hear again. 

There are appropriate times to do a little “showing off.” It can be exciting. But if displays of technique is the only focus of the music, it gets old fast. For me anyway. 

A good question to ask yourself is: Am I playing this song to reach people with the music, or to show them how good a guitar player I am? If it’s the later, you better be really good. Let’s face it, there are tons of awesome guitar players out there. Standing out on technique alone is a hard road to travel or sustain as a career. But, if you can play music that touches people’s emotions (and technically difficult playing can do that) they will want to hear you again. Always focus on the music or song. Play what is appropriate for the song. Don't play more than is needed simply because you can. Save your flashy technique for when it is appropriate for the music.

Don’t use music to serve technique. Use technique to serve music.  

That’s what I think. What do you think?


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