Self Expression: Playing With Feeling

There has been a long-standing debate on whether a so-called “shredder” is just showing off, or actually expressing something of him/herself. Personally, I love fast and flashy playing and I believe it to be as legitimate a form of self-expression as a standard blues lick. This article will explain why.

A Reflection of Personality

It has been said that shredding or technical playing has no “feeling”. If you believe that, let me remind you that there is more than one kind of emotion. I’m a hyperactive guy, so I tend to play accordingly. That’s not to say that I don’t ever play “slowly”, but, for the most part, I like lots of notes!

Years ago, I heard Michael Angelo Batio say in an interview about shredding that (I’m paraphrasing here) it’s like the difference between driving an ordinary car or jumping in a Ferrari. He prefers the Ferrari. I actually got to meet him a few years ago at a guitar clinic in Calgary, and let me tell you, he is one of the most hyperactive individuals I have ever met! This, in a sense, didn’t surprise me because that’s the impression I get from his music. (DISCLAIMER: Not everybody who is intense has to be hyper. I’m just using him as an example of putting your personality into your music.)

Honest Self-Expression

When considering self-expression, or when you are sitting down to write a song, do you listen to how others have expressed the feeling or situation you are writing about? Or do you listen inside to what wants to come out? Musical meditation, if you will.

It is good to learn from others, but in the end, it’s about what is in your heart that is asking to be heard. How often have you heard songs on the radio that sound the same? In fact, sometimes one band can sound exactly like another. Are bands like this just following trends, or are they honestly expressing themselves. It’s not for me to decide. Only they know.

To play with “feeling” is to be honest and true to yourself and the song. Too often, I have encountered people and situations where the only ones credited with “playing with feeling” were the ones playing standard cliché blues/rock licks. (Don’t get me wrong here. I like those licks. In fact, those are what I first learned on my guitar.)

“Feeling” Is Not Genre-Specific

The argument that a player is playing with “no feel” can be applied to all music genres. A typical statement about shredders is that, “they have no feel because all they are doing is playing a bunch of notes as fast as they can.” However, a shredder could respond to a blues player with the statement, “he has no feel because he’s just playing the same standard cliché licks all the time.”

There is no difference. Blues/rock players have standard licks, as do jazz, funk, or metal players. The list goes on.

Play With Feeling

Before criticizing another person’s playing (saying it has no feeling), remember these points:

  1. Every style has its standard cliché licks.
  2. Many criticize a style when, in fact, they are not able to play, or are not willing to learn that style themselves.
  3. There are many difficult emotions to express in this world. Learn to express more than the one you are most familiar with.
  4. We don’t know exactly what a player is trying to express. To act like the authority on “feeling” is arrogant. Just try to appreciate the “personality” in the music.
  5. Be honest with your playing, regardless of style, and don’t let others influence you negatively. If you have expressed yourself the way you intended to, that’s the end of the story.

There will always be critics. Don’t try to change them. Opinions about whether a song is good or not is totally subjective. Be true and honest with your self-expression, and even though many may not like it, there will be many who do!

This article was originally published at Shred Academy.