Quality vs. Quantity of Techniques. Learning Methods.

When I read the discussions that take place on guitar technique in our forum, as well as other less endowed forums, I get the impression that there is a growing population of players who believe that the number of techniques a guitarist is familiar with is a touchstone of that guitarists ability to deliver a memorable performance. He or she does everything everytime. He's Remarkable! She's Amazing. I guess for one in a thousand or one in ten thousand this attitude leads to personal skill levels of a stratospheric proportion. Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai and A Number Of Others. Though, when compared to the number of people who pick up the instrument and play.........A Very Small Number Pull This Off. I have many favorite guitarists who I listen to regularly. A few are technical wizards. The majority are not.

Number of Techniques vs. Skill Level at using Techniques.

In listening to multiple players I enjoy I've found that the vast majority use only a handful of techniques to deliver their performance. Those techniques they choose to use they have a true command over. The perfect bend. Dancing across the strings. Whatever they do, They Do It Well. Sometimes, a player who focuses on specific techniques develops a recognizable style or becomes known for their use of specific techniques in their approach to the music. You know who you're listening to not because of their tone, but rather because of their signature method of handling the instrument.

The desire to know how to do everything possible with your instrument is understandable. How did he do that? always deserves an answer. Yet, I think it's important to note that, for the average player looking to improve the quality of the music they create with their instrument, maintaining a focus on the techniques that are essential for their own personal playing style is of the utmost importance. I hear many recordings on myspace or youtube being performed by players who obviously have knowledge of twenty plus techniques but have failed to master even one of them. They so so this one an ho hum that one until I just don't want to listen anymore. I feel a bit sorry or embarrassed for the player because they've obviously spent a lot of time trying to learn how to do a lot of stuff. They've truly worked hard practicing but have achieved a mastery of nothing. Why? What went wrong?

The sad truth.

We are not all geniuses. Everyone is not born with the same length fingers or the identical genetics for motor skill development. Only a tiny portion of the population of guitarists will ever be able to master every technique. The rarest of the rare. I think that many of todays players tend to attempt to take too big of a bite out of too big of a sandwich. While it's nice to have the internet available now to enlighten us and divulge the secrets of the masters, in a way, it's stunted the development of many young players by widening their field of focus to include to much to soon.

Past vs. Present Learning Methods.

When I first picked up the guitar in the early 60's I had never heard the word technique applied in any way to the instrument. The electric guitar was relatively new and nobody had really come up with any definitive right ways or wrong ways or best ways to do anything. You learned where the notes were. You learned to play songs. At some point you discovered that by sliding into a note it changed the feel of the piece in an interesting way. You practiced sliding. At some point you were sliding into nearly every note and doing it perfectly. Great! But, a bit over the top. You'd learn to use it sparingly so as to enhance but not overpower the melody. Down the road you discovered that you could achieve a similar result of going up and down between notes by bending the string instead of sliding. This too changed the feel of the song you were playing, so, your worked on it constantly. 1/2 step. Whole step. 1 1/2 step. 2 whole steps. Note* This was a bitch on a wound 3rd string. By the late 60's I'd discovered or been taught maybe a half dozen techniques. They were as natural as just picking the strings. I still never thought of them as techniques and really never heard any of my fellow players use the word. We weren't doing anything special or technical. We were just playing. Everything came one day at a time. Being allowed to focus intently on each new playing trick as it came along made for some very good players. Excellent players in some cases. Take a look at the group of electric guitarists that were creating music by the late 60's. With no internet. With no all secrets divulged. I really think that the act of personal discovery coupled with the desire to master your new discovery and having these discoveries spaced apart so you could master them one at a time may have been the best way I could have ever learned.

Today, a newbie picks up a guitar, signs up for lessons or buys lesson books with cd included or seaches the internet for instructions and is presented with a huge pile of information right from day one. Fantastic. The downside.........the lack of the ability or willingness to focus. It seems to be human nature to want to absorb everything at once. I'll work on this technique for 5 minutes and this one for 5 minutes and this one, well, it's harder so I'll give it 10 minutes. If this is how you're learning I truly hope your a much better man than me because I needed a lot of time, like an hour or more a day for six months to a year, to really feel like I was closing in on mastering one of these skills. Trying to learn even four or five skills at the same time, from scratch, on a daily basis as part of my lesson plan, would have resulted in one messed up guitarist. Always too much. Never truly reaching a level of satisfaction. Never having time to take one technique and just focus directly on it. Discovering every possible way you can personally use it to develop your own style.

Your Own Style.

That's the goal that seems to have changed over time. I never wanted to sound like anybody else. I'd have been embarrassed if someone told me I sounded like Clapton or Page. Geez. Where did I screw up. Sure. I listened to and picked up things from them but never ever wanted to lose my own sound I'd cultivated over all the years. Today it appears to be a source of pride among players to be mistaken for someone else. I don't understand this. Quite possibly I'm the one that's wrong, but, if you want to say something nice about my playing, say I'm original. Say I have my own approach. Say I have my own sound. But please. Please. Don't tell me I sound like somebody else. I have my handful of techniques that I don't even think about during application. They're just part of me and what I do. I play them in my own way. I'm good at them. My method, though you might look at it and say he's doing that wrong is actually never wrong because I'm not attempting to do it the way somebody or anybody else does. I found each one and worked hard at each one and am quite happy with my skill level at each one. I was given a chance to focus and, for me, that's still my favorite way of learning something new. Take the time to master the skills most appropriate to your personal style. Considering the number of guitarists today.................good ain't good enough. Do what you do the best that you possibly can.