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A Matter Of Technique Versus Feeling
When it comes to guitar music, whether acoustic or electric, what’s more moving, a player’s method or the emotion behind the notes? Technique, which is vital to any picker, can be taught. But how do you learn emotion? Perhaps the best way to examine the issue is through example.
Alternate or chicken picking, slide or Travis style, the list of guitar playing methodologies is as varied as the players themselves. Joe Satriani and Steve Vai are two highly influential artists who are revered for their superb techniques.
Satriani, once Vai’s teacher, is largely an instrumentalist. He’s achieved his reputation for quickness with such notable albums as “Surfing with the Alien” and “Crystal Planet.” A whammy bar and effects genius, Satriani has sold millions of recordings around the world.
Steve Vai, another celebrated marvel who defines his playing through elements of velocity and instrument mastery, is known for his seven-string Ibanez Jem guitar. Vai, a onetime Zappa collaborator, brings an appealing contemporary approach to his style.
Both Satriani and Vai have covered it all. You name it and they’ve played it, from natural and pinch harmonics to finger tapping to alternate arpeggios and everything in between. There’s little this pair hasn’t conquered on the electric axe.
Nevertheless, there are those pickers who may not feel the same about the need for speed. For them, expression necessitates lingering on a single tone, for example, a flatted blue note. Instead of working many frets, emotion is the chief focus.
For some it’s about feeling
Muddy Waters (April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983) is acknowledged as one of the most innovative artists in music history. During his career, he was not known as an exceptional guitarist and had very little formal training, if any. Nevertheless, his pioneering stop-time licks, exhibited in “Mannish Boy,” open tuning and ferocious slide work serve as the foundation of the blues rock tradition.
It’s no coincidence that The Rolling Stones named their band after hearing one of Waters’ tunes. Jagger and Richards were utterly moved by Muddy’s emotive approach. And though Waters started out as an acoustic artist, his potent manner translated perfectly into the modern electric style.
Though not associated with lengthy arpeggio runs or distinctive amperage, Waters used wicked G-string bends, finely executed trilling, a gritty metal slide and a Fender® Telecaster to communicate his fiery emotion.
The biggest names in pop music – among them, Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter, Bonnie Raitt and George Thorogood – count Muddy Waters as an influence.
Could it be that shredders like Stevie Ray Vaughn (October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990) are the embodiment of both technique as well as feeling?
With a lightning fast delivery that oozed passion, Vaughn’s alternate picking was renowned.
The same holds true for another Texas blues slinger, Johnny Winter. His rapid fire triplets on 1984’s “Boot Hill” are incomparable by any standard.
Is there a difference between technique and feeling? Serious listeners can decide.