An alert reader pointed me to an interesting thread on the Dinosaur Rock Guitar forum, in which Marty Friedman (quoted in Guitar Player mag) claims that practicing technique is useless.
GP: What do you tell fans when they ask you for advice?
MF: I tell them to stop practicing and start playing music. Play with your band, your buddies, and any other instrument you can. Play in the studio, play live – play all the time. The weakness is getting too hung up on technique. The strength is being able to play along with other musicians. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. In fact, make even more mistakes. When you do something cool, take note. And don’t do anything in the nature of practicing a technique.
GP: But aren’t you considered a technical player?
MF: Yes, but only if “technical” means that I have my own style – not that I’ve mastered “book” techniques. I can sit in with any musician in the world and nail something with them, because I’ve been playing music for so long. But if someone were to ask me to play the Mixolydian mode at a metronome setting of 200, I probably couldn’t. I never had the interest in doing such a thing, and, for the record, I dislike difficult-sounding guitar music. You’re not going to wind up in the studio with Paul McCartney one day, and hear him say, “Alright mate, can you play some of those arpeggios a little faster?” There’s no reason to get stuck on stuff that won’t have any real-world application. I’d even go as far as to say that if any technique has a name on it – like “string skipping” – beware! You can do wonderful sweep picking in your bedroom, but if you play it inside a song, you can’t follow changes, and it’s absolutely useless. Learn to master rhythm. Rhythm guitar builds songs – not technical acrobatics. [My italics -- LL]
Okay, so…screw technique — just jam, dude, and everything will magically sort itself out.
Perhaps he’s been “creatively (mis)quoted” in the article, but in reading this my first reaction is, “WTF?”
Okay, if you’ve already put in years of practice so that you can effortlessly play anything you want, perhaps you’ll do fine by just jamming and playing rhythm. But given that few guitarists approach regular technical practice with anything like boundless enthusiasm, I hope beginning and intermediate guitarists won’t take Marty’s anti-technique advice as a good excuse to NEVER practice technique. That would just be dumb.
You have to remember that Marty is speaking from the perspective of an accomplished artist with years of high-intensity experience under his guitar strap. I can guarantee that if you’d been a Dorito crumb on the floor of Marty’s bedroom back before the Cacophony days, you would have seen him practicing at least SOME technique. I’ll bet he even had names for them. But with his many years of experience perhaps he’s come to realize that, while practicing technique is important for musical development, many guitarists totally neglect to develop other important aspects of musicianship. Now that is a view that I can support!
Technical facility plays a huge role in enabling you reach your ultimate level of artistic expression on your instrument. And it doesn’t come easy: current research on human learning and mastery suggests that it takes an average of 10 000 hours of practice (over approximately 10 years) to master ANY difficult skill — from Chess to Violin — even for so-called prodigies. Even Mozart, the quintessential prodigy, didn’t produce anything noteworthy until after about 10 years of practice. That’s right — if you want to be really freaking awesome at something, be prepared to devote 10 000 hours to developing your skill. So until you’ve reached the technical nirvana of effortlessly being able to play whatever the heck you want, I don’t see any solid reason not to make regular technical practice part of your routine.
I speak from bitter experience. Until just recently, I’d never practiced technique in any systematic way, always having been far more interested in “practicing” by improvising melodies — trying to play the things I hear in my head. But having seen how much just a couple of weeks of focused practice has helped my playing, I am kicking myself in my metal butt for not starting sooner. And honestly, my current interest in practicing technique is not driven by some banal “Duuuude, I just wanna play fast” mentality. I don’t even like “shred guitar” music; I’d much rather hear a player like David Gilmour, Gary Moore or Michael Schenker play a heart-rending melody or bend a note expressively. Any day, no freaking contest. But my recent foray into technical practice is making it easier to get what I hear in my head to come out of the guitar. Mirabile f’n dictu! I’ve always been frustrated by the wonderful sounds I can hear in my head but don’t have the skills to play. But now, while I doubt I’ll ever really reach the state of effortlessly playing anything I can imagine, it’s a real kick to realize that something as simple and easy to do as technical practice can yield such welcome results.
If you ignore the lame advice about technical practice being baaaad, Marty does offer some excellent points. There are so many guitarists who focus on technique (i.e., playing fast and clean, widdle widdle widdle widdle) to the degree that they don’t have much else to offer — unless you happen to like “difficult-sounding guitar music.” And I suppose that to that I just have to say, “fair enough!”
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