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Is practicing technique for idiots?

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.

is technique for idiots?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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+ Comment by Christian
2007-07-28 00:10:57

Some good point there by you as well as by Marty. There’s some more points to what Marty states: What you can play is not what you can play in your bedroom to a metronome (which is mostly musical nonsense, not voiding its value for technical exercise), but what you can lay down in the studio, and most importantly, what you can pull off live on stage. I’ve come to so many situations when the best-laid solo chops just don’t work live when I’m high on adrenaline.

On another not, and connected to your reply to my comment in you previous post: It’s the same with theory. If it sounds right, no theory is needed, and if it sucks, no theory will help :wink:


+ Comment by Stratoblogster
2007-07-28 03:20:11

I think it’s about balancing spontaneity & groove with chops, and being able to bring something special to the song.

Waaaay back when I first heard Michael Schenker on the UFO Phenomenon album, I was jamming lots of improv. over Santana, Trower and Mahogany Rush type grooves. Funk too. This was stuff that never ended, ya just jammed until you got tired. That was fine for some purposes, but Schenker introduced me to structured solos with a beginning, a middle and an end. The structure itself wasn’t necessarily the priority, but the melody went somewhere, said something and waved goodbye. This brought something unique to each tune, instead of simply blowing a bunch of riffs during the solo section.

Technique was also a factor, because Schenker has unique attack, phrasing and vibrato. But the melodies and how they were taylored to each tune was what got my attention and made structure and technique desirable. Nobody I was hearing in rock at that time (1975) had that approach. On Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, producer George Martin, put some very strong control on Beck to play melodically on Cause We’ve Ended and Diamond Dust. Brian May’s solo on Killer Queen had it too, but Schenker’s solo in Phenomenon’s “Time On My Hands” was enormously important to rock guitar. It had structure, melody, both classical and blues phrasing and simplicity. And, it was meant for that song only.

To truly appreciate it however, you have to put yourself in the context of what else was out there during that time. It helps when you’re an old timer like me. But even at my age, I didn’t discover until recently how much of Schenker’s approach came from Leslie West’s “Theme from an Imaginary Western”.

We need technique to best express the phrasing and execution of melodies. Even music that’s very repetitive and tribal, benefits from solos that articulate well and attempt to reflect a range of emotion for the tune. Guitar shredders may be able to play more notes than vocalists, but the voice and enunciation of a singer possess dynamics that guitarists should desire to attain.

+ Comment by --=MR.JOE=--
2007-07-28 07:26:09

Lori I’m giving you “Double Metal Pinkies” for citing Gilmour, Moore, and Schenker:

I agree with what you’re saying and at the same time I can understand what Marty is trying to say. Maybe they didn’t quote him properly?

Have you had the chance to hear Gary Moore’s new album “Close as you get”? There is one song on there in particular, “I had a dream”, where he makes the guitar sing. I swear that song overflows with emotion.

Always Hot and Fresh!
–=MR.JOE=– :guitar: :twisted: :guitar:

+ Comment by Küsu
2007-07-28 18:45:38

I’m playing the Guitar for 16 years now (15 years in a Band) and start practising technique systematically.
I want to be able to play the music in my heart – I’m not yet – Time to practise technique :)

+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-07-28 20:47:52

Technique is everywhere.
The right metal alloy for frets,the design of pick-ups and many other things related to the electric guitar all come from a wealth of TECHNICAL knowledge that applies to many other domains as well.

I believe it is okay to drill an aspect of playing that needs to be taken care of.It doesn’t mean that’s what will be actually played,but may give a little needed headroom to do do some stuff effortlessly.A bit like ,for instance,hockey players who will do weight lifting.

+ Comment by Laurie Monk
+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-07-29 01:26:15

Enough with the productivity p0rn already! :wink:

Looks cool. I want.

Crap. No PC version.

+ Comment by Matthew Hutchinson
2007-07-28 23:52:02

In the four years I’ve spent learning how to play Classical guitar, I’ve found that practicing technique has helped me develop and maintain left and right-hand coordination so that I can more effectively learn how to play anything, no matter how complex or simple. I may not always use what I practice within the context of a song, but the developmental advantages derived from technique exercises has proven invaluable to me.

For example, Friedman mentions scale runs. Scale runs are, admittedly, among the most boring exercises you can perform, but they also serve as a focused method of improving accuracy and tone production, as well as enhancing finger dexterity and stretch. I’ve found that 10 minutes at 100bpm is more than sufficient improve all three aspects of playing while keeping me from going nuts with boredom. I play every Major scale on the fretboard a few times in at that speed.

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-08-01 05:03:39

You’re right Matthew: lots of people find practicing scales excruciatingly boring. But I actually enjoy it. But then again, I have a really weird way of doing it.

+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-08-01 05:55:04

A weird way? That’s interesting! :geek:

+ Comment by CapnZilog
2007-07-29 08:01:15

Oh my. Marty’s not the only person guilty of saying this, Yngwie is also full of the “I never practice, I just play music.” But, you know? As irresponsible as that sounds, for Yngwie that probably -is- practice enough. You’re talking about a guy whose main job is to create new material, and I’m sure he gets more than enough “chops maintenance” simply from playing his demanding repertoire live. As an evergreen professional artist, Yngwie probably considers ‘pure practice’ to be time taken away from his next bread-and-butter project.

I’ve read a lot of what I thought were extremely irresponsible comments from guitarists in Guitar Player over the years, Van Halen probably being the worst. But, years later its occurred to me that what these guys were saying wasn’t necessarily bad advice, it was just advice coming from musicians at a certain point in their careers that makes sense only if you also happen to be where they are. In other words, if a beginner was to read what Marty said and took it to heart, well… that’s toxic. But if someone who was copying Marty 20 years ago read that quote today, he’d probably be saying… “yep, Marty’s right. That technique stuff is way behind me, but trying to advance my musicality – that’s the hard part today”.

Years ago, George Bellas said something very similar to me – “Who cares about speed & technique – it’s so easy, that’s nothing. Being musical is the hard part.” Now, that may have sounded rather easy for him to say, but he was right to say it.

Yet, the engineer in me is always in search for the better exercise. If something’s broken, it’s seems like a more efficient use of time to focus on one’s weak spots with precision – but not to the point that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and all that. That’s when it’s time to remember what attracted us to music in the first place (and it probably wasn’t technique for technique’s sake.)


+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-08-02 23:37:41

Interesting observations, CapnZ! In fact they relate to a post I’ve been working on, so I won’t say too much at this point.

One thing to remember is when players downplay the role of effort (i.e., practice) their presumed innate talent is brought to the forefront. And it gives them an immediate out for less-than-stellar performance — “What do you expect? I never f’n practice…”

+ Comment by Joe
2007-07-29 12:00:49

Sometimes music is defined by our limitations and the creative decisions we make with them. :)

+ Comment by Dinosaur David B.
2007-07-29 19:32:03

Maybe if Marty hadn’t spent his 10,000 hours practicing teqnique, he might have learned how to express his thoughts more clearly. But when you spend your formative years locked in a room with a guitar, your communication skills suffer.

I agree with the sentiment that a statment like this coming from a guy like Marty is like Kiss saying: Don’t bother with merchandising.

Marty’s saying: “DON’T DO WHAT I DID.” Now if he’s reached an a ephipany where he realizes he’s wasted his early life practicing too much or wanking away for years and saying nothing, bravo. But to suggest that one could get to his level without practicing as much as he did is absurd.

I interviewed Steve Lukather (a guitarist with MONSTER chops and a far more well rounded musician than Marty — and most everyone else too) a few years back and he said the following to me:

Luke: “You know, you hear these stories about the guys who put in twelve hours a day, and most of that is a complete fabrication. If they did, it was stupid, because now they have tendonitis and they can’t play. I practiced for a couple of hours a day. Tried to. It’s also important to have a life. Go out and hang with your friends. You can burn yourself out on the music. Not to mention physically, you can really hurt your muscles by over practicing. The rule I was taught by all my teachers was don’t practice more than 45 minutes to an hour without taking a break, and walking around and stretching your arms out. And if God forbid if it starts to hurt when your playing, for fucks sake, stop! You’re not gonna get better by forcing your muscles.”

+ Comment by Matthew Hutchinson
2007-07-30 06:25:48

Amen to the point about only practicing only a couple hours a day. As it stands right now, my practice sessions are only an hour long:

10 minutes – Finger stretching
10 minutes – Scales
10 minutes – Song 1
10 minutes – Song 2
10 minutes – Song 3
10 minutes – Going back and playing older songs I’ve learned before

One thing my teacher has always encouraged is prioritizing my practice schedule in a way that promotes a healthy balance between my studies and my personal life. The 10 minutes I spend on each thing I’m working on helps promote intense, focused concentration on nothing but the task at hand, so that I can insure optimum results in short order and still leave plenty of time to enjoy life away from my guitar.

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-08-01 05:09:49

Steve Lukather is DA MAN. I could listen to the first half of his “Song for Jeff” a zillion times and not get sick of it. Talk about having complete control of your instrument…f’n mindboggling.

And he’s got to be right about practicing in sensible doses as well. One way to create massive barriers to your own progress is to get a raging case of tendinitis.

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-08-02 23:39:14

Just want to thank you for posting the Lukather quote here, Dave. I’ve paraphrased it in a recent post, but didn’t thank you in the body text because it would’ve interrupted the flow of what was a very long sentence.

+ Comment by Kristof
2007-07-30 13:22:54

This seems contradictory to the practice that Steve Vai preaches: 10 hours of practice a day. I’m not sure if you got a look at Vai’s study exercises from waaaay back before Zappa, but Steve (allegedly) dedicated 10 hours a day playing the guitar – not jamming or goofing around but genuinely playing exercises. I’ve seen a number of these exercises as he’s written them down for a guitar mag I can’t remember the name of, but the exercises were very technical and extremely boring (not to mention difficult).

On the other hand, I’ve met guitarists that haven’t practiced a single day. In 1995, I met two guys that were totally into shredding. They didn’t actually practice any of their stuff, they had just learned by copying stuff from other people. It’s really weird to have a 16 year old pick up a crappy guitar and hear him play a note-for-note version of a Racer X song. Not just that, but anything by Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Dream Theater, Richie Kotzen, Tony Macalpine and what other shredders were in vogue at that time. Those two guys could play like a dream and they never really actually practiced a single scale. They used the computer back then to slow down parts they had trouble with and practiced things at half speed.

What Marty actually means (because I’ve also read a lot on Marty) is that he’s not the one to sit down and study techniques for the techniques. If you listen to Marty, he plays a lot of stuff that sounds “original” but it so happens that he also knows what he’s playing: he can explain the theory behind his music. So I’m not entirely sure that he never studied in his life – I’m sure he has, but he has an excellent way of freewheeling and he probably learned all his chops by freewheeling. The fact that I have never seen anyway play the way he does (with that odd wrist angle that allows him to play superdoopermuted stuff) seems to confirm this.

This whole Marty talk has made me think about Jason Becker again …

+ Comment by Kristof
2007-07-30 13:24:53

BTW: I must agree at least a little with what Marty is saying in the latter part of the interview …

+ Comment by Andy Gavin
2007-08-01 12:47:38

I think Marty’s statements reflect his change in musical direction.

In his early music career and indeed his whole identity was based on playing technically demanding lead guitar (he was signed to Shrapnel ffs!)

Nowadays he appears to want to distance himself from those oh-so-misguided widdle years that made his reputation.

I believe this sounds like the onset of ALD (Alex Lifeson Disease) – a sad affliction whereby former raging metal monster guitarists get all serious and strive to reinvent themselves as “serious musicians”. It’s often accompanied by the cutting of hair and bizarre dress sense… You can read more about it here.

+ Comment by Lorinator
2007-08-02 23:43:29

Sometimes I worry that my new-found appreciation of small, easy-to-DI, and easily portable gear suggests the onset of the dreaded ALD.

But then I realize that — had I the means — I’d much prefer to have walls of Marshalls and/or Mesas and a real studio to crank them in than my humble Pod. That makes me feel a bit better…

+ Comment by jomaheux
2007-08-03 05:21:38

As`long as you dial the heavy tones and you don’t change hairstyle,you’re alright. :wink:

+ Comment by CapnZilog
2007-08-05 15:33:41

Ah, the GK250ML … I don’t care how tiny it was, it was manna from heaven back in the 80′s! Kinda like the Rockman of guitar amps, which is what it sounded like. Nugent used the same one during his PRS days, and as far as I know Nugent’s cojones have swollen so large that they’ve cut off part of the blood supply to his brain.

May I suggest that another variant on ALD is playing a PRS. To everyone who retired their Ibanezes, Jacksons or their Warlocks… don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out! Sometimes it seems like every middle-age guy with a 401(k) and a beard is pulling one out of the back of his BMW, just in time to treat us to another rendition of Black Magic Woman …

+ Comment by Andy
2007-08-06 09:02:26

I think you have a point in that technique shouldn’t be disregarded completely (especially for beginners) but a lot of times beginners/intermediates get so caught up with technique that they forget what it’s all about. A metronome is important in developing your sense of rhythm, but jamming with other musicians and bouncing ideas off another is another form of ear development that can’t be forgotten.

There *are* ways of connecting your technical exercises to musicality, like writing an etude. That’s how our elder baroque and classical brothers did it, why can’t we do it now? Chromatic exercises only go so far :cool:

I have a lot of respect for Marty. He’s one of those 80′s born shredders who focused more on melodic development and style, rather than playing at blistering speeds (MAB I’m looking at you).

Working on technique is important, but for some guitarists it’s not the overall goal.


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