Guitar Playing - Technique vs. Feeling - What's important?

For many people, when they hear the word technique applied to guitar playing, it brings to mind someone spending long hours practicing scales and chords, getting their fingers to work like precision machines that play each note perfectly without fail. With no more feeling than someone doing calculus.

On the other hand, when the word feeling is applied, people might think of a smoke filled room in which every face has a story to be told, and the guitar is a means of extracting every pent up emotion in the room. The MC is an old blues man that has felt every hardship life has to offer and he now turns the pain into musical notes that cut deep into the soul of every person in the room.

So what's important? Both! I'm not saying that everyone needs to have the technical ability of a Malmsteen, nor do I think that everyone should be filled with the blues like a Stevie Ray Vaughan. I do however think that a guitarist should have the technical ability to play however they feel. Technique and feeling are both important and neither should be ignored. Listening to Malmsteen, you can easily feel the intense emotion in every note. His playing isn't just a blaze of notes; it's the sound of someone who has mastered technique to the point where he doesn't have to think about it. His playing has become free of the constraints and limitations allowing the emotion to create the music. By the same token, listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan you hear all the feeling you would expect from a great blues player, but Vaughan also had great technique that makes this possible. Without great technique his playing couldn't flow effortlessly and his playing would become choppy and restrained. Like Malmsteen, Vaughan's technique allowed his guitar playing to become free of constraints and limitations, allowing emotion to take precedence in the creation of his music.

So how do you learn this? Well, if you're alive there will always be something to stir up some passion in you. Injustice, religion, love, hate, movies, books someone else's music. History gives us thousands of years worth of great stories and literature to draw from. The news we hear every day can be enough to get us worked up. All you need to do is harness these feelings and let them become a part of your music. This is where your technique must get to the point that you're not thinking about scales, modes, and chord theory or alternate picking styles and bending each note with perfect pitch. This is where you must draw a distinct difference between practicing and playing the guitar. Practicing is; long hours, getting your fingers to work like precision machines that play each note perfectly without fail. Studying chords and scale theory with no more feeling than someone doing calculus. The goal is great playing. Just like a good quarterback needs to spend hours studying plays and practicing accurate passing so things come naturally during the big game, a guitarist must spend hours developing good technique so things can come naturally during the big gig.

When practicing technique, the most obvious thing that comes to mind is speed. How fast can you blaze through your scales? Although this is a part of good technique, it is not the only thing you should work on. Accurate string bending is also very important. You must train yourself to bend notes to pitch. Many amateur guitarists bend strings without accuracy, which makes their bends sound weak. Another thing that you should work on is the relationship between chords and scales. Without understanding which chords belong to which scales, your playing can get lost very quickly. You should understand how to form your chords anywhere on the fretboard from the scale you're using. Check out the Guitar Scales and Chord Triads lesson at Guitar Metal for a visual reference. Don't just memorize chord shapes. Show a man a chord, he plays one song, but teach a man how to make chords from scales and he can write his own songs. When practicing for speed and accuracy, know what your goal is. If you want to have the ability to play at hyper speed, you'll need to focus more on scales and alternate picking techniques. Practicing them at slow speeds to find the best technique and to eliminate anything that might be slowing you down. I also recommend using the following video lessons "Speed Kills" and Speed Lives", both from Michael Angelo Batio. These videos are great for helping you to understand techniques for playing fast. However if your goal is to play a more bluesy rock style such as Angus Young, you will want to focus more on blues phrasing and bending. You still may need to slow things down to eliminate bad playing habits, but the goal here would be crisp clean playing not necessarily speed, although some speed is important.

About the Author

Edward D Cupler is the owner of guitar lessons website Offering free guitar lessons to beginners and advanced students.
Ed is also the owner of