Why Technique Matters For All Guitarists, Whatever Your Style

What is guitar technique and why does it matter? 

The point of having good technique on guitar is to have the freedom to express what you hear in your head.. So that if you hear a fast flurry of notes, when you have developed your technical skill, you can make that flurry happen, or if you hear a smooth line of melody with a haunting bent note, you bend just the right amount to make that exact sound that you’re hearing. There are some false beliefs that can be bandied around regarding technique – that it’s overly virtuosic, for show-offs, not creative, or that it’s just for people who want to play in certain specific styles of music. But in fact high levels of creative expression are impossible if you lack technique.

‘I don’t aspire to be a shredder or play loads of fancy solos or play fast, I don’t need those skills in my playing for what I want to do’

It’s great to have a clear idea of what you want to be able to do. But we often impose limits on ourselves prematurely. Are you SURE you wouldn’t enjoy dropping a fast line of delightful melody in between the chorus and the verse of your arrangement or composition? If it were really easy for you and you could do it right now today, do you think there might be something cool you could come up with?

Techniques are essential in all genres

The other point here is that people often connect a certain type of technique with a certain genre, like sweep arpeggios with metal, and make an assumption that those techniques only create those types of sound and music. This is false. If you can play five string sweep arpeggios, there are beautiful smooth melodic lines you can create and drop in that might be a perfect fit for a country tune, a jazz standard or a pop song. Just because you use wheat in pasta doesn’t mean it doesn’t also taste great as an ingredient in cake…

 There is an immense breadth of creative opportunity once your hands can reliably and quickly find certain sounds on the guitar, because now you can combine those in new ways and develop your own awesome style. 

‘It’s less rewarding practicing drills or exercises – I’d rather spend my time with the guitar playing actual songs or pieces of music’

The problem with only practicing songs and repertoire is that you end up being able to play those pieces well, but you don’t end up necessarily able to play many other things easily and freely. This is a big limitation of how music is typically taught in schools. Typically students can play three or four pieces related to each grade, but are helpless to make music outside of that, even when they have been playing for a few years.

  Do you think it would feel rewarding and satisfying to see your level of creative and expressive capacity keep increasing? What about knowing that as a result of your improved technique, you can go back to this song or piece you learned before and refine it with more drama and expressiveness? You may have no interest in winning a speed contest on guitar, but can you imagine a situation in which playing a fast line as part of a solo might sound great? It can be very addictive once you start tasting the new freedoms each technical improvement brings you.

If you perform or want to perform solo with your guitar, do you think it might set you apart from the next person to have the ability to present your material with these extra dimensions that sound great, bring more into your performance and leave your audience eager to hear more?

The barrier to expressing the music you hear in your head correlates with the level of technical freedom you have. The more technical freedom you have, the more creative you can be, and the more fully you express your unique style and potential as a musician.

Who knows what music is waiting to be written and played that is available once you reach the next level of musical freedom than the one you are currently at? All you need to do is truly immerse yourself in the excitement and satisfaction of continually expanding your level of freedom and technique will seem like a satisfying and critical part of your vision for your guitar playing.

About the author

Diana de Cabarrus is the director of Key To Music, the school for guitar lessons in Edinburgh where tried and tested methods produce great results for students.

She also performs regularly around the UK and Europe with her band Candythief.