Speed Equals Emotion

by Jungreis

“Speed equals emotion.” That’s complete nonsense. Nonetheless, it is a phrase that is often said to young guitarists. Let me back up. Young guitarists –- both in the sense that they’re just beginning to learn the instrument and that they are young in age -– often dismiss the technically demanding playing of a guitarist like Yngwie Malmsteen (“ING vey MAULM steen”), saying that he is just pure speed. They claim that there’s no emotion in his playing like there is in, for example, the playing of Eric Clapton or Slash. (For the particular case of Yngwie’s playing having plenty of emotion, I direct you to “Far Beyond The Sun”, though even that song does have some instances where even I think that he needs to slow down.)

Yngwie is the archetypical “shredder”, an 80s or 80s-influenced guitarist whose playing is extremely technical and tends to draw from classical music (and jazz to some extent) more than blues like hard rock bands in the 60s and 70s (e.g. Led Zeppelin). Yngwie in particular is extremely polarizing. Nonetheless, plenty of guitarists and maybe some other people like Yngwie’s playing, and shred in general. More experienced players tend to see this argument about the lack of emotion as an excuse to avoid sitting down with a metronome and alternate picking 16th notes at 60 beats per minute, then 61, then 62, then 70, then 68, then 69, then 70, then 71, and so on until the desired 200 is reached; why 200 beats per minute tends to be the target is not something that I know. We all know that practicing with a metronome is boring; I don’t do it anymore, though I’ve gotten my technique to a point where I’m not so hindered for the purposes of playing what I want to play. (Don’t worry; there’s plenty of room for me to improve with every technique.) Thus we tell the young guitarists that speed equals emotion to try to break down their sense of not needing any technique. (That stance is ridiculous. Plenty of even the blues-rock material is very demanding. Someone who doesn’t practice technique is going to learn Slash’s solo in Anastasia? I think not. I tie my fingers in a knot with just the introductory electric guitar passage, and then some of what he does later in the main solos is three times as fast.)

There is some logic to claiming that there is a lack of emotion in fast playing, though. Much of the time, emotive guitar playing replicates vocal lines, perhaps even copying verbatim a vocal melody from elsewhere in the song. I find it hard to believe that a singer could sing the speedy parts in “Far Beyond The Sun”.

There must be some kind of happy medium, though. For this, I am reminded of an Einstein quote along the lines of “Make it as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

“Make it as slow as possible, but no slower.” I think that’s how I often approach my own soloing. (Stepping back, though, I am a flagrant violator of that suggestion.)