Joe Satriani On Why Gifted Guitarists Get Such A Hard Time

Virtuoso talks about the dichotomy of criticising players with great technique   17-Nov-12

Joe Satriani On Why Gifted Guitarists Get Such A Hard Time
Joe Satriani has spoken about technique and feeling // Some rights reserved // Shape Prior

At his exclusive Master Class at the Guitar Center in L.A., Joe Satriani displayed to a small room of contest winners why he is one of the most lauded guitarists on the planet, his style, technique and virtuosity is admirable to anybody who has ever picked up a guitar.

But Joe Satriani, one of the most famous names in the world of guitar music, also spoke about the issue of technique versus feeling; the common criticism of virtuoso players that they are too clinical, too much about speed and not enough about musicality.

It's an argument that has been around for a long long time, it is certainly well documented in bop and jazz circles, and probably even extends further back than the early romantic era of classical music.

Judging by Joe Satriani's long riposte when asked about the human element of music being lost in virtuosity, it's a criticism that quite clearly irks him.

One interviewer, from the L.A. Music Blog asked Satriani if the disparity between the musical ability of the listener and the advanced ability of a virtuoso guitarist led to a connection being lost somewhere along the line.

Joe's reply is a breath of fresh air, and a brilliant defence of all guitarists who have spent years of their lives trying to improve their technique and become better players:

"It's a funny way of looking at it, but it's an observation that we've all heard before, so it must be happening.

"That's real, and it's good for any musician to understand that, but really what's happening is that people with what appears to be freakish ability tend to get pushed to the front. 'Look at the guy with two heads play four harmonicas!' So it would be easy to say, 'Oh, those two-headed harmonica players -- my God, they have no feeling!'

"I'm exaggerating, but that's kind of like what happens with guitar playing. We don't know about the millions of average guitar players because there's no system that pushes them to the forefront. We never see them on TV. We don't see them in the clubs. We don't see them anywhere because they're average.

"So what do we see? We see the above-average, the freakish, the people who say, 'Wow, look what I can do. I can play faster than all my friends. I'm going to put on this feather hat and these tights and I'm going to run around and see if I can make some money.'

"That's the person we hear about. It's very easy to point to it and say, 'I don't like it because of the feather hat,' or 'I don't like guys that wear tight pants,' or 'I don't like guys who have all this technique.'"

Joe Satriani went on to compare guitar players to singers, claiming that singers with good technical ability are always preferred over singers with bad technical ability:

"In any other field, technical ability is applauded. If you see a singer, and they sing perfectly in tune, you go, 'Ah! Thank God!'You love it -- they put you at ease. If you hear somebody really sing out of tune, that's bad technical ability.

"If you hear a guitar player play really out of tune, you pretty much have the same thing, so I think people get their criticisms crossed very often with players with technique because of who winds up being featured. It's very rarely the demure player with taste. It's just rare.

"We gravitate towards the Neil Young, the rough-around-the-edges. We give him a chance. There's something about him, but I think that's because of who he is. There aren't any other Neil Youngs we put up on that pedestal. There's only one.

"We let Hendrix go absolutely crazy. There's only one of him. And I think whether you're talking about [Andrés] Segovia or [Niccolò] Paganini, we didn't criticize them. There was only one of them.

"They came, and they went. One in a million. There's no good way to answer [that criticism] because you can't argue with what people like and don't like. If they don't like it, they don't like it."

That last sentiment hits the nail on the head, despite Joe Satriani actually giving a pretty great answer to the criticism, he concludes that you can't persuade somebody to like something if they just plain don't like it.

That's something we all have to deal with.

Click here to see a list of Joe Satriani's gear.


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17 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Joe    Said...

I really never liked his music. It's very kitschy. I miss the feelings. It's hollow. He is not very creative composer. Hendrix on the other side is real.

21-Nov-12 04:11 PM


Satch-a-holic    Said...

I feel Joe's music is full of feeling. And I'm not a 15 year old fan-boy. I'm a grown women .Guess you can't please everyone

21-Nov-12 04:41 PM


PtiTom    Said...

I feel a lot of things in Joe's songs too... Several songs of him talk to me deeply and tell me stories... Some steve Vai's too... May I be an alien :)

I think it's linked to musical learning and sensibility. I prefer human-rendered musics to electro.

21-Nov-12 04:49 PM


Sam Stone    Said...

"In any other field, technical ability is applauded. If you see a singer, and they sing perfectly in tune, you go, 'Ah! Thank God!'You love it -- they put you at ease. If you hear somebody really sing out of tune, that's bad technical ability."

As a fan of The Fall, I honestly couldn't care less.

21-Nov-12 05:03 PM


Tubedog    Said...

The phrasing and feel of Joe's playing is something that grabs me inside. I've listened to other virtuoso guitarists such as Steve Vai and Greg Howe but when you listen to Joe's music, you can hear all the little quirks in his picking, his nimbleness on the fret board, and his smooth transition from the screaming riffs down to the subtle soft notes that come together to form a song. Joe truly makes his guitar sing and that to me is why I feel Joe is the best guitarist in the world.

21-Nov-12 05:06 PM


Satch_a-holic    Said...

Tubedog My sentiments exactly.

21-Nov-12 05:12 PM


Lee Alexander    Said...

Joe once told me that to be the best isn't about practice or knowledge but about listening to what you play! That's where the feeling lays in my opinion m I've been a better guitarist since that day forward!

21-Nov-12 06:12 PM


Adnane    Said...

The way Joe plays the guitar is very unique! The best achievement in a musician's career is, IMHO, when he develops a style that listeners can quickly & easily recognize and that's the case for Joe. No need for stereotypes, only authentic music can stand the test of time

21-Nov-12 07:36 PM


David Franklin    Said...

hear total emotion in your playing I can teell it's from your heart.

21-Nov-12 08:45 PM


JOHN A. KARAGALIS    Said...

I'M 35 YEARS OLD I LISTEN JOE FROM 13 YEARS OLD I BELIEVE HE I THE MOST UNIQUE PLAYER IN THE WORLD I LIKE TOO MUCH AND OTHER VIRTUOZO PLAYERS BUT HE HAVE VERY UNIQUE SOUND AND I LOVE HIS BODY MOVEMENT WHEN HE PLAY HIS SONGS IEVERY ONG HE MOVE HIS BODY DIFERENT HE FEEL HIS MUSIC AND HE MOVE HIS BODY LIKE FOLLOE THE NOTES AND MELODY OF HIS SONG HE PLAY HIS VERY DIFICULT SONGS SO EASY AAND WHEN YOU LOOK HIS FINGERS SOMETIMES LOOK EASY BUTT WHEN YOU TRY TO PLAY IT THEN UNDERSTAND HIS EXTRA TALENT AND YOU CANT CATCH EVEN THE MELODY AND IN EAYSY TRACK FOR HIM.THE GUY HE SURFING IN THE ALLIEN AND MAKE STRANGE BEUTIFULL MUSIC.

21-Nov-12 10:28 PM


Mike    Said...

I hear so many people who don't get Joe and say "they miss the feel". I've been going to Joe shows since '90. Joe is so much feel but if all you hear is a certain segment of his song as blazingly fast then you miss so much more. Joe's rhythm sections are sweet and sometimes even simple but a simple perfection of notes. And if you go through more then 2 or 3 of his songs... you will find feeling in what he plays. He's my favorite of all the instrumental guitarists. That man is a master at his profession.

22-Nov-12 01:05 AM


   Said...

Personally, i love electric guitars. Am 42, I don't know how to play a note but I've been listening to many players, some very talented technically and look at them saying: wow.. isn't he fast, or isn't he neat. When I hear Joe's music I say: this is art, and I can't stop listening to it!

22-Nov-12 08:15 AM


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27-Nov-12 05:55 PM


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01-Dec-12 12:24 PM


Carlo    Said...

Hello, people. I'm 34 yo and i've been listening to Joe's records since 2000. I play guitar as a hobby and in addition to that energy I usually get from his music, I can say 13 years later my ears are discovering all those detais he puts on every song.... As always will be in many fields, the situation is not about how or what his music/style/technique is... it's all about the listener ability to catch the message.

21-Apr-13 07:17 PM


Melbatoast    Said...

I actually have a possible theory that answers this question. I feel the primary culprit is drills. Whatever a musician drills becomes muscle memory. When playing the same drill over repetitively to a metronome leads to a guitarists muscle memory becoming robotic. I don't do standard drills too often because of this philosophy. I primarily practice two ways. I either improvise to a backtrack I've never heard focusing on clean technique or improvise to a backtrack and ban fingers. What I mean by banning fingers is something along the lines of improving without using my left index and ring finger for example. A great drill I run is improv'ing in pentatonics with only my middle finger and pinky. It works wonders for my hand strength, increases my reach, improves finger independence, all while still improving my groove through improv.

14-Aug-13 01:35 AM


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