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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