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Musically Speaking: Taste vs: Technique

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JJ Rocks Article # 44: Taste vs: Technique

Its time to put a stop to the ignorant separation of taste and technique. Ive been hearing the same thing ever since I was a young producer at Gold Star studios in Hollywood. Either in the studio with my project or at a club on Sunset, I always heard comments from musicians like Yeah, he has great chops, but Im into feel. Thats a very unintelligent statement when it comes from someone who claims to be a musician. Thats like saying that a virtuoso such as Andres Segovia (October 2006 issue) puts no emotion into his playing when hes performing a very technical piece of music. And then theres this old classic, Were not technical, we just play for fun. Does that mean that Joe Pass or Chic Corea never had fun when they played? Saying that you just play for fun can be taken several ways.

When that response is applied to a situation where someone is being asked if they played professionally or for fun, it makes sense. But when using it as an excuse for why you have bad technique, its not what I would call a very good answer. And when it comes to very tasteful phrases Ive heard Yeah man, that guy plays tasteful. OK, if the person is playing sweet phrases in combination with showing great technique, that would be an intelligent response. But if the person making the statement is saying it because they can only understand the slower melodic passages, or can relate to them because they get scared or discouraged when things get complex, then its just an excuse for their own short comings and not a compliment for the person performing.

Now the other side of that coin is definitely out there. Im talking about the musically proficient players who look at blues or rock players as musical escape artist looking for the easy way out. Well of course in some cases its true. But the serious blues player speaks in emotional and tasteful phrases and tries his (or her) best to be melodic and not be trapped inside of the everyday cliche blues riffs situation. But as you know, there are blues players that cover it all like Robin Ford who display great taste and wonderful technique. So maybe the technical players who look down on others are just hiding the fact that they cant play with feeling because their high intellectual thinking has closed the door of emotions on them. What ever the case, they shouldnt take their musical / emotional problems out on the technically impaired.

If we apply this to a band situation, one thing that I found that works for me is to not put myself in the wrong position in the first place. In other words if you like playing simple emotional licks and songs, then find other people that want the same. And if your interest is with complex music then find those kinds of people and have some fun. Now if you dont have anyone that fits your needs then you have two basic choices. One is to not play in a band at all until you find what you are looking for. I neglected that route once and it was a big mistake. I joined a band that was so musically disorganized, over publicized, and undisciplined that I found myself drifting from one style to another in the same solo just out of boredom. Now that works if its done tastefully and not to the extreme, but I would drink so much beer in order to block out this band that the only taste that I was concerned about was hops. But after awhile I came to the realization that instead of making myself miserable, I just left. Its the only band that I have actually quit in recent memory. But hey, Ive been playing better ever since. Lesson learned.

The second idea is to just play in a band with a combination of styles and levels of players and see if you can contribute something. The most important thing is to choose nice people and not play with someone who is more concerned with starting rumors about people behind their back than learning the correct arrangement of a tune. Believe me; that kind of child like behavior will eventually catch up with anyone who attempts it. And of course make sure that they want to sound good and that they try hard. I wouldnt want to see anyone go through what I did. But the second idea is still the best sometimes.

So whether you choose to keep it simple and want to go for the taste and feel, shoot for the technical sky, or try to have the perfect balance, no one wants an over playing lack of feel musician. And the last thing you need is an over emotional string stretcher who cant play his way out of a pentatonic box and thinks that diatonic harmony is some kind of new hair treatment.

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