What is Shred?
Hey guys, welcome to the first of hopefully
numerous columns I’ll be contributing here
at Premier Guitar in rotation with Rusty
Cooley and occasional guests. It’s very cool
to be on board! I suppose at this point I
should officially swear in: “I solemnly swear
to do my best to simply deliver useful information that you would likely not be able to
get elsewhere.” Did I just use the word simply? Hmm, well the concept is simple, I suppose. Then again, so is skydiving. Oh well,
I’m always up for a fun challenge...
Now, out of courtesy, I feel obligated to prepare you up front for what will undoubtedly
be viewed as a healthy dose of opinion-based
rhetoric infiltrating the installments that follow. Sorry guys, but it’s necessary if I’m going
to make a serious attempt at injecting some
new life, and some fresh perspective, into this
somewhat exhausted subject of shred.
Actually, shred is still a term that confuses me.
Perhaps I’m missing something. I’m pretty sure
it refers to an approach to soloing or lead playing that relies heavily on the use of fast passages. Great! Easy enough (I always do well up to
this point). So why, then, do I get strange looks
when I point out my favorite shredders? Is there
something odd about being a fan of Oscar
Peterson, Charlie Parker or Niccolò Paganini?
At this point in a conversation, as it becomes
apparent that my choices don’t seem to
qualify, I usually find myself seeking clarification. After all, the above-mentioned artists
certainly fit the definition. And right about at
this point, I’ll find myself responding to some
remark about guitar exclusivity. I am reminded of my blatant oversight, and respond
appropriately with something like, “Ah-ha,
now I see the light… the term only applies to
guitar playing. Great! I think I’ve got it!”
Okay, so let me make sure I’m clear.
Playing fast on the guitar is called ‘
shredding’ and playing fast on the piano is
called… ‘playing fast?’ ”
Am I really the only one who thinks there’s
something odd about this? Is there really
nothing weird about the fact that there is suddenly a word assigned to a particular method
of note delivery... a method that people have
obviously been using for centuries?
Is it possible that this very dilemma helps
form the basis of the sort of obsessed-with-speed mindset that seems to permeate so much of the guitar community? If
“fast playing” gets its own word, then why
should all the other various methods of
note delivery be deprived of theirs? Why
no words for playing slow, or for playing
loud, or for playing outside, or soft, or with
vibrato, or in the pocket, etc?
I think one could make the argument that the
word shred has basically helped create the
category of “Shred”—not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but I’ve just
never understood the real need or purpose.
Such a category would seem to lend itself
to the encouragement of a disproportionate
amount of development in one area. Perhaps
we’ve all seen some evidence of that.
Is there really nothing
weird about the fact that
there is suddenly a word
assigned to a particular
method of note delivery...
a method that people
have obviously been
using for centuries?
Anyone familiar with my music knows that
I enjoy fast playing as much as any diehard
“Shred” aficionado. It’s fun and it’s cool, but
I just don’t place it on a pedestal. It’s simply
one of many things to do. Most accomplished musicians, on any instrument, have
the ability to turn on the afterburners when
the need arises. But with non-guitar-playing
musicians, the ability to pump out notes at
high speed seems much less likely to be
viewed as having any more or less value than
the other many abilities they likely possess.
As a guitarist who is often associated with
the delivery of speedy licks, you might think
that I’d automatically denounce those who
walk tall in their no-shred picket lines. You
might expect that I’d have a quick response
to any suggestion that shred too often happens at the expense of musicality—and I
probably would if it weren’t for the fact that
those accusations are quite justified. Heck,
I myself am guilty more often than I care to
admit. The good news, however, is that these
shortcomings can often be remedied simply
by shifting perspective a bit.
I can only speculate that a category called
“Shred” encourages the development of
a sort of “speed at any cost” mentality.
Perhaps there’s no need to assign blame. I
think we can all agree, however, that a large
percentage of licks that lend themselves to
speed are void of much musicality. Instead,
they’re built around the use of various mundane sequences executed within overly
organized shapes and predictable diatonic
patterns solely for the sake of securing note
rapidity. In such cases, these licks have little
to no appeal when played at anything but
ultra-high speed. In fact, in such cases their
sole appeal is the speed.
What I’ve found to be extremely effective in
avoiding this dilemma is to remove the category of “Shred” from my mind, and instead
just deal with music. It’s quite simple, but
very effective, because the thought process
shifts from seeking shapes that work well
with sequences to seeking musical lines that
sound good at any speed.
I’ll admit that there are a lot of great licks
and lines that simply aren’t practical to play
at high speeds, and a lot of the fingerings
and licks that work well with speed are
often shy of musicality. But I promise we
can find comfort in knowing that there are
tons great ones that also contain an abundance of musicality. Those are, of course,
the ones I’ll be exploring with you.
Greg Howe has enjoyed a successful recording career
since bursting onto the scene in 1988, and his talents
have been sought after by some of the biggest names
in the music entertainment industry, such as Michael
Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias.