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Finding a Playing Style

Question by Landon Koon
(Montgomery, Texas)

I feel that I have hit an enormous brick wall in my guitar playing.

I've been learning more and more but I don't have a specific style developed for myself. Mostly because I am not entirely sure what genre of music I want to play on guitar.

I want to play a multitude of genres all the time, but everybody else develops with their one style.

For example I love electric rock or blues guitar, and at the same time I want to learn a lot of fingerstyle guitar, or even jazz. I simply don't know what to do and it is hindering my motivation to play.


Landon, if you break down all the styles you're interested in learning, you'll find they share a lot of fundamental playing techniques in common.

For example, fingerstyle playing is used in blues, rock, jazz and many other styles. Fingerstyle is not really a style of music - it's a style of playing.

Go ahead and learn fingerstyle and then apply it to whatever music your experimentation leads you to.

Jazz has the sound it does primarily because if its fusion of extended/altered chords, swing and Latin timing and altered scales. There's no reason why they can't be fused with rock and other genres (and they have - jazz fusion anyone??)

Electric rock is just a mish-mash of blues and acoustic folk music through an amplified (and often distorted) speaker!

Metal, rock and blues share many elements, such as scale choices, timing, lead and picking techniques etc.

Style is merely the selective application of technique. In fact, it's probably even more ambiguous than that.

I prefer to think of individual players having a style rather than music having styles.

So my advice is to forget about style for a moment and think more about raw technique.

My aim as a teacher is to help you find your own playing style, but much of this comes naturally through building up your repertoire of fundamental techniques and skills, independent of style/genre.

It's a bit like food (bear with me on this one!) - we classify recipes into "styles" of cooking, but many of the ingredients in a Mediterranean dish, for example, are used in other dishes. It's how you prepare and cook the ingredients that determines the "style".

The same can be said for musical styles. It's how you combine and apply (cook) different techniques (ingredients) that determines the outcome.

But you still need those same ingredients stocked up in your cupboards and fridge whether you're playing existing styles or you want to freely experiment with a new style.

Ok, enough of the food analogy (sorry, I haven't had lunch yet).

Once you have a well rounded skill set, then is the time to specialise, because only then will you have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses and what you enjoy playing the most.

You'll naturally gravitate towards a style that fuses your strongest skills.

So the key thing here is not to pigeon hole yourself and make sure you have a good stock of techniques to play with.

Your statement, "I am not entirely sure what genre of music I want to play on guitar" is actually quite liberating when you think about it, because it means you can focus 100% on technique - skills that are fundamental to guitar playing in general - and let your style form naturally from a well rounded skill set.

I often use this example, but if the guitarists from heavy metal band Meshuggah had simply said "I want to be a metal guitarist", they would likely have not sounded as unique as they do. The Alan Holdsworth style jazz influence would have been lost in favour of limiting themselves to traditional heavy metal dynamics.

But by listening to jazz and thinking "how did they play that?" or "how did they get that sound?" - ah! Now we're asking the right questions. The focus is now purely on technique.

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Ah.... Thanks!
By: Jorge

Hi there Mike!

I have a 15 y.o. boy that has a hard time knowing what style is for him and that otherwise has a hard time taking the time to develope his techniques (practice the different techniques).

So let's say that by learning the scales and modes he won't get far as he doesn't take time for improving guitar tecniques. Isn't it?

Great thanks Jorge.

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