To Shred or Not To Shred?

It’s been established that most of Devin Townsend’s work does not feature guitar solos. Case in point is that in the Strapping Young Lad album “Alien”, only one song gets a guitar solo. As you can see in the video above, Devin Townsend can shred (or, in his own terms, wanky wank wank), although the point of this video is sort of a mockery or a parody of the guitar hero phenomenon. In fact, in one of D’Addario’s videos featuring Mr. Townsend, he goes on to say that, “Anybody and his dog can play wanky guitar,” which I would think means that anyone can go on and play a gazillion notes without any semblance of meaning other than to impress people. So the question now is the title of this entry: To Shred or Not to Shred?

If Mr. Townsend would perform what can be called meaningful shred, it would be something like this:


It’s a medley of Devin Townsend songs with a title that let’s people know what his opinion is about shred guitar in general.

I remember reading that Mr. Townsend always puts the song in mind and that more often than not, wanky guitar doesn’t work well in a song (in his songs at least) and it does not add anything to it. It sort of echoes Claude Debussy who once said “The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous may happen.” So, if we are only trying to communicate “danger” through shred, is that all there is to it?

Perhaps a sort of balance must be always kept in mind. You can shred as long as it will add something to a song or musically make a point, making shredding inevitable to the music. It would certainly be the case in other kinds of musical work. In other cases, we have to accept that shred will not work well. For example, in Dream Theater (a band known for shredding prowess) songs like “Lifting Shadows of a Dream” or “Disappear”, shredding on a guitar would be a worthless exercises because it will not add anything to the song. Clearly this shows that John Petrucci knows when to say “pass” to shredding even if it is one of his strongest points.

So, if we can forego shredding in music, then why even attempt how to do it in the first place. One reason is that there are occasions where it will work and it will add wonderful things to a song. I can’t imagine a song like “Highway Star” or Mr. Big’s “Addidicted to that Rush” without all that shreddy guitar work. Second, learning how to shred improves motor skills and reaction time in music. Steve Stine usually says in his instructional videos that the point of learning how to shred or play difficult stuff is not the goal itself. But rather practicing such things builds skills and confidence that will enable you to do things easier and more effectively. If you can play difficult material then lower level material would be easier to play. It builds skill that will enable any musician to accurately reflect what should be expressed. It’s kind of like functional musical gymnastics.

I remember my piano teacher, Prof. Richelle Rivera, saying something to effect like, “Playing fast is not the goal. We already know you can play fast. Producing a good tone is.” I am of course paraphrasing my piano teacher’s words but in essence meaningful expression is always more paramount than superficial flash. I remember getting a bit impatient about myself playing slowly on pieces by Bartok and Beethoven and so I decided to speed up a bit (especially on the Bartok Bagatelle I was assigned to work on), only to be reprimanded by my teacher who insisted that I play the piece at an almost dragging pace. In such a manner, I was again reminded that playing slow is actually more difficult than playing fast. Articulating the notes in a way that accurately represents what you want to communicate to an audience is harder than impressing an audience with a gazillion notes per second. To this day, despite no longer being a piano major, I still work on my piano skills as my teacher had instilled upon me.

So, to shred or not to shred? To shred, as long as it is done meaningfully and appropriately, the opposite of shredding as a means of self-indulgence.

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