Emotion and Melody Vs Speed

In this article I will discuss the very common argument between the two sides of the instrumental guitar genre (shred) and explain the validity and downfalls of both sides.

Ultimate Guitar

Hey guys. This is an article I've been wanting to do for a while, but could never get around to it. This is my first ever article on this site so I hope you can get some good information from it. In this article I will discuss the argument of Emotion and Melody Vs. Speed. This is something I hear of very often. Some people say that "speed is just for people who have no sense of actual melody" or "it's boring." The reverse has also been said by many people as well. We will break each side down and discuss the pros and cons of each. If your already on either side of this argument try to keep an open mind. You might just find something here. Let's start with melody.

Melody is defined in the Mirriam-Webster's Dictionary as this: "a rhythmic succession of single tones organized as an aesthetic whole." It's a good definition, but not exactly great. Let's look at this part: "...Aesthetic whole." Aesthetic essentially means beautiful, so applying it to music means something that sounds pleasing to the ear. There's where we hit a problem. What sounds good to you might not sound good to others. This is why the whole argument of Melody Vs. Speed exists. If we use the Websters' Dictionary definition above we can say that a sixteenth note run at 150bpm is a melody. However, when guitarists are speaking of melody they might not necessarily go by the official definition of melody. In my study on this topic most guitarist mean "nice sounding" rather than single tones as the definition states. Many guitarists against pure speed make the argument that "it just sounds like a jumble of notes" or it sounds like pure "nothing." In fact, that flurry of notes is a melody. We've settled that, but what about the emotional side of playing? That's what guitarists for melody are really saying. So, let's look at the main portion of one side of this argument: Emotion.

What do guitarists mean by emotion? They mean feel. How do us guitarists express feel? We use techniques such as bending and vibrato. Melodic guitarists use these techniques. So do speed guitarists. However, it's not really about the techniques we use to get feel. Shred guitar has evolved throughout a long period of time into several different sub-genres. In each sub-genre what defines it is obviously different from the next sub-genre. Let's look at neo-classical shred. What defines this is fast, modal runs, diminished sounding arpeggios, and harmonic minor. That is just a general overview. It's not to be specific with every neo-classical artist, but those are very common shared attributes in the neo-classical genre. I firmly believe that emotion is achieved only when you put your heart into something and you create something with passion. Every good musician does this in one form or another. Just look at many neo-classical guitarists such as Yngwie J. Malmsteen, and Jason Becker. They clearly put a ton of emotion into their playing. They obviously love creating music. Even though Jason can no longer play guitar he is still creating music and it is heartfelt and inspiring. Both guitarists have created long runs played with incredible speed and both put emotion into their work and music. Emotion can be in any genre of music though. The blues is a very emotional genre of music. Emotion can be applied in any type of song. Next, let's look at the speed side of the argument. Then, we will look at the overall picture.

Speed is pretty self explanatory. Guitarists for speed obviously have incredible precision and skill. There's no denying that. We've all met those speed guys though who think they're better than everyone else just because they can play sixteenth notes at a thousand beats per minute (bpm). Not every fast guitarist is like this, but we've all seen them. Speed guys are more for difficult techniques rather than a measure of tasteful bends. Difficult techniques can be very fun to listen to, and to watch. In the following paragraph I will discuss the validity of both sides of the argument.

Having a nice sounding melody can make your songs sound catchy and easy to listen to. Some people find it hard to listen to extremely fast playing for 4 minutes straight. Having melody and a good sense of rhythm can make your songs really great, but nothing beats a really great, sometimes fast solo when it's put around a beautiful melody. Speed, on the other hand, is a great tool for showing off and adding "cool", if you will. Look at that last sentence. Notice I used the word tool. Both melody/emotion and speed are great. We've covered that, but both should be more of a tool than an entire song. Sometimes it's great to have a really fast run and sometimes it's great to have a nice catchy chorus-like section. I personally believe that using both in moderation really makes a shred song stand out, but that just creates another side of the argument. The point of this article is to help you understand both sides of the argument and maybe open your eyes to new ideas. Maybe you'll now want to add a melodic sounding section or a fast run to add interest. I also wanted to put the argument to rest by saying that each side has it's benefits and downfalls. Each side requires skill, but used together can make your songs really pop. Listen to any shred songs and you'll hear both melody and fast sections. Not all have them, but most do. You should also listen to different types of shred. For example. I love Animals As Leaders. Tosin obviously has a lot of skill. I also listen to Michael Angelo Batio, who is a speed demon. Both are great players and have great skill, so the bottom line is to be more open minded when it comes to music. Not just necessarily shred. Hopefully I got that across in this article and opened your eyes a bit to why the whole speed and melody argument is stupid.

I hope you enjoyed this article and got something from it. Don't forget to rate and comment. Also, check out my page for the demo of "Red Skies" which will be on my demo CD getting done here soon. Also check out my artist page on Facebook for news, music, and videos. I just created it so there's nothing up... Yet. Don't forget to "like." Until the next lesson or article, see ya. \m/

53 comments sorted by best / new / date

    My Last Words
    Guitar sensei Guthrie Govan on the late great Shawn Lane and on the whole speed debate: "From my own guitar player perspective, I suppose the most important thing I gleaned from Shawns playing was a kind of confirmation that its okay to play a million notes if you really mean them, and if you have a musical statement to make which actually requires a million notes." The Lord has spoken.
    My Last Words
    Also, just so that everyone knows: There is more to "feeling" than just vibrato and bending.
    Vibrato and bending are part of it, but dude left out the most important part of "feeling" imho: phrasing!! You can take a 5-note lick that doesn't sound like anything special,and rearrange the notes into something that sounds great. And that goes for blues and shred (or any other genre for that matter).
    Dream Pin
    No, it's far more than vibrato and bending, the "feeling" of the playing comes from the feeling of the player itself, not just on a technical level, but from the soul. Genuine feeling transcends what technique you decide to use, because all techniques become valid if your ends are simply to an express an emotion.
    I know i said vibrato and bending but i was giving examples. It wasnt a lesson on playing with emotion. I shouldve been a bit more specific. I also find bote choice to be a good example of sometimes showing emotion
    I find that sweep picking is one of the most feelingful techniques out there when done right.
    Nice topic.... I have always find my mind in the middle.. ,Shred is great, but I like to put a bit of bluesy/jazzy feeling to my guitar parts
    The greats know how to combine both. Joe Satriani, John Petrucci and Steve Vai are excellent examples.
    You know, a guitar part can have emotion without being bluesy. Ever heard of the song Hearts Burst Into Fire, it's a modern rock song that has a lot of emotion. It doesn't sound bluesy. Melody can be found anywhere.
    I think a lot of the time people confuse being melodic, or even more commonly, having "feel", with playing bluesy. You don't have to play bluesy to have either good melodic sense or good feel. Listen to Andy Timmons.
    Just makes everything that much better I was listening to trivium while reading this and they have that concept down really well
    Lots of people dis on shredding altogether. In my opinion it can get boring of it's too repetitive, but that doesn't mean that it's less "creative" than a slower riff or solo. And honestly, even after a year and a half of playing guitar, I couldn't shred to save my life.
    It takes more than a year and half to properly shred up to a decent speed or be really proficient at guitar playing in general.
    Great points. I wish more people would stop trying to prove one or the other is the right way to play and just enjoy the music.
    Great article, The bulk of what I listen to and try play has a mix of both styles. As they say, "Variety is the spice of life".
    what if... someone is excited by speed? the real discussion is between who is excited by a slow melody, and who is excited by a fast melody... and that's just a matter of point of view, so no discussion at all... I can be moved by a Malmsteen solo (and I am) and not moved by Frusciante, it's just about how we are... if someone tries to show that speed is better than melody or vice versa, then he may just needs to show himself: fact is speed has its technical difficulties, which to be achieved need TONS of work, rather than "emotional creativity" which is something that you have or you don't have, imho... so, maybe, it's still true that if some "creative" guy bitches about speed and how much more emotion his music gives, it can be an excuse, because he just can't admit he isn't able to shred... or vice versa xD
    Great article man! This is something I've been thinking about for a while now, and one interesting thing that came to mind was, that blur of notes, let's hypothetically say a C major run for simplicity's sake, can actually trigger the same feeling to a listener as a C major arpeggio, because the notes are passing by so fast, they only hear the general scale, rather than each individual interval. Now, I wouldn't recommend sequencing scale runs as one would sweep-picked arpeggios, but it's certainly an interesting principle that helps to explain a bit of what goes through their heads scientifically during a fast run.
    Actually, intentional dissonance can be quite interesting sometimes. Listen to some of Troy Stetina's lead playing and soloing in Second Soul's Beyond The Infinite.
    Bad Kharmel
    And likewise people should not use the relative concepts of "feeling" and "artistry" as an excuse to be mediocre, I've met too many people who simply dislike techniques they can't yet perform, and subsequently use emotion as a justification for not practicing and not learning new things, be it technical or theoretical
    "Having melody and a good sense of rhythm can make your songs really great, but nothing beats a really great, sometimes fast solo..." David Gilmour would like a word with you...
    Lol. I was speaking from my personal opinion lol. I do enjoy a nice melodic slow solo though. I meant for ppl to get that they can b used together.
    Problem with guitar shredders is that they almost never use dynamics. Man, that's problem with most guitar players (at least rock/metal ones) in general.
    One song that I'm learning is "Breaking All Illusions" by Dream Theater, the solo is a good example of dynamics and really this entire article.
    the worst thing about this song is that.....u can break this song into segments and learn each segments...but when u play it in for the full 12 mins 30 secs in one go.... it becomes really difficult...however...the drum patterns of mangini are easy to remember....i tried some portnoy stuff....its sick...
    What exactly are dynamics anyway?
    It's volume of playing notes. Good musicans will play some notes louder or quieter than others. Although guitar isn't the best instrument to play this way it is possible by picking strings with less force, using volume pedals etc. And yet most of guitarist adjust dynamics only by switching from clean channel to distortion/overdrive in some parts of songs.
    Two words. Michael Schenker. Feel is not emotion. Feeling is making cognitive sense of emotion. You can't create emotion with technique. Emotion comes from within. So while you might have a certain level of technique, it's no guarantee that it will be enough to create a bridge to emotion if the inherent emotional source does not exist. You've either got it or you haven't.
    Good article. It's the difference between playing "a whole lotta notes real fast" vs. music. If Player A can play 20 notes per second, and Player B can play 2 notes per second and bring tears to your eyes, it's obvious which is the most skilled player, but who is the better MUSICIAN? Food for thought.
    Listen to a fast paced Mozart concerto and tell me if there is no feeling lol. I never understood why people make a big deal about this. Its called Largo and Presto. Fast and slow. This music has been around for hundreds of years. You can convey musical ideas at any tempo if done right.
    I love when speed is used sparingly in a solo like 80% slower parts and 20% speed. Speed should be used to create some contrast and surprise the listener. Also to convey an emotion like anger, fear or excitement. When it's overused (most of the time) it sounds like someone took a speed exercise and put it right into a song. That's what makes guys like Gilbert or Friedman stand out imo.
    when i write solos, i like to write shreddy soulful stuff, or feel with some shred. you know, best of both worlds but ultimately i prefer feel over shred anyway
    This whole "debate" is absolute silliness. There is no debate, you've either practiced enough and have developed the accuracy to use speed as a musical device or you haven't. The real idea I feel we all need to come to terms with is VARIETY is essential in maintaining a fresh mind and broader appreciation of musical form. That being said, **** all your stupid metal bands, my tastes are superior.
    Awesome article. I like both shred and slower more melodic solos and songs and I love it when someone is able to combine the two.
    I think guitarists like Andy JAmes (solo/Sacred Mother Tongue) win the argument for a combination of both. if you haven't already check out his self titled solo release and his band's recent album.
    I just wish that people would realize that shred guitar can be more than just fast playing. I can shred a little. I wish that people that can't play it can have more emotion sometimes than blues or jazz.
    If you ever go to a classical concert. The virtuoso violinist would rarely would play a of Paganini piece during the main concert. More often than not they are chucked in as party pieces for the encore. Show off stuff. Zero percent emotion. Shred is a mannerism. A symptom. A hopeless, narcissistic endeavour more closely related to playstation or xbox cannon-fire competition than music. A musical tourette's syndrome.