'Technique vs Feeling' Sucks, and Here's Why

Let us address the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to playing guitar, when it comes to playing music, when it comes to listening music - the seemingly oldest story ever, which is the nonsensical way people approach feelings and technique in music, and how that seems to have become a problem for a bit too many musicians out there.

Ultimate Guitar
So let's stop right there – No, I am definitely not saying that there is a "right" or "wrong" way to feel or that I know either one; No, I am definitely not saying that there are "correct ways" anybody has to feel about anything; but yes, I am saying that "after the fact" (as in "after the feelz") people seem to make up all kinds of weird explanations as to why they felt one way or another. And one of those is the often proclaimed infamous co-relation between technique in music and feelings in music – which makes no sense whatsoever. But let's go step by step by looking at an example.

Case Study: Claptonites vs Malmsteeners

So who is not familiar with this classic debate? On one side, the Claptonites: "So much feel, because it's simple and not very complicated!" (aka Less Technique = more Feelz). On the other side, the Malmsteeners: "No, so much feel because fast, exciting and epic!" (aka More Technique = more Feelz). Polar opposites one might say at first look – however at the basis, both sides are saying the same thing, namely that Feelz are directly dependent on and a direct result of Technique. So by siding with either one of those two camps, you basically say that "Feelings are Technique," even though you can't quite agree with the rest wether it should be more or less. So far, so good.

Where it gets very absurd now, is when we hear the same camps explain how "Music has nothing to do with Technique, it's all Feelz" – resulting in a musical community where "Music has nothing to do with Technique, it's only Feelings – because Technique is all Feelings, after all!." Which doesn't exactly make sense. None, actually – which is what I meant in the opening paragraph, when I spoke about people coming up with "weird explanations."

So you might say now that all of this might be a (not so) mildly entertaining read so far, but what does that have to do with anything? Well, a lot with a lot actually. Fact is, that when you start out or even when you are far along your musical journey (wherever that might be), you probably wanna always take "the next right steps" – which you probably always want to go in some directions of "more skills" and "more feelz." Given that the "right steps" might not always be apparent, you might start to look for advice and references in some musical community - where you'll be confronted with this total nonsense. And wherever you're gonna go, you probably will end up loosing in some way – either you will start stagnating (since the less you do, the better you feel), or you will start overwhelming yourself (since for feeling good you'd have needed more technique like ten minutes ago).

Now obviously, not everyone falls into either of those trappings, so the whole issue probably isn't totally dominating everything – however, speaking from experience (including myself and other musicians I've met), falling into either category doesn't really seem to be an uncommon thing, and addressing it here I believe has more benefits than just continuing to ignore it.


So what do I have to say about the whole thing now? Well, since Feelz are a personal thing, I'd assume there isn't "THE ONE SOLUTION," fitting for everyone out there. However, by coming up with some differentiations and limitations, I think we can make some general assumptions, which should work for most people. I'd suggest the following:

1. Stop being either a Claptonite or a Malmsteener (not because of their music of course, but because of the whole politicized nonsense around it), and just assume that your feelings will come from music, for which you (among other things) need some form of Technique. Doesn't really have to be much more complicated than that.

Or in short, switch from

Technique  Feelings


Technique  Music  Feelings

Then you still have the Technique, but don't have to be emotionally bound by it.

2. Try finding something you can pull off now about which you can feel good – but requires some degree of practicing to get done. That in my experience balances things out nicely (ideal would be probably some form of performance).

That is, if you are interested in testing this thing out.

And again, I don't see a "right" or "wrong" way to feel here, but rather a very weird construct of assumptions that have gotten thrown around to the disadvantage of everyone, which to me seem relatively easy to fix. And at the end of the day, you can still like your Clapton and Malmsteen, regardless of their Technique – so it's all good, really.

About the Author:
David Sertl is a composer and guitarist based in Vienna, Austria. He also runs David's Music Guild, the Youtube channel telling you everything you (n)ever wanted to know about music. For more information you can visit his website.

2 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the feelings you wish to convey in music are often linked to different technique in performance? For example, a pumping palm-muted gallop rhythm section would be a really odd fit in a blues song. A REALLY odd fit. On the other hand, a solo with long, ringing sustained notes and vibrato drenched in reverb would be a dreadful option for speed metal in the ears of many. Maybe putting guitarists on pedestals and proclaiming them "ultimate" is the biggest problem, instead of stopping to analyze what it is that they're trying to communicate, or what story they're trying to tell. Most of the great ones know that technique is a vocabulary aimed at expression, not ornaments for showboating.
    David Sertl
    The Problem i see with linking them is that the range of Combinations gets too overwhelming for people too quickly (referencing myself here). Also, saying for example 'Vibrato => Feeling x' to me is kinda weird, since a VIbrato to me is not a feeling. Labeling Feelings in music generally seems to be a difficult area - at least when you try to approach it from analysis, when you want to provide some helpful theory. The main point for me was just that there seem to be so many weird mash-ups between feel and technique flying around, so I wanted to present a view where they're more 'cleanly separated' - obviously without technique there's no music, but the feelings I would consider the 'aftermath' to the music; and what you feel seems to be more of a context thing within your own life anyways (and therefore not primarily a technique thing). Difficult topic imo.