Marty Friedman to Young Guitarists: 'Instrumental Music Is a Dead-End Street'

"If I hear some fantastic guitar player, I'm either jealous or I don't like what he's doing," former Megadeth axeman says.

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Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman gave a brutally honest word of advice to young guitarists, telling them to steer clear of the instrumental domain. He also touched on an interesting matter of musician jealousy.

Chatting with Guitar Messenger at this year's NAMM convention, Marty commented, "First of all, instrumental music - don't even go there. Instrumental music is a tough genre. It's the funnest thing to play, because you don't have to deal with any singers. But in reality, it's a very limited amount of people who can stand it. To be honest with you, I'm not a big fan of instrumental music, myself.

"It sounds hypocritical for someone who's released so many instrumental albums, but I think that's the standard to which I make my instrumental music," Marty continued (via "It's like for someone who can't stand instrumental music; it has to be at this level of stuff. It's far beyond showing your chops and showing what you can do."

Friedman then gave the "all over the place" approach a solid bashing, noting, "And the worst thing is how versatile you are, because I don't want to hear a country song, a blues song, a metal song, a rap song all on the same album. A lot of instrumental guys tend to do that because it's like a resume, which is fine for a resume, but not for a listening album."

The axeman then confessed that in order "to develop your own identity as a guitarist, it's fun to do instrumental stuff, but get into a band. I love playing in a band the best. Bands are where it's at. The more you play with your band, the more identity you will have as a guitarist," he said.

Sharing more grim vibes, Marty added, "Instrumental music is kind of a dead-end street. I hate to be negative, but these are the realities. There are only so many people who want to listen to that much guitar and most of them are guitar players."

Focusing on musician jealousy, Friedman continued, "Guitar players don't even like to listen to guitar players. I'll tell you, if I hear some fantastic guitar player, I'm either jealous that he's so good and I can't do that, or I think I don't like what he's doing and I would never do it that way; I just don't like the way the guy plays. Those are the only two options. I rarely hear a great guitar player go, 'I like it, I want to listen to it.' I either wish I could play like that, or I don't like the way this guy plays. It's like that."

Acknowledging that his fanbase consists of many guitar players and appreciating the support, the guitarist said: "If I was only doing instrumental music, I think I would pull my hair out. There's a time and place for it. When I do it, you can bet that there's no stone unturned. It's going to be the rad stuff and it's definitely not a show-off type of thing and it's not an arrogant type of thing. I've been making instrumental music; some people expect that from me. So if I'm going to do it, it's going to be something even I'm happy to put out.

"My advice is, collaborate with as many people as you can. Play in a band. Being by yourself, doing everything by yourself ... unless you're someone like Prince, who's a god, I wouldn't want to put all that work on you. Be part of something great," Marty concluded.

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So that was a lot of honesty coming from the renowned guitarist - do you agree with him? And have you ever experienced the musician jealousy Marty just mentioned?

46 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I get what he's saying but there is a difference between say his stuff & Satriani, compared with Pelican & Mogwai. I've always seen it a bit like guitar playing ability vs song writing ability but maybe that's just me. Personally I love instrumental music but he's right, the crowd for it is small - people just cant seem to understand music without a vocalist and its a real shame.
    Definitely, though Post-Rock bands like Mogwai are enjoying a lot more popularity nowadays, plenty of people within the Indie scene are into that sort of music and there's a pretty good community for bands like that here in the UK. It's not really mainstream stuff, but it's getting to the point where these sorts of bands can gain the respect of their peers and have a half decent following.
    You named post rock, but what about the endless EDM that is more popular then ever. A lot of it features vocal libs and hooks, but when you go out, every club with instrumental EDM is still packed. Also name 10 popular singers from 1910.. 1920... 1930.. etc. How about the top 10 hits from say 2010 (without looking) Hard right? Now name Instrumental music composers.. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven.. More recent perhaps.. Miles Davis, John Coltrane. Etc. If anything most legends in music are instrumentalists in nature, and not many people will know for example famous opera singers from 1850 or w/e. Or even popular singers from 5 years ago.
    To add to that. Yes instrumental guitar music is pretty much dead, but if people are more familiar with super mario & zelda tunes from 20 years or film scores of star wars from 40+ years ago, then clearly instrumental music has it's place
    "Also name 10 popular singers from 1910.. 1920... 1930.. etc. How about the top 10 hits from say 2010 (without looking) Hard right? Now name Instrumental music composers.. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven.. More recent perhaps.. Miles Davis, John Coltrane. Etc." That's a very dumb argument. How about you name 10 popular instrumentalists from say the 1970s? Hard right? Going straight to Mozart and Bach is cheap and easy, because they've gone beyond musical popularity - they're part of history. We hear about this shit in schools. And besides, Friedman wasn't talking about instrumental music in general, he was talking about guitar players playing instrumental tracks and basically just showing off, which indeed IS a dead end street. Also, don't generalize about what kind of artists people know about. It makes you sound like a prick.
    EDM is slightly different because a lot of it is really just background music, you're not meant to actively listen to it, you're meant to groove to it. This is coming from an EDM fan by the way. I guess the shreddy instrumental music is waning, but even then other stuff that is equally, if not more technical is taking it's place, like Math Rock, which is also enjoying a lot more popularity recently.
    If you're talking about Shrapnell-style records then yes: that sh*t gets boring pretty quickly and does feel like a guitar resume at times But I loves me some Govan/Aristocrats, Flying Lotus, Miles Davis, DJ Shadow, Django Reinhardt, Boards of Canada, Buckethead, Zappa, Madlib, Eric Johnson, Aphex Twin, Art Tatum... and about a zillion other acts that don't spring to mind right now Rock music can get quite boring without vocals, I'll give him that. I used to listen to every virtuoso guitarist's solo record I could get my hands on. I've noticed I stray towards the jazz and fusion nowadays because it's infinitely more appealing to me than the pentatonic sweeping and such. But instrumental music a dead-end street? That's a pretty laughable statement
    "It's the funnest thing to play, because you don't have to deal with any singers." I think he's talking about Mr Mustaine here...
    Sco b
    i dont ever comment on anything and dont have any footing to say anything against the guy but anybody listen to Animals as leaders....instrumental...progresive yes... but instrumental
    Buckethead writes songs that a lot of people enjoy listening to despite having no singer. I think what he said holds some truth, of course a singer gives the music a bigger chance of being relative and having charcter, but if a song is very well written it's gonna be a good song to listen to.
    Marc Ribot, John Zorn, John Mclaughlin...other than that he's absolutely right. As great a guitar player as Joe Satriani or Paul Gilbert might be, neither one of them writes compelling music.
    Add Jeff Loomis to that list as well. Miles Of Machines is one of the coolest instrumentals I've ever heard.
    Emperor's Child
    I think that's it. You've got Animals as Leaders composing some brilliant instrumental music. Yes, their fanbase isn't huge but it's no less impressive than similar bands that have a singer. The instrumental band Intervals recently announced the addition of a vocalist to their line-up. Let's just say that not everyone is happy about that. Similarly, the instrumental version of Periphery's first album is rated higher than the official version on a number of review sites.
    obviously he has problems with his own ego relating to music as a listener. he was the one preaching about virtuosity not being the proper intent of instrumental music (which is 100% correct) and then judges the music in only that one way: virtuosity... which yes, human nature probably only allows him and any other musician/guitarist two reactions to it, so he simply becomes jealous or contemptuous? so people should only bother to create emotion through music if vocals are included because your arrogance cant handle it mr friedman? moron. so no one bother with fingerstyle, flamenco, classical, jazz, or modern metal because even if its completely fulfilling for you, marty ****in friedman isn't getting off on it. people need to stop being so self indulged, comparing their skills or material to everything they hear, and remember why we loved this in the first place. animals as leaders ganesh rao Antoine dufor andy McKee anoushka Shankar ^ everyone go blow their minds, indulge in pure emotion, and give this lost soul claiming to be a true musician and lover of music a giant middle ****ing finger. ****ing moron.
    Earthless, Pelican, Mogwai, Earth... all decent instrumental acts.
    So post-rock is basically doomed to fail. Or is it? (It's not)
    He's not really talking about all instrumental music is he? I think when he says "instrumental music" he's mostly referring to show off guitar albums.
    Doubt it, like I've said above, Post-Rock is probably more popular now than it has ever been, I heard some Explosions In The Sky on TV the other day, it was surreal.
    Isnt it too general to put it as "instrumental music", theres the Cacophony like instrumental, which is just guitar virtuosity pouring down at every corner (not my cup of tea), and then theres jazz, prog rock, post rock, stoner rock, jazz fusion, which instead go for collective jams and grooves. Maybe its because of people with this mindset than instrumental music doesnt get the respect/attention it deserves, its not just mindless guitar solo masturbation.
    Fair enough I guess, but I do disagree. Yes it's more difficult to find an audience but musicians like Mono, Mogwai, Ryuichi Sakamoto or even neo classical musicians such as Nil Frahms or Olafur Arnalds make some of the most compelling music you will ever hear (almost always intrumental) very ethereal, surrealistic and theoretically intriguing. If you're making genuinely interesting music, instrumental or not, I'm sure you'll find an appropriate audience.
    How awesome is Marty giving Prince props.. amazing i need to buy more Prince music.
    The jealousy thing is exactly how I am. :O Shit.
    Yeah its actually pretty funny how right he is. It takes guts to admit that whenever we hear someone that's better than us, it really just pisses us off. Or rather than accepting that they're just better players, we rationalize that we just don't like the way they play. LOL. I'll admit that I can be this way sometimes, and that I'll just turn the music off and start practicing scales again till my fingers bleed out of frustration.
    Yeah its actually pretty funny how right he is. It takes guts to admit that whenever we hear someone that's better than us, it really just pisses us off. Or rather than accepting that they're just better players, we rationalize that we just don't like the way they play. LOL. I'll admit that I can be this way sometimes, and that I'll just turn the music off and start practicing scales again till my fingers bleed out of frustration.
    I wonder if he is jealous of Chris Broderick.
    Why would he be? Broderick has to play Friedman's solos, he doesn't get to improvise or play something by him. Who'd be jealous of that?
    He shouldn't be. Just a question of curiostiy. There's no denying the playing ability of both guitarist.
    My Last Words
    Broderick is better than Friedman technique-wise Friedman is better than Broderick song-writing-wise
    Instrumental music is not the same as guitar solo music. That's just one kind of instrumental music that Marty's talking about. You can also play non-virtuosic instrumental music that focuses on good melodies/rhythms rather than fast shredding and complicated rhythms and stuff like that. But yeah, the kind of instrumental music Marty is talking about can get boring really easily.
    Would be interested to hear his views on guys like Tommy Emmanuel, Andy Mckee, Don Ross, Antoine Dufour and general CandyRat acoustic artists. Although they probably fit into his category of 'showy' guitarists I think they offer something different in the way they touch on a diverse set of genres on one instrument. This is all completely subjective, particularly the 'jealous' eeling he gets from hearing instrumentalists. I find them inspiring, helping a novice to apsire to push the limits of guitar playing
    Blind In 1 Ear
    he's pretty much right. the only instrumental player i listen to on a regular basis is eric johnson, and i think it's because he does actually sing on like half his songs. the other thing i like, is that there IS a variety. why would i want to listen to only one genre on an album? that gets boring fast. so i disagree with that point, to a degree. i mean, you wouldn't want to have stuff that so different that it sounds like a totally different band and genre, but too much of the same thing gets really boring. i think that's really why most people don't like instrumental rock, it's boring. if you are going to be an instrumental player, be more creative. no on needs ANOTHER instrumental rock shredder, we've heard that since the 80's. most instrumental players just want to have songs as excuses to solo over them, but good songs come from rhythm and harmony. that's what makes people want to listen again and again. cool playing only gets you so far.
    My format has always seemed to be sorta like Zappa, half-and-half on the vocal/instrumental tunes. I could release a couple albums worth of my own instrumentals, but I have a roughly equal number of vocal pieces to choose from.
    I know lots of people that enjoy instrumental music. Just,…probably not the kind he's talking about.
    Please link me to an instrumental song that has "country, blues, metal, and rap"? I have no idea what he's referring to.
    I agree with Marty, I struggle to enjoy listening to a solo artist's guitar album, I love Marty's playing as much as anyone but i would much prefer to throw on Rust in Peace than his solo albums. I think those types of albums had their day (surfing with the alien etc) but not so much anymore. And nothing can compare to playing with a band and being part of something special. He is a big reason for me taking up the guitar
    The only current instrumentalists I listen to are Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel. My all time fav instrumental music is Chopin.