This is the kind of “catch phrase” we always seem to hear, just like we always hear “less is more”, but these expressions are tried and true, and certainly exist for a real reason! The problem is that as young players mature, and as they want to emulate their heroes these days, they all seem to want to drive the “Corvette before the Rambler!” Everybody wants to pick up the guitar, and suddenly go from zero to sixty in 3 seconds flat! The difficulty then becomes the ability to actually slow down, and “keep it simple!”
I have always thought that keeping it simple and playing with “good taste” definitely go hand in hand, but one must first be able to put this philosophy of playing into real action. It takes real life experience, where you have to do the kinds of sessions and live shows that I did and continue to do to this day for so many years. It takes hearing criticism from those who you thought only “loved” everything you played, and it takes that act of “survival” that can only occur in real-life situations of do or die recording sessions, and live shows in front of critical audiences. Most of all though, it takes having a “knack” for knowing what is required of the given musical situation, and how to utilize your entire arsenal to pare it down to the bare essentials of what would actually sound the best for the given tune.
This doesn’t mean you must always “keep it simple”, as of course, there are plenty of musical pieces that require all kinds of breakneck speed playing, and many songs that are literally “built for speed!” That’s also an important requirement of the tasteful guitar player who must know when to “let go” or when to “hold back.” Holding back always seems to be the harder route to take, but if you’ve ever really concentrated on what hit records sound like, you’ll always see that the “producer” always went for the simpler, more direct route in terms of the guitar parts. In other words, many of the simplest of guitar parts and solos over the years were really played by folks with such unbelievable “chops”, that they had no choice but to “hold back” and keep it tasteful, and most of all, play “for the song!”
So keep this in mind as you move forward in your music-making, and heed my words to the wise! I’ll be discussing this more in later Blog entries, but for now, try “keeping it simple” as a true exercise in taste and restraint. It can be the best part of being a player!