Arlen Roth on Taste and Restraint
Above all, the most identifiable and memorable times within your playing are when you can truly use “taste and restraint” to your favor. Many of us learn to play, and want to play fast, but I tell many students to not also try to be all about speed. Speed is important of course, and any one of us who plays notes would also love the ability to play them at an impressive, lightning fast clip. The problem is, “what happens when we simply want to slow things down, and be more tasteful?”
Well, it goes without saying that this is the kind of playing that really separates “the men from the boys”, and the simpler we can make our musical statements, the more we are actually putting into it, both in an emotional, as well as a technical statement. All technique is not just “built for speed”, and so much of what we love to express melodically on the guitar is often at a much slower pace than the majority of the players play at!
As a little side story to this thought, I can remember that when I coached actor Ralph Macchio in the film Crossroads, it was far easier to get him to fake to the fast-played stuff than the slow, more emotional pieces. In these, I strived to make his vibrato and sliding totally believable, especially when the hands were doing anything of a truly “vocal” quality that required real microscopic scrutiny from the movie-goers, and of course, from me, his coach and player of the parts! And of course, by being the actual player of the parts I could not only know exactly what it was I was teaching him, but I could first record and create the parts knowing full well what would look most believable with Ralph playing it.
Interestingly enough, Ralph as a listener, always leaned towards playing the slower, more bluesy and emotional stuff than the flashy things they wanted him to do as the “Karate Kid of the Guitar!” So even as a total novice who had never even held a guitar before, he knew that if he was to be believable in this film as a guitar player, it was the more subtle things he wanted to be able to convey with his fingers.
I know that it was also those key elements I tried to capture for my playing when I listened to my early heroes such as B.B. and Buddy. I always knew the “technique” would come, but my technique always fell in line once I got the essential “feeling” down. In other words technique really follows the need to make certain forms of expression and subtlety within the music, as opposed to coming before the artistic expression it utilizes. So keep all this in mind as you pursue your creativity, and always remember that “less is truly more” in the long run!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.