The Prevalence of Sloppiness in Shred Guitar

The Prevalence of Sloppiness in Shred Guitar

First off: Happy Valentines Day!
May you have an incredibly fun day with loved ones today.

Second off: I didn’t mean for the title of the post to sound like clickbait.
This title hits home what this post is about: most shredders play much less clean than your ear can tell.

For one, it’s interesting to note how much the sloppiness and detail can be covered up with the instrumentation and mix, but also with the actual high-speed playing itself. (later more about that).

Here’s Yngwie Malmsteen‘s Caprici Di Diablo with the full mix.

Here’s Yngwie Malmsteen’s isolated guitar on that Caprici Di Diablo recording.

Notice how the sweep arpeggios are much less clean than they appear in the full mix with all the other instruments.

Now: it still sounds pretty clean.
A large part of the sloppiness gets covered up just by how fast the notes are flying by.
Students who want to become better at shredding should contemplate the interesting lesson embedded in the previous sentence

However: an interesting picture emerges when you slow down the recording.
The following excerpt of the beginning of the song is 90% slowed down.

Notice how the last note of the chromatic 3-note pedal point appears missing on beat 2 of the 2nd bar, making it sound like he’s sacrificing the end of the pedal point to rush into that sustained ending note.

Then in the 2 bar scale sequence that starts on the first beat of the 3rd bar: notice how at the end of the sequence, end of bar 4, the scale sequence ends in a slide as a means to try to get the ending E to fall right on beat 4. (Almost like he ran out of notes but still needed the E to end on 4)

Overall: many of the scalar parts seem rushed going into the next part.
Not all the notes sound very defined, or sometimes even sacrificed, left out, missed.

This oftentimes surprises people, when they first come to realize that the playing of their favorite shredder is quite sloppier than their ears could tell.

Important disclaimer: By no means am I now trying to downplay the artistry, quality, contributions, or musicianship of Yngwie Malmsteen or other shredders.
Not only is what he is doing really hard, but I also have bought quite a large number of Yngwie’s albums since I started playing guitar at age 16.

I absolutely LOVE his playing and his music.

This blog is meant more like some sort of motivational message really!

  1. While many fans generously utter the words “God’ or “Genius” when talking about their favorite guitarists, slowing down their recordings usually shows that those guitarists we look up to, are only human too.
  2. It puts things in the right perspective. Seeing things in the right perspective is healthy (for your mind), because it relieves you, the student, from holding on to your unrealistic expectations you submit yourself to.
  3. Next time you beat yourself up for not seeing results fast enough to your liking, or for sounding sloppy, keep in mind that even most top-level shredders who all made it their life’s goal to play fast and clean, have more sloppiness in their playing than you realize. (as shown in this blog).

    The only difference is that they play so fast that you (almost) can’t hear the sloppiness all that much anymore because it passes by too quickly, or they’ve gotten better at hiding it.

I’m only using Yngwie as an example because Yngwie is the ultimate arch-shredder, but the message conveyed in this blog, applies to many more shredders than one would think.

Technical Guitarists Who Plan vs. Those Who “Wing it”

Another interesting thing you learn about shredding from digging deeper into shred compositions and solos is the role of planning vs. just winging it.
The main way you can tell whether a shred guitar part was entirely transcribed and planned as a composition, or winged is in the rhythmic placement of the notes.

Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, you can tell, are examples of guitarists who (for the most part) plan out their solos, meticulously choose their notes, and then practice their composed solos before recording them.

The rhythmic placement is meticulous, the number of notes per beat “makes sense”, and nothing feels rushed or dragged.
Every odd number of notes on a beat feels like it was meant like it is part of the design of the solo.

Everything sounds very controlled, designed, well-thought off.
A decision was made about every note, chord, rhythm: nothing was left to chance.

Steve and Joe are the kinds of composers who go through great lengths to ensure that the composition says EXACTLY what they want it to say and that the listeners hear and feel what the composer was trying to evoke, as closely as possible to the composer’s vision.

One of the results of this approach is that the overall performance of faster shred guitar passages tends to sound significantly cleaner.
They’re not “winging” it, so to speak.

Yngwie however, usually doesn’t sound like he meticulously composed his lines.

While Steve Morse, Vai, and Satriani’s melodies sound like compositions, Yngwie’s melodies sound like solos, like a series of parts he made up on the spot (without giving them all too much thought) and tried to fit together into a song.

Oftentimes the number of notes in Yngwie’s longer scalar lines feels “arbitrary”.

It literally feels like he’s “pushing” a certain number of notes, to fit into a defined number of beats.

To describe this another way: it sometimes sounds like he’s trying to play as fast as he can, stretching the time, a number of notes, or note placement in each scalar or arpeggio passage, as a means to manipulate where the ending note will ultimately land.

This sounds obvious when you slow down the recordings.
You then hear more easily how many of the endings of longer scalar lines sound rushed or even sloppy, stumbling over (sacrificing) ending notes to force the ending note of the melodic passage to fall on the desired beat.

I gave 2 examples about this above, referencing to the slowed-down excerpt of Caprici Di Diablo.

The randomness this loose composition approach introduces, leaving things a bit to chance, is part of the reason why the performance becomes sloppier.

In case you would like me to clarify on a deeper level what I mean with “randomness”: play the slowed down excerpt and count the beats 1 2 3 4 along with the music.

Especially pay attention to the scalar line that starts on the first beat of the 3rd bar.
Notice where the notes fall while you’re counting along.

THAT is what I mean by “randomness”.

This line was not “meticulously composed”
The rhythmic placement of the notes in this scalar line, which consists of a repeating melodic sequence, is absolutely all over the place.

If this were meticulously composed a la Vai or Satriani, or Steve Morse or Greg Howse (just to name a few), then that scalar line would never have felt THAT loose rhythmically.
(Nor would they ever end up having to conclude the melodic passage with a random slide at the end to get the low E to nicely fall on beat 4)

In any case: that randomness, looseness, is one of the main causes of the performance sounding sloppy.

After all, the brain is more at ease when things are 100% worked out in great detail beforehand.
It relieves the brain from having to guess where all the notes fall.

As a result: more brainpower can be assigned towards the physical, the performance execution.
Only so much brainpower can be assigned to any given task at any given time.

You will never play your cleanest or your best fast lines when you’re making things up on the spot.

It’s an unbelievable paradox, that a musician who so greatly wants to align himself with Paganini and Bach, would so baldy neglect to copy their meticulous composition styles and mind-blowing attention to detail.


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That is why people take lessons: way better results and progress, much more complete information, exposed to way more creative ideas than you can get from a blog or YouTube video.
There is only so much that self-study can accomplish.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Mike D. Says:

    It’s called improvisation. Meticulously planned out lacks spontaneity. Yeah, he likes to emulate the classical Masters, but also rock icons, and he likes to always improvise rather than play it safe. He’s talked about this many times, as I’m sure you know. Yngwie’s solos are always more thrilling than the others, and have more of a classic rock feel to them, for precisely that reason. Later solos, especially something as extreme as “Capricci”, are not as clean as other solos he’s played, as you also well know – but mind boggling, and the effect is devastating, regardless of slo-mo note perfection. Read what Vai, Satch & the others all say about Yngwie, as well as Guthrie & many others. Sounds to me like the usual “I’m Yngwie’s biggest fan & in no way trying to slag him”, then proceeding to try to slag him. Yawn…

    October 26th, 2021 at 11:16 am
  2. vreny Says:

    Hi Mike,

    As you of course already know: Facts always speak for themselves, even if you don’t like them or don’t agree with them. So here are some facts:

    1) I have almost every Yngwie album

    2) I saw him live numerous times.

    3) I never said I am his biggest fan. (You kinda made that up, right?). One can have all the records of a certain guitar player, without that guitar player even making the list of that record buyers top 10 favorite guitarists. I have every Steve Vai, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani, Jeff Beck etc. etc. album, (and I could go on for a while listing guitarists who I own the whole discography off)… none of whom are amongst my top 10 favorite guitarists. I have every Rush album: my 2 favorite bands are The Beatles and Queen, not Rush. I also LOVE Rush… a lot, but they are not my favorite band. Same for Journey, Badlands, etc etc… All bands I love, but only a few can be “favorite bands”. If everything were your favorite, then none would be anymore. It also works in the other direction: some of my top-10 favorite players, I am, for various reasons, far from owning the whole discography of (Richie Kotzen, Stanley Jordan, Steve Lukather, just to name a few.)

    4) I never said in my post that I “am in no way trying to slag him”. I was neither trying to slag Yngwie nor trying to not slag him. I merely pointed out with proof, evidence, and example, that many shredders (many of whom tend to carry their technical proficiency as a badge of honor), don’t sound as clean as most of their listeners think, and that, if that is EVEN the case for Yngwie, that that more than likely might be the case for many shredders, most of which don’t have the reputation that Yngwie has in that genre.

    5) “Yngwie’s solos are always more thrilling than the others”…. is… personal opinion, not fact. There are just as many people who dislike technically proficient playing and discard it as “boring”, no matter how “exciting” it might sound to us guitar players who love shredding.

    6) It doesn’t matter what “other (famous/amazing/etc) guitar players say” about someone: it’s good to learn how to think and observe for oneself. It’s not because your close friend is about to jump off of a building, that you should do it, too. (even if he has really good reason to do so).

    7) It’s good to learn/understand that there is a difference between analysis and opinion. My opinion about Yngwie and his playing is exactly the same like Satch, Vai “and the others” lol. My analysis of this song, though, is that for an untrained ear and because of the high speed, his playing sounds much cleaner and more accurate than it in reality is. The reality is that once you really “listen” to it, there is a lot of hope for the lesser guitarists who would like to shred, because one lesson this teaches, is that there is a hell of a lot you can mask just with sheer speed and quantity (of notes). Does that mean that I am slagging him? No, that is your opinion. I didn’t even criticize the song. I LOVE that song, and I love his playing in it. But that doesn’t mean I should just stick my head in the sand, and delusionally ignore what my ear is telling me about the performance. Is it amazing guitar playing? OF COURSE it is! Does it sound really cool? You betcha!!

    8) Lastly… well that’s the thing: if spontaneity is what one is after, then one probably should not do so much effort to try to sell oneself as compositionally/musically comparable to (or heavily influenced by) “Paganini” or “Bach”, who meticulously worked out all their melodies and played them impeccably clean and accurately. If spontaneity is REALLY what one is after, WHILE fulfilling the goal of establishing a reputation as a composer/performer that elevates one to a level that is somewhat comparable to famed classical guys like Bach or Paganini: in that case… leave the improvisation then to your guitar solo sections, so it doesn’t sound like you’re merely “winging” your main melodies in the compositional sections. The section I wrote about was the main beginning theme/melody. Not entirely sure why you bring up “improvisation” because the part I wrote about in my blog, is NOT improvised. (because it’s not a solo, it’s the main melody). But, as pointed out in my blog, it also doesn’t sound strongly composed: it sounds “winged”.

    I get your point about spontaneity. But it is a bit funny to me to talk spontaneity in a style of music that is all about composition and note choices. If you want to be spontaneous: play jazz, funk… or blues, or form a jam band: not music that is all about composition, structure, and form. Moreover: Spontaneity is a poor excuse for sloppiness. Spontaneity is also in the eye/ear of the beholder: oftentimes, the well-prepared person ends up sounding much more spontaneous than the person who tried to just wing it on the spot, for obvious reasons: you can be more in the moment and relaxed when you know where you (and your fingers) will end up at without having to give it any thought. It’s why top-level performers meticulously plan out their shows and even prep and memorize all their banter, so they can be relaxed and spontaneous during the show, instead of contantly having to be on guard about what to say or do next. It’s a mistake to think that 1) that all improvisation is or sounds spontaneous (it isn’t and it doesn’t) and that 2) any planning, prep or attention to detail automatically implies that spontaneity will be lost. (it isn’t).

    Just my 3 cents… (for whatever it is worth, and hopefully worded well enough to somehow provide some sort of value) 🙂

    March 21st, 2022 at 4:09 pm
  3. skrzitek Says:

    I think this is a very good blog post and I suppose – as with much music – it boils down to personal preference. For me Vinnie Moore (during his ‘neoclassical era’) was someone who put a lot of value on precision playing and it stands in contrast to a lot of stuff that was around at the time.

    August 20th, 2022 at 7:53 am
  4. vreny Says:

    I LOOOOVE Vinnie a lot too. I have a couple of his albums and listened to them a lot. I only saw him live once, but it wasn’t at a show, but at some sort of clinic, Q&A type of event. I can’t entirely remember anymore where that was. I think it was while I was a student at Berklee College of Music in the late 90s in Boston.

    August 20th, 2022 at 7:45 pm