To Shred Or Not To Shred

Recently I have been following several discussions on what is commonly referred to as shredding, not in the least because one of my good friends called me a shredder even though we were playing jazz. The questions central in several of these discussions was: is shredding a waste of time or not?


It is good to keep in mind that guitar shredding is not understood in the same way by everyone: some associate shredding with simply playing very fast and others reserve the term for fast playing in a metal context.

I will go for the broader term, if only because that covers a broader spectrum and gives this post and others to follow on the subject matter more room to maneuver  in. So for the sake of this post and hopefully subsequent discussion, I will understand shredding as playing fast to extremely fast runs regardless of the style of music. 

I will add the following qualification though and that is that I see shredding as not just playing any fast series of notes but a meaningful series. Some will regard this as playing in key, I will just keep it as a meaningful series of notes. I listen to people like Michael Brecker or David Liebman both amazing saxophone players and they sometimes play outside, for the guitarist one could think of people like Frank Gambale, Mike Stern or Scott Henderson.

In the rock genre people like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert spring to mind, in blues you could think of Stevie Ray Vaughn or Joe Bonamassa, gypsy jazz players like Stochelo Rosenberg for the acoustic guitar or what to think of John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Larry Coryell or in the more traditional styles of jazz guitar, people like George Benson, Joe Pass, Pat Martino.

I think we can conveniently say that whatever style of music, there will be those that express themselves with fast played runs and some that use lesser notes to convey their message, and than there is at all times a category of people that think they can impress and entertain by fast for the sake of fast and use shredding as a means to get recognition. I also guess that that type of recognition swiftly fades: what would you like to hear after a concert? “Wow you are fast and technical” or “wow your music really touched me”. When shredding is done for the sake of fast, it will become boring without a doubt, just as slow for the sake of slow becomes stale at some point as well.

Shredding is a waste of time proponents

I cannot help but feeling that those who think that shredding is a waste of time are those that are not able to when asked for it, and in all fairness some circumstances require a bit more notes than others.

It seems to make no sense to equalize fast playing with soulless and senseless. here’s one such response:

To paraphrase Shakespeare; “It is a sound made by an idiot. Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” What about melody, rhythm, sensitivity, feeling and interplay and empathy between musicians? But I know these are boring old fart qualities for all you young whippersnappers. These days it’s all about speed, volume and excess. Can’t use it myself. As Lowell George (but you won’t know who I’m talking about any more than I’ll know who Dimebag Darrell is (I do, but that doesn’t mean to say I advocate it)) said – it’s not what you play, it’s what you leave out.

While there may be some obvious truth in all this, there is also the matter of expression. I compare it to people: speak to a Frenchman or a Spaniard and you’ll notice (despote all these wonderful language lessons) that it is very hard to keep up with the speed. In fact when I returned to the Netherlands for a short intermission, even though Dutch is my first language, I found it hard to keep up as  I am now used to the slightly slower pace of Kiwi English.

I guess so it is to some extent with to shred or not to shred. It is in part a matter of personal taste as to whether or not to use fast playing as part of how you want to express yourself.  I personally do not see anything wrong with playing fast at times and it would be shortsighted to dismiss it all together. Yet most often the people that do just that are those that cannot do it even if they wanted it.

Shredding is not a waste of time

I see myself in this category but with a very distinct but. I separate shredding as part of my practice regimen from how I express myself, as that may differ widely from occasion to occasion.

In my practice regime shredding in all styles of music plays an important part. Not because I see fast as an ultimate goal but because being able to do fast enhances my technique and moreover  have found that practicing shredding has had considerable impact on how I am now able to execute music also on a slower pace. If your technical boundaries are further away it makes it so much easier to execute those other passages with greater confidence and accuracy, being able to make every note you play count.

Using theoretical knowledge I have found that some of the harmonically dull arpeggio studies, scalar runs and pentatonic stuff gets a completely new life when applied in a different less obvious context. It is great if you hear certain faster lines in your head and you are actually able to execute them while improvising, and this applies for my rock playing, my jazz playing and at times even when I am playing in church.

When done with taste there is nothing wrong with playing fast, blisteringly fast even, but it is not the be all and end all. At the same time shredding and the practice thereof has helped me improve overall and if you want to keep growing as a guitar player I would not rule out anything new. I remember well how I could fall back on tapping techniques where I could not keep up otherwise in a gypsy jazz setting, how I found very similar licks in both my gypsy jazz study material and my heavy metal lead guitar materials. It is really amazing to see what happens to blistering fast pentatonic riffs when applied in a jazz context or when you play those longer and shorter arpeggio riffs over a jazz standard or in a modal jazz piece using chord substitution theory. Most off all it has substantially contributed to my accuracy especially in an improvised setting.

Some examples of what I consider tasteful shredding

And ok one more

I am off now got quite some more work to do.