Taste, Tone, and Technique – Open for Discussion

Jan07

You never know what kind of questions and discussions are going to pop up on the Guitar Noise Forum pages. This one was posted over the past weekend:

Tone, Taste, or Technique – Which is most important?

I know all three are important… but what is the most important? Maybe a better question would be what is the relative importance of each?. Now I’m not talking jazz but something a like blues.

Well, you can always count on Tom Serb for a thoughtful, and thought-provoking answer:

IMO, none of the above.

Rhythm/timing are the single most important element in music – if they’re off, nothing else will save the day.  If you’re dead on in your groove, you could be playing “Row Row Row Your Boat” and most people will dig it.

Once you’ve got that, it depends on who your audience is.  Having great tone and no taste is like reading a novel with great words, but no plot.  It’ll work as background, but it’s not something you pay attention to (or listen to a second time).  So tone is a great focus if you want to be in the background but have nothing to say.

If you’ve got great taste but lousy tone, you can be popular within a niche.  There are fans of old recordings by Leadbelly, etc. where the tone just plain sucks (no doubt due to the technology of the time, but still…. it just sucks).  Great taste with tone will get you a wide audience.

If you’ve got great technique but not much else, you only get fans from folks who play the same instrument.  Go to a concert by Yngwie/Buckethead/Batio/Gilbert/etc. and ask those around you if they play guitar.  I’ll bet at least 90% of them do.  If you want to speak to the masses, they don’t care about technique – they care about the music.  Go to a concert by Jeff Beck/Eric Clapton/John Mayer/etc. and you won’t find nearly as many guitarists in the audience – it’s just the general listening public.  Their technique doesn’t suck, but it’s not best in class.

So if you’re talking about what the average music fan wants, I’d rank the choices:

Taste
Tone
Technique

If you want to chime in on the discussion, head right on over here!

Looking forward to seeing you on the Guitar Noise Forum pages throughout the upcoming year.

Peace

About David Hodge

Since joining Guitar Noise in November 1999, David has written over a thousand articles, lessons, interviews and reviews. He also serves as the site's Managing Editor, supervising all content in addition to the continued writing of his own lessons and articles. In April 2013, David joined the writing staff of Answers.com, heading up their Guitar Pages. And if that wasn't enough to keep him busy, David contributes to regularly Acoustic Guitar Magazine. He is also the author of six instructional books, the most recent being Idiot’s Guide: Playing Guitar.

Comments [10]

  1. I agree with Tom and would second his motion that rhythm and timing are probably tops. After that, I’d say technique.

  2. I firmly believe that technique is the most important thing for one reason. With it you can play anything, without it, you can play nothing.

    I think most people conjure up these images of shred guitarists running up and down scales when you mention the word technique, but a technique can be anything that produces a sound on the instrument. Bending, sliding, plucking, and vibrato are all techniques that give the sound of the music a different “feel”. That’s right, you have to use technique to execute a certain feel.

    When it comes to music itself, rhythm is the most important thing, but if we’re just talking about the instrument specifically, it’s all about technique.

  3. stellabloo says:

    imho rhythm IS part of technique and so is tone, we’re not just talking about running up and down the fretboard but the moment when the musician speaks to us through the instrument. That’s what people want to hear.

    • I can see what your are saying, but when I think about the word “technique”, I think about the METHOD that is being used to produce the sound. Rhythm is the musical element to which technique is applied. You obviously have to have both to produce a good sound, but without using some form of technique, no sound will ever be produced.

      This doesn’t mean you have to practice technique in the way that most people teach it. I think there is this misconception that technique somehow means unmusical. Playing actual music can be a great technical exercise.

      Even a non-shredder like B.B. King has technique. He wouldn’t be able to play anything if he didn’t.

      A good parallel is painting. The painter may have a vast knowledge of colors and a clear vision of how he wants his painting to look, but if he doesn’t know how to use the brush, it will never come to light.

      Like Picasso once said “The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it.”

  4. I know all three are important like you said. But where does the sound come from? The amplifier of course. So I think the Amp has a great input into the whole equation. Of course it takes more then an amp to make good sounding music, like timing and rhythm…..without that your going to sound terrible not matter what gear you have. So it takes a rounded complete package to get what you need to be successful…Have a great day!.

  5. I agree with the guys above. Without a doubt, rhythm is the most important element of music for me. Technique is obviously useful and as long as you have the fundamentals down, and can create good rhythm, then you are in business. Most intermediates obsess over tone. Everybody wants great tone, but to others our tone isn`t really that important, unless we are Hendrix or another great they are trying to emulate.

  6. I think that from a perspective of a guitar player the technique is the most important. I am convinced that playing the guitar means the constant learning and technique learning is the most challenging between the mentioned so it should be the most admired.
    It’s just as the learning the foreign language. I am convinced that if you know words you can build a sentence and even if you do not know grammar very well you will be probably understood by the others. ANd try it in the opposite direction: if you know grammar but do not know the words you can’t say anything.

  7. I have to agree with the order taste, tone, technique. This is assuming that both tone and technique are adequate to not distract the listener. Of the three, I think taste is the most important with respect to generating an emotional connection to what is being played. Take a song like “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen. Tone isn’t great. Technique isn’t advanced. Boy, it sure taste great!

  8. I though for a long time that technique was the most important thing but now I realise it is taste. Yes I agree that without technique I wouldn’t be able to play anything but once a guitarist has developed his style then additions to his technique are just that, additions.

    Once you have enough technique under your belt to have a style then you can create music with true feeling and not be held back by your playing ability.

    If you ask yourself who would you like to appeal to the truth will likely be the masses. Creating tasteful music that suits your style AND appeals to the masses is the dream of many musicians and it can only be achieved with a combination of great taste, good tone and passable technique.

  9. Great tips. I’ve been playing for a couple of years and tone is definitely a challenge for me.

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