I usually don’t enter contests. It seems like many are rigged these days, so I don’t really care to partake in them. It is just the way things work sometimes—which is fine—but I’ll continue to do things the slower way as I work to develop my fan base. About a month ago, my buddy sent me a link to a Joe Satriani contest sponsored by Guitar Center, and I decided to check it out. The prize: 10 winners will be picked and will be flown to Hollywood, CA to have a master class lesson with Satriani. Plus, they all win a Satriani model Ibanez guitar and some strings as well. To enter the contest, the entrant has to film himself or herself playing any of ten Joe Satriani songs that are provided to play to, and then upload the video to YouTube. The top 96 entrants with the fastest social networking fan growth will be judged. This means a YouTube page subscription, a Facebook band page “Like,” or a Twitter follow. I said to myself, “Well, what the heck?” and decided to do it.

In the following few weeks, I learned the melody to “Dream Song.” I played it a few times a day and got myself comfortable with the music. I began to experiment with the ways I could make it my own rather than just copy what Satriani did in his version. I felt that the song had some serious Jeff Beck inspiration—at least I had some Jeff Beck inspiration—so what came to my head were lines that I thought Jeff Beck would play on this song if he were playing it.

GuitarWhen it comes to guitar playing, I’m a big fan of not just shredding. I find that guitar playing doesn’t seem very musical when too many fast notes are played. I need to hear silky bends and smooth vibrato, along with melodic note choices and nuances in tone. Now, there are times when a plethora of fast notes in a very short amount of time is very appropriate and cool, but if that’s all a guitar solo or song is, it just doesn’t do it for me. I try to play the way I would want to hear someone play guitar if I was the listener. I try to play with a vocal-like expression. I think anyone can work up their guitar chops to play fast. All it takes is practice (use a metronome if you are going to do this because it will help your timing). I don’t think every guitarist has the ability to hear specific, quality melodies in his or her head and then execute them on the fly while playing them in an emotive way. I think that is one of my strengths and gifts, so I intentionally take that approach with much of my guitar playing. Neal Schon did this very well with his band Journey. So many of his solos can easily be hummed, and they stick in your head like super glue!

My approach to the Joe Satriani song was not a shred approach, though he definitely can be a shred guitarist at times! I tried to play the melody fluidly, and I improvised a solo that flowed more melodically to me and didn’t have a lot of fast runs in it. I figured if he or another guitar player is judging my video, then they may appreciate the slightly different approach I took. I often use the whammy bar to play bends, and I incorporated a lot of that technique in this song. It’s something I love but rarely see guitarists doing (aside from Jeff Beck). It’s very challenging to execute those bent notes with perfect intonation, because it takes perfect muscle memory and a very sharp ear that always has to be in tune with everything—no pun intended. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really sound that difficult and therefore probably isn’t as impressive to the average music listener.

This brings up an interesting observation. I’ve done some investigating, and I’ve received some feedback regarding what people like to see or hear when they watch or listen to a guitarist play. I am often told by music fans who are not necessarily musicians, “It’s good but I want to hear you shred!” or “You gotta shred man!” I experienced this at a Joe Bonamassa concert, too. The crowd—most of whom probably can’t play guitar super well—absolutely went berserk when Joe played long, fast passages during his solos. They got super excited—probably because that fast stuff sounds very difficult to do and therefore is more impressive to the average music listener. It’s clear many people love guitar shredding (reference Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” for an example). When I ask my musician peers about this topic, they seem to desire more tasteful playing or a melodic solo rather than a shred solo on every random song simply because it’s an electric guitar solo. I think this could be because they are better trained to spot the little nuances in a musician’s playing or a singer’s singing, and they know more about what they are appreciating.

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Anyhow, doing this contest has been an interesting experiment so far, and I can only see a positive outcome whether I win it or not. First, I’ve become a better musician and guitarist, and I’ve expanded my mind musically. Second, getting video views and people talking about this over social networking sites is helping keep my name fresh in people’s minds while also exposing me to new potential fans. It has also provided fun conversation and a building block for new friendships. I can’t predict the outcome, but I already know it has been worth the effort. Perhaps it has even changed my mind about contests, rigged or not. If I can expand as a musician and a person through contests, then I think I may have found a new hobby! Now I’m going to go practice my guitar shredding!

Below is the video I’m referencing in this post. If you like it, please consider clicking on “More info” and then click “Subscribe.”