In my opinion, Yngwie Malmsteen is one of the most important and underrated guitar players in history. In fact, I would even say that you can significantly improve your own guitar playing abilities by simply understanding the entire story behind what makes Yngwie so underrated. That said, a lot of guitarists would say that it is wrong to make the claim that I am making while coming up with objections such as:
Now, before I continue on with the rest of this article, I want to mention that the first point made above is entirely off topic to what I will be discussing (the amount of albums a guitarist sells has no impact on their overall importance in the guitar playing community as a whole). Additionally, the other two points are not true at all and you will find out why shortly as you read below.
My goal with this article is not to turn you into an Yngwie fan. Instead, I want you to understand the reasons behind why Yngwie is such an important figure in the history of great musicians and influence to the current (and future) generation of guitar players. Once you understand what goes into his guitar playing that makes him so great, you can then begin to utilize this knowledge to improve and enhance your own guitar playing.
Here is a small list of all the great innovations that Yngwie Malmsteen has brought into the rock and metal guitar playing community (most of which he is not commonly given credit for):
Music Composing Skills: Yngwie has brought a lot to the rock guitar community through his ability to write music that utilizes intelligent and innovative use of the foundational songwriting principles. It is true that these principles have been used for hundreds of years prior to his music; however, no one had utilized them in quite the same manner as him outside of ‚Äòsome' jazz musicians and modern classical composers.
The songwriting techniques that Yngwie uses are not exclusive only to his style of music; in fact, they can be used effectively in any style of music. To learn how to apply them to your particular style of guitar, check out this video about learning to put together creative guitar chord progressions.
Expressive Vibrato Technique: As far as I am concerned, Yngwie has debatably the best vibrato technique of any electric guitarist ever! That said, there are a lot of naysayers who pass over this aspect of Yngwie's guitar playing entirely. These people focus on his ability to play fast, and disregard his vibrato altogether claiming that Yngwie's style "lacks emotion". Comparisons are often made to Yngwie where it is claimed that other guitarists can say more with one note than he can say with an entire solo section. However, the truth is just the opposite. If you want to hear the proof of this, simply listen to the first song on Yngwie's album "Rising Force" and compare the sound and expressive quality of it to any other guitar players who are commonly compared to Yngwie.
As you do this, think about how the technical and specific aspects in his vibrato technique (such as the rate, depth, balance and rhythmic timing) give him the ability to play with an incredibly diverse palette of emotions while using ‚Äòonly' one note. Compare this to the common guitar player who never truly takes the time to analyze the subtleties in their vibrato technique and cannot appreciate the difference between average vibrato and the vibrato of a virtuoso.
When it comes to playing guitar with nice phrasing and interesting melodies, your vibrato technique is what will stand out the most. I encourage you to take note of the subtle elements mentioned above to analyze your own vibrato technique. To start with, see how big of a variety of musical expressions you can create by playing only one note and apply vibrato to it. If you are unable to utilize vibrato to create a variety of emotions in your guitar playing, you have a lot of work to do! Watch this video on how to play guitar vibrato technique and find out more on how you can improve your musical expression.
Lead Guitar Playing Techniques: Most people will give credit to Yngwie as being a highly technical guitar player (especially considering what other guitarists were playing during his time). However, most people overlook the fact that his true genius comes in the form of the VARIETY of improvements he has accomplished in the realm of technical lead guitar playing. By merely considering this point on its own, it becomes very clear that Yngwie is of great importance to the world of electric guitar players.
The truth is, many guitar players (of Yngwie's time) did not take the time to master all the possible guitar techniques that they could use to make music. Consider techniques such as tapping, sweep picking, alternate picking, string skipping, speed picking, not to mention subtle techniques like playing with articulation and fluent guitar phrasing. Think about how long these guitar techniques were available to be mastered before someone actually came along and mastered them all on a technical and musical level. In most cases, these guitar techniques took the span of many decades to get to the point to where they were being played at a level of true mastery. Although there were guitarists who were playing with some of these techniques at various levels of proficiency, there was no guitarist (before Yngwie Malmsteen) who had achieved a level of virtuosity for ALL of them in his guitar playing.
Yngwie was not merely ‚Äòanother shredder', but a true pioneer when it comes to guitar technique. This is one of the most common oversights made by guitar players who mistakenly place all of the techniques he played into the all encompassing category of "Guitar technique" and move on as if there is nothing more to learn from him.
You might not be a listener of Yngwie's music, but even if that is the case you can still gain great insight from his ability to combine together a large variety of guitar techniques. It is crucial for you to be able to integrate various techniques in a smooth manner throughout your music regardless of the musical style you play in. Note that when I say ‚Äòintegrate' guitar techniques, I am not referring to practicing them separately on their own like the majority of guitarists. Learn how to integrate guitar techniques together by watching this video on the topic of effective guitar practice.
Improvisation Skill: Just like a jazz guitarist, Yngwie Malmsteen has the ability to improvise music at an extremely high level. It is true that he does not commonly solo over jazz-styled harmony; however, after listening to his music it is apparent that he has total control over the emotion created in every chord he plays over. This does not mean that he simply knows "which scale fits over which chord progression". As a master improviser, he understands how each chord will ‚Äòfeel' in combination with what he plays (‚Äòbefore' a single note even sounds) and can quickly adapt his phrasing to create this feeling.
Additionally, Yngwie frequently improvises newer versions of his old guitar solos on a consistent basis (‚Ä¶and with great precision). Most guitar players simply re-play their old material in the exact same manner every time they go on stage.
Regardless of your preferred musical style, it is crucial for your success as a lead guitar player to able to identify the emotion of each chord ‚Äòbefore' the chord is actually played. To learn how you can do this in your own guitar playing, watch this free video lesson about writing a metal guitar solo.
1. Take the time to listen to Yngwie's songs (even if you do not particularly care for his guitar playing style). If you already like his music, grab any of his albums and go through the steps below.
2. Listen closely and identify the subtle nuances that make Yngwie an excellent guitarist (use the ideas mentioned in this article as a reference). If you are not sure how some of the more advanced musical ideas utilized in Yngwie's playing work (such as musical expression, songwriting techniques and improvisation in different keys), locate a guitar teacher who can help you understand them in great detail and use them to enhance your own guitar playing.
3. Look into your own guitar playing to identify your level of mastery for the elements discussed in this article. Regardless of your guitar playing style (even if it is totally different than that of Yngwie Malmsteen), it is still important for you to achieve a high level of mastery for the abovementioned elements as they relate to your own style. Track your progress toward achieving mastery in these areas and do what it takes to improve in the weaker areas of your guitar playing.
By writing this article, I not am attempting to necessarily make you a fan of Yngwie; but to help you gain new musical insights that you likely have not yet considered. If you do not like Yngwie's music after studying him in detail, that is totally fine. However, understand that by observing the subtle nuances in Yngwie's music as described in this article, you will be able to get much more value out of the music of other guitar players. This will help you become a better guitarist and reach a new level in your overall musicianship.
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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