The argument for and against “shredding” is as old as music itself. In this article I will define the term “shredding” and try to look at it from a perspective that I think is overlooked by most musicians who are anti-shredding. I will also explain, with examples, why I believe shredding is probably a good idea for most musicians.
The act of playing intricate musical passages comprised of small subdivisions of a pulse that creates a dazzling effect.
The Two Main Arguments Against Shredding
- Shredding is not music, but music gymnastics. Shredding is an artistic crutch where a player displays the homework they’ve done rather than coming up with interesting multi faceted and layered ideas.
- Many of the greatest musicians in history didn’t shred, and even if they did, their most substantial work has little to no shredding in it.
I agree with both of these points, but I also think that to take a stance against shredding because of them is applying faulty logic.
- Yes, there are many bad musicians that shred, but there are even more bad musicians that don’t shred. Being able to do something might not make you better, but not being able to do something surely doesn’t.
- My favorite saxophonist is Charlie Parker (the original saxophone shredder). He barely uses altissimo. That doesn’t mean that altissimo is not a great tool. It just means that you can sound amazing and never use it. Shredding is the same, just a tool to add to your bag. It can’t be the only thing in your bag, but it can be a great addition when done properly.
The Case for Shredding
Shredding is about understanding rhythm and grooves and being able to subdivide the pulse of a musical piece, using the emotional effects that playing in each subdivision (and the transition between them) give the listener.
For example, in a measure of 4/4, playing quarter notes, you have sixteen rhythmical options since you either play a note or you don’t.
Try to imagine empty boxes that you can fill or leave empty (that gives you two to the power of four). Moving to 8th notes, it becomes 256 (two to the power of eight). When you play eighth note triplets you have 4,096 options (two to the power of twelve). 16th notes equal 65,536 (two to the power of sixteen).
The point is, the smaller the subdivision, the more rhythmic variety you can apply. I would never just play in one subdivision (fast or slow). It’s not about playing fast, but about rhythmic variety.
In the first song the pulse equals three quarter notes. You can hear me divide it into equal pieces of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 12.
In this song the pulse equals one quarter note. I divide it to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8.
Just because some people used a tool that’s not to your liking, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make use of this tool in your own music. Yes, you can be a great player and not shred, but be aware you are eliminating a world of rhythmic options from your playing.