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Michael Casswell - Pro Concepts Season 4 - Part 11: Feel

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 44 **

Hi everyone. This Pro Concepts I want to discuss 'Feel'. This is an elusive mysterious subject we have talked about before and is a term used to express something that can't really be defined. When a player has 'great feel' then they are doing something right somewhere, but quite often you can't say specifically what it is. We can, though, talk about elements that combine to give you a chance within your own playing to improve your feel and give your playing a 'feel injection'.

So where do we begin with such a huge topic? Well we could consider the context of the guitar within the genre of the music you intend to play. Some styles of music naturally allow for more feel to be expressed. But If you generally play "drop C tuning psycho grunge death metal" at a tempo of 180 bpm, then the chances are your priorities aren't going to be 'feel'. Although if you do play your drop C psycho grunge slightly out of time with the rest of the band, with a horrible tone and sloppy delivery, then it's safe to say you are not playing with the feel required. Basically, even if you are playing death metal, you should still be playing with as much feel as you can get into that style of music, because contemporary electric guitar playing particularly lends itself in all genres and styles to someone who can inject expression, life and feel into the instrument. You could line up five experienced guitar players, give them the same guitar and amp and tell them to play exactly the same parts, and there is a very good chance that one of them will sound better than the other four, purely because of their 'feel'. It's a real quirk of the modern guitarist that the undefinable quality of great feel can be the difference between you getting the opportunities of paid work or just remaining someone who plays a bit for fun. Strangely, in my experience, the same can be said for lining up five drummers and bass players with the same gear and parts, and the guys that just make it feel good will be the guy that gets the gig!

I have also known some monster technically gifted guitar players, that are extremely schooled with their theory and reading, that will simply bore you when they play, because although what they play should sound impressive, due to their lack of feel, it won't connect on an emotional level or speak to people in the way great playing should. I would again like to use a drummer analogy by name checking two of the greatest players ever to sit behind the kit, namely Jeff Porcaro from Toto, and John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, both sadly no longer with us. Neither of them were the most technical or complicated of players but ask many successful drummers in the business today and they will tell you that few players will ever achieve the place in drumming history that Porcaro or Bonham gained, simply because whatever feel is, they had it in spades.

By me trying to convey what feel could be in this tutorial, I am not saying that my playing is anywhere near what defined feel is. I am merely trying to make you aware of a few small details within real life playing that can make big differences to the sound you make and hopefully your feel.  It's all very subjective and there is definitely no right or wrong way. You are your own best judge as to why some players simply have a sound in their hands while others don’t. You also might know in your own mind what you consider great feel to be. Again, it's subjective and everyone's viewpoint will be slightly different, but factors such as tone, chord voicing choice, touch, dynamics, rhythm awareness, note choice, vibrato, string bending, all play a huge factor in fundamental good feel.

If you are going to ask me my opinion on players to listen to in order to hear great feel, then my choice of players may not be what speaks to you feel wise, so it's a personal choice or opinion. If you follow my Pro Concepts column regularly then I'm sure most of you already know the guys I respect as true players. But do be careful who you do absorb and listen to if you are just starting out because it does have a big influence on the guitarist you will eventually become. I definitely think who I listened to in my formative years gave me an excellent grounding in the important fundamentals of the instrument, and then the guys who inspired me to improve once I was up and running made my approach to the guitar what it is today.

Simply put, great 'feel' comes from inside and is an elusive thing we all chase and strive to have, but can't easily taught or copied. Whereas most other aspects of guitar can be taught, shown and copied to a large degree. Our best hope is to be aware and hope that one day you get a reputation for being blessed with great 'feel!'

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