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Shredding, tapping and sweeping: Effects of guitar distortion on playability and expressiveness in rock and metal solos

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‘Shredding’, the fast and virtuous guitar playing, is a central stylistic element of many rock and metal genres. A recent empirical study reported metal guitar solos having become faster over the last six decades, thus indicating that shredding still is common in metal guitar, as argued in the earlier literature in rock and metal music studies. The present study extends such research by experimentally investigating the effects of distortion on playability, virtuosity and expressiveness based on a multi-methodical analysis from musicology, acoustics and music informatics. The findings contribute to acoustic-based evidence of distortion’s simplifying effect that increases the electric guitar’s potential as a virtuoso solo instrument. Yet, the results also highlight challenges of distorted guitar playing less commonly considered in research, journalism and performance practice. The article closes by advocating greater acknowledgement of the skills required for distorted metal guitar playing.

Keywords: distortion; electric guitar; experiment; expressiveness; metal; playability; rock; virtuosity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Arts and Music Education, Bielefeld University

Publication date: June 1, 2017

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  • Metal Music Studies is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies.

    The aims of the journal are:
    • To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;
    • To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;
    • To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;
    • To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.
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