Herman Li Explains Why You Shouldn’t Focus Too Much on Shredding: ’Finding a Balance Is Always a Challenge’

DragonForce legend and guitar player Herman Li discussed the matter of shredding and why focusing too much on the virtuosic aspect might be a little counterproductive in the bigger picture.

This may seem a little strange to hear coming from Herman Li, knowing that he’s famous for his fast playing. After all, DragonForce has often balanced between catchy power metal and insane speed metal.

DRAGONFORCE - Burning Heart (Official Video)

Nonetheless, be it a change in tast over the years or his general preference, Herman insists that you shouldn’t overdo it. Speaking to Guitar World, he touched upon this issue while discussing DragonForce’s new album “Warp Speed Warriors” and its lead parts. Asked whether there was a particularly challenging solo to record, he replied:

“One of the first songs we did was ‘Kingdom of Steel,’ which is a ballad, and that was difficult. All the slow, ballad-type stuff is always tricky.”

A ballad solo being challenging? That’s an interesting turn of events for someone like Herman Li. He continued:

“It’s harder to get the right vibrato, and it’s not easier to find the sweeter sort of dynamics that I look for. The band’s feeling changes there, but it’s always different when there’s no shredding.”

DragonForce - Through The Fire And Flames (Live)

And the changes are noticeable for sure. For this new album, the speed power metal legends have even covered Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams.” But all these things aside, Herman seems to be gravitating more towards the “feel” in the whole “shred vs. feel” debate among guitar players, especially rock and metal-oriented population.

“Like all the great young shredders, many new players have a certain mindset because shredding is so much fun,” the DragonForce axeman argued. It’s absolutely fun, we can definitely agree on that. On the other hand, with this approach, focusing too much on speed and flashy technically challenging stuff, you can lose many other qualities as a musician.

“But sometimes, you can forget about the fine art of string-bending,” he added. “And what happens is you overplay. Finding a balance between shredding and keeping the subtle nuances apparent is always a challenge.”

What we would also add is that the focus should always be on the music. Technical skills, no matter how impressive, are there to serve as tools that would — just like music theory — help you express yourself better as an artist. On the other hand, we do understand why Herman finds this stuff to be fun. It simply is.

One of the things that Herman was also reminded of is his vibrato. This is, according to him, one of the most important aspects of his musicianship.

“Vibrato is so important,” Li explained. “If you can finish something with some nice vibrato and a good string bend and make the notes sing, those are the notes you want to sit on.”

“Those singing notes mean more than however many arpeggios, and I’ve been working to develop that even more. I did that on the live streams when I’d play slower music and do more jams, where I’d put on random backing tracks and play over them.”

Herman Li, Tosin Abasi, Tim Henson - Through the Fire and Flames Live (Razer Con Part 4/4)

In another recent interview, Herman discussed DragonForce’s specific status in popular culture, namely the success that came due to “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” and their now most popular song, “Through the Fire and Flames,” which is used for the Guinness World Record for the game.

“It definitely helped us so much to have that song, and people get to hear it,” he said. “The hardest thing for any artist is to get people to hear their music, and ‘Guitar Hero III’ definitely made a huge difference.”

“And now after so many years — that was 2007 — I meet people, and they tell me things like, ‘That song, I remember playing it with my dad.’ Or someone says, ‘I remember playing it with my brother’ — it was an incredible time of their life, and it really brings great memories for them in all ages.”

DRAGONFORCE - Wildest Dreams by TAYLOR SWIFT (Official Video)

“And now, funnily enough — it just happened a couple of days ago — ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ was on the ‘Despicable Me 4’ television ad on the NFL playoff game — like the semi-final for American football — so that was huge.”

“My phone was just blowing up. People couldn’t believe the song was on television during the prime-time slot, so hopefully, more people will discover DragonForce and say, ‘Guitar music is pretty cool. Heavy Metal is pretty cool. Come and check it out!'”

Photo: Sven-Sebastian Sajak (Nova2013 DragonForce Herman Li 0001)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.