Marty Friedman: ’Majority of People Don’t Really Have Musical Identities, Because They Fall Into That Learning Trap’

Although known for his incredible technical skills, guitar legend Marty Friedman is very open about how he’s not very fond of the whole “shredder” thing. Appearing in the recent episode of the “Monsters, Madness and Magic” podcast, Friedman addressed some of the common problems with guitar players who focus too much on practicing and learning stuff instead of finding their unique voice.

Asked about how he encourages his students to also become individual players, as opposed to just following a teacher, he said:

“Your question is more important than what most people want to learn from other guitarists. Most people want to learn techniques, they want to learn the latest trendy techniques, and impressive techniques, and how to actually play the instrument — which is natural, to want to learn that stuff — but anyone can learn that from anywhere, you do not need a teacher for that.”

Megadeth at Wacken 2023 feat. Marty Friedman

While it’s not a bad thing to learn and perfect techniques, there’s an important thing that guitar players tend to overlook:

“Anyone can learn any techniques, practice them, perfect them, and perform anything that’s already been done in music. But then just say, you have all the abilities you’ve ever wanted. Now, then what? Then what are you going to do?”

“So you really have to decide: When are you going to be yourself? Who are you as an artist? What is your absolute musical taste? What do you want people to hear when they hear your name?”

Marty Friedman performs "Kaze Ga Fuiteiru" on EMGtv

“When you hear ‘John Smith’, you think of this sound, now you’ve got to create that sound that people think of when you hear John Smith’s name come up. And that process is very, very much overlooked because it’s not as enticing as ‘Here’s this fancy technique — if you practice it five hours a day for a week, you’ll get good at it.'”

“That’s what most people get attracted to, but that’s why the majority of people don’t really have musical identities — because they fall into that learning trap.”

When the interviewer reminded Marty about how the 1980s guitar music often felt like a competitive sport, something they also discussed with Devin Townsend, he was also asked whether he fell into that “trap” that a lot of guitar players did back in the day. Marty replied:

“I think if you are lucky enough to develop your own style at a very early age as I was, you kind of instinctively try to grow your own style and be true to what you enjoy playing as a musician. And I think what Devin said is totally true.”

Marty Friedman 2023-04-01 "Dragon Mistress" Grand Rapids, MI

As he also adds, the trend was going away for a while but then returned stronger than ever in the age of massive social media use. But there’s a reason why that’s happening:

“And for a while, it kind of started to fade away, but now that situation has gone into steroid mode with all of the Instagram guitarists. It’s really become exactly what Devin’s talking about — almost like a sport because you’re trying to create impressive content for a 30-second, 60-second chunk of time to get attention to that very short snippet of what you’re playing.”

“So, to that end, people are developing these insane skills that are actually pretty cool in a lot of cases, because they’re doing it to get your attention, and getting your attention in a short period of time is not easy. So on that level, it’s very, very cool.”

Marty Friedman @ Ace of Spades (Full Live Show) | Sacramento, CA | 3/16/2023

Marty then also explained how, although having these skills is impressive, they don’t find much practical use in actual musical pieces. He then also added:

“In real-life situations, all of those things you see in those super impressive Instagram 30-second clips, you will never, ever be able to use any of that in a professional situation playing for large numbers of people.”

“In those situations, you still have to play impressive things, but they have to be impressive within the context of a big-league situation. And that’s a completely different set of skills than YouTube or Instagram or whatever — which they’re really both valid because they both exist, and they both entertain people, so I’m not coming down on that.”

Marty Friedman playing "Altitudes" for Jason Becker's Birthday!!!

Discussing this further, Marty also explained that, these days, the landscape is much different and that he’s not sure if he’d be up for becoming a guitar player if he was just starting out today:

“I don’t know what it’d be like to be a guitar player growing up nowadays. I think it’d be wonderful because it’s easy to get information that you can soon use to develop your own style and abilities, but on the other hand, it might be overwhelming to just turn on your phone, and two minutes in, you’re seeing someone you’ve never heard of who can play better than you will ever play in your entire life.”

“So there’s that discouraging thing that you have to constantly get over. But on the upside, you can be that guy in your own way easier than you could ever in the history of playing, so it all evens out. But it’s a very interesting time to play music.”

Marty Friedman LIVE - jam with random dude (Gabriel Van) - Houston 03/10/2023 #guitar #megadeth

When asked whether his artistic identity is something that you can develop consciously or whether it happens “in the background.” He replied:

“I think it’s a little bit of both. I was self-taught, so I didn’t wind up learning a lot of things that teachers try to teach you.”

“Something that a lot of guitar students out there might not know is, guitar teachers are people too. And a lot of times the stuff they’re showing you, they’re only showing it to you because that’s the only thing they really know.”

Tornado of Souls solo - Marty Friedman - Houston 03/10/2023 #shorts #guitar

“Now, that might not be what you want to learn, but they’ll show it to you in a way that they make it sound like that’s the most important thing that you need to learn — ‘You need to learn these things to get to the next level.’ But in often cases, they’re just showing that to you because that’s the only thing they’re really confident about showing you.”

“And teachers do not know everything, they’re just like you, they want to be rock stars, they want to get up there. And they’re doing that.”

During the chat, Marty also explained how he had a good teacher but also realized how figuring out things on your own, and also learning from other sources, is incredibly beneficial:

“I had a teacher for a while, and he was a good teacher, but he was teaching me all the stuff that I didn’t want to learn. I wanted to learn punk rock, heavy rock, and heavy metal, and he was teaching me theoretical things and kind of hippie things, and I’m like, ‘Okay, this guy is better than I am. But why can’t he show me this Ramones song?'”

Marty Friedman Destin Florida March 7, 2023 Complete Set

“So I’m thinking, ‘These Ramones guys aren’t exactly geniuses, I can probably figure this out on my own.’ And I started putting two and two together that, ‘Hey, teachers can teach some things very well, but each teacher is going to have a different specialty. And so why don’t I try to use my own ear as much as I can and learn from players?'”

“I’d go to bars and I’d say to the guy in the band, ‘Dude, show me that solo in the third song, that was really cool.’ So I tailored what I was learning to the people I would learn it from. So if I met someone — a player — I would look at what he’s playing, and most of it didn’t appeal to me, I’d just say, ‘Well, that’s very nice.’ But if even one phrase appealed to me, I’m like, ‘Dude, show me that. How’d you do that?'”

MARTY FRIEDMAN - Kaze Ga Fuiteiru (Live at Plaza Live, Orlando) - Ultra HD

Photo: Hiroshi Yamazaki (Copyright holder: Marty Friedman) (Marty Friedman – 01)

  • 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, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.