Instrumentals have supplied some of music’s most evocative and exciting moments. We asked some top guitarists for their take on this iconic movement. This month: Madonna’s long-term guitarist, Monte Pittman
GT: What is it about guitar instrumentals that appeals to you?
MP: Steve Vai and Joe Satriani were blowing up when I first started. So I think as a guitar player it was something that came naturally. As a teenager, I would make instrumental tapes for my friends.
GT: What can an instrumental provide a listener that a vocal can’t?
MP: Well, lyrics can give a song a definite meaning, but an instrumental can carry the song with just the melody.
GT: Are there any musical factors or styles you aim to embrace or avoid with instrumentals?
MP: I’m up for whatever. I don’t think like that. I will hopefully touch on just about every type of music at some point in my career.
GT: Is a typical song structure - verse, chorus, middle 8, verse, chorus etc, always relevant for an instrumental?
MP: Usually that’s what works best. You can substitute one part for another and still consider it the pre-chorus. Maybe you have pre-chorus ‘a’ and pre-chorus ‘b’. I kind of look at every song like that. I have to learn a lot of songs for Ultimate Jam Night at The Whisky A Go Go and I also play in the LA KISS House Band. Looking at where the structures lie helps me remember them quickly.
GT: How useful is studying a vocalist’s approach for guitar melodies?
MP: It’s good to try different things. Sometimes you just play and something comes to you. Sometimes you play the rhythm and a melody pops up in your head.
GT: How do you start writing one; is there a typical approach?
MP: Just from playing my guitar. I always record myself so if I come up with something I’ll know what I did. There are several times I’ve played something and come up with a riff, then I didn’t remember what I did and the song was lost.
GT: What do you aim for when your performance is centre stage for the duration of the instrumental?
MP: Just putting on the best performance I can.
GT: Many vocal songs feature a guitar solo that starts low and slow then finishes high and fast. Is this structure a useful reflection for instrumental writing?
MP: I don’t know.
GT: What type of guitar tone do you prefer for instrumentals?
MP: Whatever sounds good.
GT: Do you have favourite keys or tempos?
GT: Do you find Minor or Major keys easier to write in?
MP: Manor and Minor are both the same. A Minor and C Major are the same keys. I don’t look at them as being different.
GT: Do you have favourite modes?
MP: I like manipulating one for another.
GT: What about modulations into new keys?
GT: Do you view the backing band differently than on a vocal song?
GT: What are your views on harmonising melodies?
MP: Whatever sounds good.
GT: What three guitar instrumentals would you consider iconic, or have inspired you?
MP: They would be: For The Love Of God (Steve Vai), Europa (Carlos Santana), and Far Beyond The Sun (Yngwie Malmsteen).
Monte Pittman: aims to touch on every style of music