IN­STRU­MEN­TAL in­qui­si­tion!

In­stru­men­tals have supplied some of mu­sic’s most evoca­tive mo­ments. We asked some top guitarists for their take on this iconic move­ment. This month: An­i­mals As Lead­ers guitar ge­nius, Tosin Abasi

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - An­i­mals As Lead­ers’ lat­est CD, The Mad­ness Of Many, is out now on Sume­rian Records.

GT: What can an in­stru­men­tal pro­vide that a vo­cal song can’t?

TA: With in­stru­men­tal song form, you don’t have to ad­here to the tra­di­tional rules like verses and cho­ruses, so there’s more free­dom to ex­per­i­ment. Also, with­out lyrics and the hu­man voice, space is freed up in the lis­tener’s imag­i­na­tion. With the bound­aries of what’s gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a song and the a hu­man voice re­moved, there is not only a lot more scope to be cre­ative; you can ac­tu­ally do a lot more with the in­stru­ments and parts with­out mak­ing the mu­sic too busy.

GT: Any ten­den­cies that you tend to em­brace or avoid?

TA: I ap­proach each track dif­fer­ently but al­ways with the goal for it to feel like a song. I want it to be the­matic, and have its own iden­tity. I try to avoid clichés. I don’t have many rules, it’s a pretty raw cre­ative process.

GT: Is a typ­i­cal song struc­ture al­ways rel­e­vant for an in­stru­men­tal?

TA: If you want a track to feel like a ‘song’, a pop struc­ture can def­i­nitely help it to do so, but I think we are a lit­tle more ad­ven­tur­ous than that. Some of our songs are struc­tured with a pop sen­si­bil­ity in mind; how­ever, we try to al­ways make it dif­fer­ent in some way.

GT: How use­ful is study­ing a vo­cal­ist’s ap­proach?

TA: It can be re­ally valu­able. The lengths of phrases, the amount of scale you want to use or not use. When you start to mimic the hu­man voice you re­alise that a lot of vo­cals tog­gle be­tween three or four notes that are ac­tu­ally quite close to each other, as it’s rare that the hu­man voice wants to do large in­ter­val jumps. Then you re­alise that with the few amount of notes you’re us­ing, the way you play them be­comes a big deal. Be­cause we use syl­la­bles when we talk and it might be the same note but mul­ti­ple syl­la­bles, if you’re play­ing the same note on the guitar, how do you get them to sound dif­fer­ent. It’s re­ally cool to study the voice, as far as melody writ­ing is con­cerned.

GT: How do you start writ­ing one?

TA: I don’t have a stan­dard ap­proach. I’d usu­ally be mess­ing around and then some­thing hap­pens. I’ll hap­pen upon a phrase or lit­tle mu­si­cal idea, and from there if it’s strong enough it’ll catch my at­ten­tion. So I’m play­ing but also tak­ing a lis­tener’s per­spec­tive at the same time. Some­times there’s a me­chan­i­cal el­e­ment as your fin­gers are play­ing freely but then you stum­ble on some­thing, so it’s a kind of in­spi­ra­tion be­cause from there, you guide it and de­velop from that seed it into an idea.

GT: Of­ten a guitr solo starts low and slow and fin­ishes high and fast. Is this use­ful for in­stru­men­tals?

TA: This sounds like a mu­si­cal cliché, but I think it is one be­cause it’s ef­fec­tive, and cre­ates an arc in the nar­ra­tive. This is a use­ful struc­ture to fol­low if you’re try­ing to make some­thing work as it’s tried and tested, and it’s al­ways good to end on a crescendo or high point. But fol­low­ing this method is a lit­tle ob­vi­ous so I al­ways try to do some­thing dif­fer­ent with my solo­ing. How­ever, lately I’ve found my­self com­ing full cir­cle and writ­ing things lit­tle more like this.

GT: What type of guitar tone do you pre­fer for in­stru­men­tals?

TA: My guitar tone, haha! Some­thing clear. If you’re try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate a mu­si­cal idea it needs to be re­ceived clearly. With dis­tor­tion I like a lot of mid-range and as lit­tle gain as pos­si­ble; just the min­i­mum amount to get the sound I’m af­ter and to not over sat­u­rate the tone. I dial it back to where it’s sus­tained enough so that it also re­tains string clar­ity. I pre­fer guitarists who cre­ate their own sounds, and ob­vi­ously as guitarists we will ref­er­ence other play­ers, but you should be en­cour­aged to carve out your own voice.

GT: Do you have favourite keys or tem­pos to com­pose in?

TA: Ap­par­ently I like around 155 bpm. Keys… I don’t re­ally work in keys, I just use what­ever works for the idea.

GT: Do you find Mi­nor or Ma­jor keys eas­ier to write in?

TA: Mi­nor… but I don’t re­ally use keys in the tra­di­tional sense. I use modal har­mony, but it’s rare that’ll utilise an en­tire key. I use Ma­jor scales quite of­ten but against Mi­nor chords, so I think the sim­plest an­swer is Mi­nor.

GT: Do you have any favourite modes to play or write in?

TA: Yes, I like Do­rian and Ly­dian.

GT: What about mod­u­la­tions into new keys?

TA: I don’t re­ally do that too of­ten.

GT: Do you view the back­ing band dif­fer­ently to how you would on a vo­cal song?

TA: I don’t think so, but maybe there’s more fo­cus on the in­stru­ments. For ex­am­ple, the drum­mer can play with a cer­tain free­dom that maybe he or she can’t if they’re play­ing a verse or cho­rus with a vo­cal over it.

GT: What are your views on har­mon­is­ing melodies?

TA: Go for it!

GT: What three guitar in­stru­men­tals have in­spired you?

TA: Steve Vai’s Pas­sion And War­fare. Allan Holdsworth’s Se­crets. Kurt Rosen­win­kle, The Next Step.


Tosin Abasi is one of the most cre­ative play­ers around to­day

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