In­stru­men­tals have sup­plied some of mu­sic’s most evoca­tive mo­ments. We asked some top gui­tarists for their take on this iconic move­ment. This month: leg­endary solo jazz gui­tarist Martin Tay­lor MBE

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - For more on Martin please visit https://mar­t­in­tay­

GT: What is it about gui­tar in­stru­men­tals that ap­peals to you?

MT: I think of my­self as a sto­ry­teller and have al­ways been fas­ci­nated with com­mu­ni­cat­ing feel­ings and emo­tions through mu­sic. The first time I ex­pe­ri­enced that was as a kid hear­ing Django Rein­hardt. His melodic im­pro­vi­sa­tions made a very di­rect con­nec­tion to me; it sounded to my young ears as if he was telling a story through the gui­tar, and that was what got me into want­ing to play the gui­tar and in­stru­men­tal mu­sic.

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

MT: I think we can com­pare vo­cal mu­sic and in­stru­men­tal mu­sic in a sim­i­lar way to ra­dio ver­sus tele­vi­sion. TV is great, but there is some­thing about not hav­ing vis­ual im­ages in front of you that sparks the imag­i­na­tion. That’s why I love ra­dio. I also love vo­cal mu­sic, but mu­sic with­out lyrics can give us bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to use our imag­i­na­tions.

GT: Any­thing you em­brace or avoid?

MT: I try to avoid the gui­tar dic­tat­ing to me what I can and can’t cre­ate. That’s why I cre­ate all my mu­sic with­out the gui­tar in my hands. I cre­ate it in my mind first, then vi­su­alise how I could play it on the gui­tar, and fi­nally pick up the gui­tar and bring the two to­gether. Oth­er­wise, we just end up just play­ing what we know and can’t move on from that. I teach all my stu­dents how to de­velop this cre­ative process and break out of their tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions.

GT: Is a typ­i­cal song struc­ture still use­ful for in­stru­men­tals?

MT: A lot of the tunes I write have a 32-bar AABA struc­ture like most songs from the Great Amer­i­can Song­book, but I’ve also writ­ten many songs that have a looser struc­ture. The im­por­tant things about writ­ing any­thing is that it does have a struc­ture, but it doesn’t have to have any of the typ­i­cal struc­tures. It helps if you set out where you want the song to go, it’s then up to you to find a route from be­gin­ning to end. Struc­ture stops a song from just ram­bling on and gives it form.

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

MT: I’ve learned such a lot from singers. When I play a melody I try to make it sing. As in­stru­men­tal­ists we have three ba­sic el­e­ments that we work with: Melodic, Har­monic, Rhyth­mic. Singers have a fourth el­e­ment of Lyrics. A good singer knows not just what to sing but how to in­ter­pret the lyrics. When I play a song in­stru­men­tally I learn the lyrics and phrase ev­ery­thing as if I was singing those lyrics.

GT: How do you start writ­ing one?

MT: I usu­ally start with the rhyth­mic el­e­ment. What kind of feel do I want for this? Then come up with a har­monic struc­ture and some kind of mo­tif. The melody then seems to sug­gest it­self. When I’ve brought all these el­e­ments to­gether I then start finely ad­just­ing ev­ery­thing right down to the tini­est de­tail and giv­ing it the fi­nal buff and pol­ish.

GT: What do you aim for when your per­for­mance is cen­tre stage?

MT: I play mostly solo con­certs, so I use ev­ery mu­si­cal mech­a­nism I can muster to tell my sto­ries. Ev­ery tune must flow into the next and there must be the el­e­ment of sur­prise thrown in to keep the au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion, just like a good story.

GT: Many vo­cal songs fea­ture a solo that starts low and slow then fin­ishes high and fast. Is this use­ful for in­stru­men­tal writ­ing?

MT: Two key works there: pace and dy­nam­ics. Even when im­pro­vis­ing we must still have some kind of plan about how we’re go­ing to pace that im­pro­vi­sa­tion. We need to de­cide not only how we want to start it but where we want it to go. If we start with all guns blaz­ing we re­ally have nowhere to go from there ex­cept down, so we need to start pos­i­tively but at a lower dy­namic point.

GT: What tone do you pre­fer?

MT: I only have one gui­tar tone!

GT: Any favourite keys or tem­pos?

MT: Sharp keys (G-D-A-E) suit the gui­tar very well, but the flat keys (F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db)

can be great too as they have a slightly darker sound. When I’m writ­ing a tune or play­ing a tune writ­ten by some­one else, I spend time find­ing the best key. It’s mostly to do with pitch and range, and less to do with gui­tar play­ing.

GT: Mi­nor or Ma­jor keys?

MT: They’re the same. I just choose whichever I feel is ap­pro­pri­ate.

GT: Any favourite modes?

MT: I don’t know any­thing about modes. I know I must play them, but I don’t know what they are.

GT: Mo­du­la­tions into new keys?

MT: A good mod­u­la­tion is go­ing up a Mi­nor 3rd be­cause it has a very up­lift­ing ef­fect on the lis­tener. A good ex­am­ple would be E Ma­jor mod­u­lat­ing up to G Ma­jor.

GT: What are your views on har­mon­is­ing melodies?

MT: Sub­tle re-har­mon­i­sa­tions are very ef­fec­tive. I al­ways tell my stu­dents to har­monise an eight-bar sec­tion one way, then sec­ond time they re­peat that sec­tion they should slightly al­ter the har­mony. It doesn’t dis­tract from the melody but gives an­other tex­ture to it and makes it more in­ter­est­ing.

GT: What three gui­tar in­stru­men­tals have in­spired you?

MT: I’ll See You In My Dreams, Django Rein­hardt; Parisi­enne Walk­ways, Gary Moore; Apache, Hank Marvin


Martin Tay­lor MBE with one of his gor­geous Van­den gui­tars

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