in­stru­men­tal in­qui­si­tion!

In­stru­men­tals have sup­plied some of mu­sic’s most evoca­tive mo­ments. We asked some top gui­tarists for their per­sonal take on this iconic move­ment. This month: Cana­dian rock and fu­sion vir­tu­oso,

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO - More from Nick and his mu­sic at, https://nick­john­ston­mu­sic.com

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

NJ: I grew up in a very small town, and be­ing the only mu­si­cian in my fam­ily, I didn’t re­ally have con­tact with a cir­cle of peo­ple who played mu­sic. I lis­tened to a lot of sound­tracks and clas­si­cal mu­sic and never re­ally no­ticed the ab­sence of vo­cals in the mu­sic. I think a com­bi­na­tion of the mu­sic I was lis­ten­ing to, and the lack of mu­si­cians in my prox­im­ity, al­lowed me to con­sider writ­ing mu­sic on my own where the gui­tar was the voice.

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

NJ: When I lis­ten to in­stru­men­tal mu­sic, I find my­self pic­tur­ing scenes from my past. I get lost in the mu­sic and of­ten times be­come very emo­tional or at­tached to the piece I’m lis­ten­ing to. It’s up to me to de­cide what the piece meant and what emo­tion is be­ing con­veyed. I think a good piece of in­stru­men­tal mu­sic can trans­port the lis­tener to a dif­fer­ent time, place or world. It’s uni­ver­sal, too. I’ve trav­elled all over the world play­ing my in­stru­men­tal mu­sic and every­one can un­der­stand what’s going on. There’s noth­ing to sep­a­rate me from the lis­tener.

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

NJ: As a kid I lis­tened to a lot of in­stru­men­tal records and I found that a lot of them aban­doned melody in favour of dis­play­ing tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency. Both ap­proaches are great, but for the type of player and lis­tener I am, I’d pre­fer to hear a well crafted melody. Af­ter I’ve de­vel­oped some melodies, I think about the ar­range­ment and in­stru­men­ta­tion. That’s when It re­ally starts to get fun.

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

NJ: It de­pends on the mu­si­cian and what they’re try­ing to ac­com­plish. I used to fol­low that quite closely. As I write more mu­sic, I feel a need to ex­per­i­ment more so that form is be­com­ing less and less rel­e­vant for me. How­ever, maybe once I ex­haust my thirst for quirky ar­range­ments, I’ll be right back to the tried and true form. I guess it all comes down to the qual­ity of the con­tent within the form. If it’s a poorly writ­ten piece of mu­sic, it doesn’t mat­ter what the ar­range­ment is.

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

NJ: I think vo­cal and a gui­tar melodies are com­pletely dif­fer­ent con­cepts. A vo­cal­ist can sit on a hand­ful of notes and get away with the lim­ited melodic con­tent be­cause of the de­scrip­tion and emo­tion in the vo­cals. You can tell when the vo­cal­ist is an­gry or sad or happy, by the way they’re singing the lyrics. The gui­tar doesn’t have the ben­e­fit of de­scrip­tion, so com­po­si­tion needs to be ap­proached from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.

GT: How do you start writ­ing one?

NJ: Ideas tend to pop up when I’m just mess­ing around on gui­tar or key­board. If I ‘try’ to write, noth­ing comes out. I like to keep an open mind and let all sorts of styles seep into my song­writ­ing. I love sci-fi, video games and comic books too. A lot of my older mu­sic was writ­ten with the idea that I was scor­ing a scene from a comic book. I used to get re­ally inspired by that.

GT: What do you aim for when per­form­ing an in­stru­men­tal?

NJ: Every in­stru­ment should ide­ally be sup­port­ing each other. Since my mu­sic is so sim­plis­tic from a tech­ni­cal stand point, it’s more im­por­tant that all in­stru­ments lock to­gether cre­at­ing the big­ger pic­ture, rather than sim­ply pro­vid­ing a back­drop for me to play a bunch of gui­tar so­los.

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

NJ: It de­pends on the piece of mu­sic and the pro­duc­tion on it. If there’s a lot of acous­tic gui­tar, pi­ano and no dis­torted rhythm gui­tars, it might be an odd choice to use a lead tone sat­u­rated with a ton of gain. When I play the mu­sic live though, I opt for a mid-gain sin­gle-coil sound.

GT: Any favourite keys or tem­pos?

NJ: I seem to be writ­ing a lot of mu­sic that hap­pens to be slower in tempo at the mo­ment. I don’t re­ally have a favourite key to write in.

GT: Mi­nor or Ma­jor?

NJ: I’ve al­ways grav­i­tated to Mi­nor keys. I have writ­ten mu­sic with a more Ma­jor fo­cus, but Mi­nor def­i­nitely out­weighs the Ma­jor.

GT: Favourite modes?

NJ: I think more about in­ter­vals. If a Mi­nor chord needs a Ma­jor 6th, even though I’m think­ing of it as Phry­gian I’m going to throw the 6th in there. I’m more in­ter­ested in the har­mony and the in­ter­vals I’m us­ing to de­velop a theme.

GT: Mo­du­la­tions into new keys?

NJ: I’m a huge fan of mod­u­la­tion. A mod­u­la­tion can be in­cred­i­bly cool if done in a clever way. I feel it’s ei­ther going to be awe­some, or hor­rific. There’s re­ally no ‘in the mid­dle’ re­sult with a mod­u­la­tion. Haha!

GT: And har­mon­is­ing melodies?

NJ: I grew up lis­ten­ing to a ton of in­stru­men­tal mu­sic, so I heard my fair share of har­monised leads. I don’t re­ally think it fits my mu­sic. I’ve tried it on a few tracks, but it came across as cheesy or just plain ridicu­lous sound­ing. I’m not sure I’ve re­cov­ered from the over­ex­po­sure to it.

GT: What three gui­tar in­stru­men­tals have inspired you?

NJ: Sleep­walk (Santo and Johnny et al), Scut­tle But­tin’ (Ste­vie Ray Vaughan) and Franken­stein (The Edgar Win­ter Group). The first time I heard those tracks, I felt like I was hear­ing mu­sic from a dif­fer­ent di­men­sion. I can only hope to write some­thing as tran­scen­dent and iconic as those pieces one day.

I’ve tried [har­mon­is­ing] on a few tracks BUT IT came across as cheesy or ridicu­lous sound­ing

Nick John­ston: more into melody than shred­ding

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