In­stru­men­tal in­qui­si­tion!

Guitar in­stru­men­tals have sup­plied some of mu­sic’s most evoca­tive mo­ments. We asked some top gui­tarists for their take on this iconic move­ment. This month: Brazil­ian-style, ny­lon-string master, ses­sion king and Sting’s right-hand man, Do­minic Miller.

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

GT: What is it about guitar in­stru­men­tals that ap­peals?

DM: Be­ing a gui­tarist I would say there is no bet­ter in­stru­ment to in­ter­pret a solo piece, mainly be­cause of the range in pitch and six-part polyphony. Some pian­ists might ar­gue. Hi Ja­son Re­bello!

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

DM: I think in­stru­men­tals can pro­vide a more sub­lim­i­nal nar­ra­tive, mak­ing for a more in­ter­ac­tive di­a­logue with the lis­tener. When I hear in­stru­men­tals I cre­ate my own sto­ries and con­nect with the player and com­poser.

GT: Are there any ten­den­cies that you aim to em­brace or avoid, such as rhythms, har­mony, play­ing ap­proach, tones?

DM: Tak­ing away all ego (which is hard for us lot), just tell the story and only shred if en­tirely nec­es­sary. Ask your­self if you’re mak­ing mu­sic for gui­tarists or for peo­ple who like mu­sic.

GT: Is a typ­i­cal song struc­ture (in­tro, verse, cho­rus, etc) al­ways rel­e­vant for an in­stru­men­tal?

DM: Ab­so­lutely! Fol­low­ing the ‘laws’ of song­writ­ing form and struc­ture al­ways makes for a more re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence all round. I’ve been for­tu­nate to work with some great song­writ­ers and these have been a huge influence on how I ap­proach com­po­si­tion.

GT: How use­ful is study­ing a vo­cal­ist’s ap­proach for con­struct­ing guitar melodies?

DM: I def­i­nitely get a lot out of lis­ten­ing to dif­fer­ent vo­cal styles, par­tic­u­larly lis­ten­ing out for phras­ing, breath con­trol, mi­cro­phone tech­nique, and ways of pro­ject­ing a melody.

GT: How do you start writ­ing one; is there a typ­i­cal ap­proach?

DM: Com­bi­na­tion of in­spi­ra­tion, per­spi­ra­tion and luck. The key is recog­nis­ing when you have a good idea, which is usu­ally ei­ther a sim­ple mo­tif or re­la­tion­ship be­tween two chords, and then

hon­our­ing it by do­ing the hard graft. I love that process which can be time-con­sum­ing, tak­ing me on a huge jour­ney and ex­plor­ing all har­monic and melodic op­tions. On a lucky day a piece kind of writes it­self and you just take dic­ta­tion. In the end I fol­low my in­stinct and per­sonal taste.

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

DM: I al­ways ask my­self if I’d sit through one of my gigs till the end. If I keep this in mind I make sure I don’t ‘leave the room’ by hav­ing a good pace with the show. I try not to be too se­ri­ous while keep­ing it deep. In­ter­act­ing with the au­di­ence helps, and I like to in­clude a cover or two.

GT: Many vo­cal songs fea­ture a guitar solo that starts low and slow then fin­ishes high and fast. Is this use­ful for de­vel­op­ing pace and dy­nam­ics in an in­stru­men­tal?

I ask my­self if i’d sit through one of my gigs to the end. i make sure i Don’t ‘leave the room’ by hav­ing good pace

DM: Hmmm. Tricky ques­tion. I think we have to go back to a pre­vi­ous ques­tion and fo­cus on song form. Then if there’s a ‘solo’ within an in­stru­men­tal piece han­dle with care.

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

DM: That’s a very per­sonal topic. My pref­er­ence is acous­tic gui­tars, mainly ny­lon. I get the sound that’s in my ears. It might not be to ev­ery­one’s taste but it is to mine.

GT: Do you have favourite keys or tem­pos, ei­ther to write or play in?

DM: Ab­so­lutely not. It’s all de­pen­dant on the com­po­si­tion. My de­fault set­ting veers to­wards moody mu­sic so some­times I like to get away from that and do some up-tempo riff­ing for the boys!

GT: The cliché is ‘ma­jor for happy, mi­nor for sad’. Do you find mi­nor or ma­jor keys eas­ier to write in?

DM: Same as above. Ac­tu­ally, writ­ing in a ma­jor key is very dif­fi­cult es­pe­cially if you want to write some­thing deep (a good ex­er­cise). We do love our mi­nor chords us gui­tarists. We need to lighten up a bit!

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

DM: Modes, shmodes. Never stud­ied modes. I just play what I hear. I’m not against the aca­demic ap­proach to mu­sic, which can serve you well. I’ve maybe just been too lazy to get that deeply into it.

GT: Mo­du­la­tions into new keys are ei­ther a great way to lift a piece, or a bit of a cliché. What’s your view?

DM: Now you’re talk­ing! I love a good key change. Noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing. I’m al­ways look­ing for one in ev­ery piece. Some­times they’re not needed but al­ways worth a crack. My least favourite per­haps is go­ing up a semi­tone, à la Barry Manilow.

GT: Do you view the band dif­fer­ently when fronting it as an in­stru­men­tal­ist, than when play­ing sup­port on oth­ers’ songs?

DM: Not par­tic­u­larly. Same rules ap­ply. Serve the mu­sic first.

GT: What are your views on har­mon­is­ing melodies? Some have said it can sound corny...

DM: Good ques­tion. I think one should be care­ful here be­cause re-har­mon­is­ing is like say­ing I’ve got a bet­ter way of telling the story. Would I try to come up with a bet­ter melody on a Bach piece? I could try but me­thinks not.

GT: Can you give us three guitar in­stru­men­tals that you con­sider iconic, or have in­spired you.

DM: Cavaquinho by Eg­berto Gis­monti; Are You Go­ing With Me by Pat Metheny; Di­a­mond Dust by Jeff Beck.

Do­minic’s new al­bum Silent Night is out now. For more info on his tour dates and to buy CD and vinyl al­bums go to do­minicmiller.com

Do­minic: has played many a ses­sion on this old Strat

Here Do­minic is play­ing his black K Yairi ny­lon­string elec­tro

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