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: mod­ern acoustic sen­sa­tion, Mike Dawes.

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

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

MD: I’ve never been hugely into lyrics. And given that I am a lousy vo­cal­ist my­self, I al­ways grav­i­tated to­wards play­ing in­stru­men­tals. But I don’t value in­stru­men­tals more highly than vo­cals; it’s still just lead over har­mony.

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

MD: The most ob­vi­ous thing would be sub­jec­tiv­ity. In­stru­men­tals ex­pand the ca­pac­ity for self dis­cov­ery on an emo­tional level. Essen­tially vo­cals tell you what to feel, melodies am­plify your feel­ings.

GT: Any­thing you em­brace or avoid?

MD: I try to avoid los­ing the melody in a flurry of tech­nique or sim­ply mis­plac­ing it in the sur­round­ing fre­quen­cies. It’s su­per im­por­tant to em­pha­sise your melody, both dy­nam­i­cally and tonally. I al­ways aim to have a whistleable tune; some­times if I come up with an idea I de­lib­er­ately won’t record it or write it down for a day, then if I come back to the in­stru­ment and can re­mem­ber the tune, it’s pretty solid. An­other fea­ture of my play­ing is the stack­ing of rhythms. This can con­trib­ute much to an instrumental piece, and to my own dex­ter­ity.

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

MD: I would rec­om­mend this to some­one get­ting into com­pos­ing, as struc­tur­ing pieces can be very daunt­ing. But a rough struc­ture I have been us­ing a lot is a sort of sand­wich, be­gin­ning with a theme and tak­ing the lis­tener on a jour­ney be­fore re­turn­ing to the theme, or a vari­a­tion thereof. You can hear this in tunes like The Im­pos­si­ble, Some­where Home and The Old Room. I would cer­tainly en­cour­age ex­per­i­men­ta­tion; just re­mem­ber to have some­thing to say.

GT: What are the pros and cons of mak­ing solo gui­tar in­stru­men­tals ver­sus those that in­volve a band?

MD: I got into this for two rea­sons. Firstly I’m a mas­sive con­trol freak. I’m a per­fec­tion­ist and I’m sure it an­noys those around me. Se­condly, I grew up in a small town with­out a huge num­ber of mu­si­cians, and solo writ­ing en­ables you to do what you want, when you want.

GT: How do you name a piece?

MD: Usu­ally the tune re­minds me of some­thing and that’s where the name and theme comes from.

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

MD: I feel a vo­cal­ist’s ap­proach isn’t re­ally that much dif­fer­ent from that of an ex­pres­sive and soul­ful player. There are ob­vi­ous things like vi­brato and other ar­tic­u­la­tion, but one big ben­e­fit of ap­proach­ing mu­sic as a vo­cal­ist is be­ing un­con­fined melod­i­cally. If I’m writ­ing a top line for a piece, I’ll of­ten sing it. This way I’m not con­stricted by my fin­gers run­ning up the same scales in the same shapes. Highly rec­om­mended!

GT: Is there a typ­i­cal ap­proach or in­spi­ra­tion when com­pos­ing?

MD: One big in­spi­ra­tion is play­ing in a new tun­ing. There are a cou­ple of tunes on the new al­bum Era, in an open Bm9 tun­ing that I hadn’t used be­fore. They came out al­most in­stantly, it was so in­spir­ing. I also try to write at home, in com­fort and with tea. There will al­ways be days where the tunes won’t come out, and when that hap­pens I’ll put the gui­tar down and do some­thing else for hours; watch movies, see friends etc. That usu­ally in­spires me. An­other thing would be lis­ten­ing to your favourite mu­si­cians, although that can also lead to the ‘I’ll never be good enough’ de­pres­sion.

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

MD: Mu­sic first, but in do­ing this as a full live show there needs to be vari­a­tion. Ev­ery song needs a ‘thing’. I re­mem­ber talk­ing about this with my su­per ta­lented buddy Pet­teri Sar­i­ola and I re­ally be­lieve that in a show it’s im­por­tant. This leads to cer­tain cre­ative de­ci­sions that avoid too much rep­e­ti­tion.

GT: Any favourite keys or tem­pos?

MD: Not con­sciously, although I do tend to grav­i­tate to­wards midtempo tunes in D or Dm. I put that down to the in­flu­ence DADGAD tun­ing had on my up­bring­ing.

GT: Mi­nor or ma­jor keys?

MD: That de­pends on the tun­ing. A tun­ing like DADGAD is just as easy to work with in D or Dm be­cause it’s am­bigu­ous, just root, 4th and 5th. My tune Some­where Home ac­tu­ally drifts from E to Em for this rea­son.

GT: Any favourite modes?

MD: I grew up on rock and metal so Phry­gian was al­ways there. Most of my early tunes were based around Ae­o­lian. I love a bit of cheese.

GT: Mo­du­la­tions into new keys?

MD: Pierre Ben­su­san does this well. My tune, Maybe Some­day Soon mod­u­lates from C to D eas­ily as the tun­ing didn’t hin­der it. But an­other, For­est Party goes from D to E and I lit­er­ally drop a capo mid song. There was no other way! Please, jazz po­lice, don’t ar­rest me!

GT: And har­mon­is­ing melodies?

MD: It’s an­other tool I use to add in­ter­est and vari­a­tion to an instrumental, be it through in­ter­est­ing chord voic­ings or just a dou­bled line, Thin Lizzy style.

GT: What three gui­tar in­stru­men­tals have in­spired you?

So Long Michael by Pierre Ben­su­san is prob­a­bly the rea­son I play fin­ger­style. It’s HUGE in my fam­ily. My Dad is al­ways whistling the first line be­fore it goes men­tal. The Re­lease by Pet­teri Sar­i­ola. Do check his new al­bum, Res­o­lu­tion. Surf­ing With The Alien by Joe Sa­tri­ani was the first instrumental gui­tar tune I ever heard. I ac­tu­ally learned it for my GCSE per­for­mance. That def­i­nitely changed the way I looked at the gui­tar, as I’d never heard it take the place of the vo­cal be­fore. Joe is such a melody guy. Awe­some tune.

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lis­ten­ing to your Favourite mu­si­cians can lead to the ‘i’ll never be good enough’ de­pres­sion

Mike Dawes uses new tun­ings for in­spi­ra­tion

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