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: that gi­ant of bluesy jazz-fu­sion, Scott Hen­der­son

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

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

SH: I need to say first of all that I love singers. I ac­tu­ally like them so much that I want to be one; but I can’t sing, so I let the in­stru­ment sing for me in­stead!

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

SH: If you’re ex­press­ing your­self mu­si­cally, it doesn’t mat­ter whether you’re do­ing it through your voice or an in­stru­ment. Your voice is an in­stru­ment, it’s just built in. But those of us who play phys­i­cal in­stru­ments, we have to learn and in­ter­nalise them, just like a voice.

GT: Any­thing you em­brace or avoid?

SH: It re­ally de­pends on how con­so­nant or dis­so­nant you want the song to be. If you want to play a song that’s very con­so­nant, you’ll be look­ing to obey all the rules we have in jazz har­mony. You prob­a­bly wouldn’t write a C# over a Cmaj7 chord, for ex­am­ple. But we tend not to fol­low these rules nearly as much as we used to. If the song you’re cre­at­ing is dis­so­nant and you’re try­ing to evoke dif­fer­ent feel­ings from that piece of mu­sic, then the rule book should be torn to pieces. The only rule is: if it sounds good, then it’s good.

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

SH: It might be rel­e­vant for a tra­di­tional piece of mu­sic. But bands like Weather Re­port have songs that never re­peat a melody; they’re al­most like an im­pro­vi­sa­tion through­out. I worked with Joe Zaw­inul and there were times when he would just keep com­pos­ing and maybe only re­peat a small part of what he was play­ing. But, hav­ing said that, Weather Re­port could fol­low the tra­di­tional for­mula of intro, verse, cho­rus, verse, cho­rus etc and re­ally make it work too. Ev­ery tune is dif­fer­ent and has its own iden­tity.

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

SH: It’s ex­tremely im­por­tant vo­cal­ists have in­cred­i­ble phras­ing. If you lis­ten to some of the best we have to of­fer - Sarah Vaughan, Bey­oncé - their phras­ing is on an­other level. Any­one play­ing an in­stru­ment can learn a lot from great singers like these. They don’t have to think as much be­fore they ‘play’; they don’t have to con­sider the next chord. ‘Think­ing’ can be dis­tract­ing when play­ing your in­stru­ment, be­cause think­ing makes you con­cen­trate and too much con­cen­tra­tion can dis­tract you from the pur­pose, which is to tell a story. Mu­sic is like a lan­guage; if you’re too busy think­ing about nouns, pro­nouns, verbs and ad­jec­tives, you’re un­likely to tell a good story. We learn our in­stru­ment’s tech­ni­cal as­pects, so we can un­der­stand them in­side out. It’s when you know ev­ery­thing about the in­stru­ment that you don’t over­think what you’re do­ing as you play. Singers help us re­mem­ber that, be­cause their in­stru­ment doesn’t re­quire as much tech­ni­cal knowl­edge as a gui­tar.

GT: How do you start writ­ing one; any typ­i­cal ap­proach or in­spi­ra­tion?

SH: I try to avoid that word, ‘in­spi­ra­tion’, as it’s kind of an ex­cuse not to work. You know, “I’m not go­ing to work to­day, be­cause I’m not in­spired.” I look at it like this; I go to work ev­ery day. There are days which are good, when I’m in­spired and things hap­pen much eas­ier. But then there are days when I’m less in­spired and I may have to work a lit­tle harder. That’s not to say I’m not go­ing to work though I’ve come up with some of my best stuff when I’d re­ally rather be watch­ing TV! The thing is, it’s not the prod­uct that’s im­por­tant, it’s the process. A guy once said, “If you’re hav­ing fun while you’re writ­ing mu­sic you’re prob­a­bly writ­ing a piece of shit!” Now, I don’t know how much fun you’re sup­posed to have, but the im­por­tant thing you need to stay fo­cused on is the process - whether you’re hav­ing fun or not. The prod­uct is a re­sult of the process. It wouldn’t ex­ist with­out the process, so re­alise you’re do­ing some­thing con­struc­tive and sooner or later you’ll come up with some­thing that you like. It’s best to try and have a good time while you’re do­ing it though; to me the process is sup­posed to be fun. From a tech­ni­cal point-of-view, I write a lot of dif­fer­ent ways; some­times I’ll start with a groove, other times I’ll be­gin with the bass line or melody. I like to try and do it dif­fer­ently each time, be­cause if I don’t I’m afraid I’ll write the same song 100 times; maybe I’ve al­ready done that!

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

SH: I don’t like the word ‘per­for­mance’. I never want to ‘per­form’. In­stead, I ‘par­tic­i­pate’. When you per­form you split your­self into three peo­ple; the per­son play­ing the notes, the per­son that doesn’t like the notes and the per­son that’s judg­ing them. The ex­e­cu­tioner who hates ev­ery note they hear. But when I ‘par­tic­i­pate’, I try not to think about who’s lis­ten­ing to me and I throw the ego away. I just ‘par­tic­i­pate’ in that act of play­ing mu­sic. This al­lows me to be­come cen­tred on the other guys in the band, so I don’t fo­cus en­tirely on me. My mu­sic is based on in­ter­play and con­ver­sa­tion. If you’re cen­tred on how you sound, then you’re not be­ing truth­ful to the mu­sic. In my band, we try to tell a story with the song, and our com­mu­ni­ca­tion is very im­por­tant to the nar­ra­tive.

GT: Many songs fea­ture a solo that starts low and slow then fin­ishes high and fast. Is this struc­ture a use­ful for pace and dy­nam­ics?

SH: That’s a very dated con­cept, though not en­tirely use­less. There’s noth­ing wrong with it, but if ev­ery sin­gle song you wrote em­ployed that model, then you’ll have very pre­dictable mu­sic. I’ve worked for side­men in the past and it seemed like al­most ev­ery solo was built to do that - start slow and soft and end fast and big. My band and I re­ally lis­ten to each other. If I come down, they will too. I can be cookin’ along in a solo and de­cide I want to play some­thing softer and they’ll go with me; the solo’s al­lowed to breathe dy­nam­i­cally. It doesn’t have to be on a path up or down, it can do what it wants. The more fun so­los have soft mo­ments in them, but they’re not fol­low­ing the rigid con­cept of mov­ing steadily from soft to loud.

it’s when you know ev­ery­thing about the in­stru­ment that you don’t over­think what you are do­ing

GT: What type of tone do you pre­fer?

SH: I like the tone to be good, haha! I mean, most peo­ple know me as a

tone nerd, I’ve spent a lot of hours twirling knobs rather that prac­tis­ing. I sup­pose ev­ery gui­tar player does though, be­cause it’s not easy to get good tone from the gui­tar alone; there are a mil­lion things that can mess it up. The whole pack­age mat­ters; hav­ing a good gui­tar, amp, ped­als etc. But ul­ti­mately the tone is in your fin­gers. When we lis­ten to the great gui­tarists that came be­fore us, we try to em­u­late their tone first be­fore look­ing for our own. I’ve been in­spired by guys like Jeff Beck, Jimi Hen­drix, Jimmy Page, Mark Knopfler, Ste­vie Ray Vaughan, Ritchie Black­more; they were known for their fan­tas­tic tone. Most play­ers who are re­ally good don’t just play great notes - they have great tone. If you lis­ten to these guys, you might hear the de­fi­cien­cies in your own tone and be in­spired to make it bet­ter. Even­tu­ally you’ll end up with a tone that rep­re­sents your own voice and makes you happy. When peo­ple ask me how I get a great tone and find my voice, the an­swer is pretty sim­ple: you find the tone that suits you the most and en­ables you to play your own mu­sic.

GT: Any favourite keys or tem­pos?

SH: G and C and re­ally slow, haha! I’m not a huge fan of fast tem­pos, even though it wouldn’t make sense if I never played any, be­cause mu­sic has to have va­ri­ety. But any time you have a fast tempo, you’re less likely to be cre­ative, be­cause you have to use mus­cle mem­ory just to keep up the tempo. You have to play a lot of things you’ve played be­fore just be­cause the tempo’s so fast. I’m much more cre­ative when the tempo’s medium or slow be­cause I don’t have to re­mem­ber things I’ve played be­fore, I can just feel it. Even though I can play fast and have fast tunes, my favourite type of mu­sic isn’t so fast, be­cause I al­ways love to be cre­ative; that’s my main goal in mak­ing mu­sic.

GT: Do you find mi­nor or ma­jor keys eas­ier to write in?

SH: It’s all the same to me; most of my mu­sic switches keys pretty of­ten. You might find your­self in ma­jor, but it won’t last very long and then you take it to mi­nor and you won’t hang around there too long ei­ther. My mu­sic tends to have a lot of chords in it - that’s why I don’t make much money! Ev­ery time you write a chord, it takes away money, but I never seem to learn that and keep writ­ing thou­sands of them. If I got paid by the chord, I’d be a rich man!

GT: What about mod­u­la­tions into new keys?

SH: Well that’s very im­por­tant. I was lis­ten­ing to a friend’s al­bum a cou­ple of months ago and ev­ery­thing about the record was re­ally good; great tones, some nice melodies, re­ally cool lay­er­ing. But then I started to no­tice what was miss­ing; there weren’t any mod­u­la­tions. You can have a lot of chords in a song, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean there’s any mod­u­la­tions. I’m sure this per­son thought: ‘There’s a lot of har­monies in this song’ - which there is; there are a lot of chords, but they’re in the same key, or they all re­flect the same key. You have to in­clude mod­u­la­tions, that’s so im­por­tant; and you find them in the sim­plest tunes. They go on for a while in one key, us­ing tra­di­tional har­mony, then they mod­u­late into an­other key and still use tra­di­tional har­mony in that key. But the fact that they mod­u­late is what makes them fun to play over.

GT: Do you view the band’s role dif­fer­ently than on a vo­cal song?

SH: Yes, def­i­nitely, be­cause usu­ally in a vo­cal song - at least in ref­er­ence

to pop vo­cals - the band’s there purely to sup­port the singer. In a band like mine, the bass and drums are there for sup­port, but they’re also there to add their own voice to the mu­sic. They play a lit­tle busier than they would in a vo­cal, pop tune and I like that. I don’t want a rhythm sec­tion that’s 100% sup­port; they need to be cre­ative to al­low the mu­sic that I play to work. If they’re just play­ing sup­port roles only, who would I look to for in­spi­ra­tion? These guys ex­cite me and make me want to play new stuff. To play new stuff, you ac­tu­ally need to stop play­ing for a mo­ment and just lis­ten. I’m in this habit of play­ing a phrase and put­ting my hands by my side so I can re­flect on that phrase, hear how the guys re­act to it and I get a minute to think about how I’ll play next. Gui­tar play­ers are no­to­ri­ous for not leav­ing enough space, and I’m re­ally try­ing to do this more when I play be­cause I think I play bet­ter when I do. I can tell a more in­ter­est­ing story when I leave more space. The space ac­tu­ally be­comes more im­por­tant than the notes.

GT: How con­scious are you of its dy­namic range when com­pos­ing a new piece?

SH: Very con­scious, be­cause if a song doesn’t breathe, then you’ve got a prob­lem. I used to play with Scott Kin­sey, the key­board player for Tribal Tech, and we were a band that used a lot of elec­tronic loops. Loops are amaz­ing, be­cause they add a lot of tex­ture, but one of the prob­lems is they’re al­ways at the same vol­ume level. Play­ing at the same vol­ume like that makes it hard to go from the be­gin­ning of the song to the end. My favourite kind of mu­sic has a lot of dy­namism; I think the au­di­ence re­ally re­sponds to dy­nam­ics. If you ig­nore them, then you’re do­ing your mu­sic a great dis­ser­vice.

GT: What are your views on har­mon­is­ing melodies?

SH: We have such a huge pal­ette of chords to choose from - I mean the vo­cab­u­lary is pretty end­less. On a good day, I’m able to just hear the chords I want un­der melodies; I just hear it, be­cause I’ve heard these chords many times. My ears just hear what I want on a good day and I write pretty quickly. But on a bad day, I might have to use the process of elim­i­na­tion a lot more: try a chord, then try an­other be­fore I fi­nally come to a chord I want. I’ve even gone from low E all the way to the high E in bass notes. In other words, I’ve tried an E, E-ma­jor, E-mi­nor, then go to F and try the chords that are ap­pro­pri­ate in F and see if any of these fit. If I don’t like that I head along to G and so on be­fore I fi­nally find some­thing I like, be­cause I just don’t hear it. But there’s noth­ing wrong with us­ing the process of elim­i­na­tion; many com­posers have to do that. Then there are those guys who don’t. I mean, Joe Zaw­inul was known for im­pro­vis­ing and al­most never hav­ing to use the process of elim­i­na­tion. He sat down and freestyled for five min­utes and there you have it. He was a very gifted com­poser and I don’t feel like I’m ‘gifted’ as such. I’m just tena­cious - I won’t stop. I don’t give up un­til I get some­thing done no mat­ter how long it takes. I’m pa­tient with my­self and I think that’s the key be­cause you’ll have good and bad days when you’re com­pos­ing and you have to ac­cept that fact some­times.

GT: What three gui­tar in­stru­men­tals have in­spired you?

SH: Oh wow! I can’t just think of three be­cause there re­ally are too many. I could try and name 20! We’re talk­ing about jazz, rock, fu­sion, and all the rest - there are at least 10 in each cat­e­gory. I’ve al­ways been a big fan of Ma­hav­ishnu Orches­tra. I thought that band was very orig­i­nal, so I lis­tened to them a lot. I also re­ally like the Spec­trum al­bum by Billy Cob­ham - that has a lot of great in­stru­men­tal pieces for gui­tar. Some of those have al­most be­come the stan­dard for fu­sion gui­tar. Songs like Stra­tus; nearly ev­ery band in the world plays that song. One of the songs that hit me the hardest on Spec­trum, was a tune called Quad­rant 4. That had an in­cred­i­ble im­pact on me; it’s kind of a rock and roll, boo­gie shuf­fle and show­cases some of Tommy Bolin’s best ever gui­tar play­ing. There are great tunes from Scofield... I’m leav­ing so many peo­ple out!

GT: And of the great mu­si­cians you’ve played with?

SH: I’d ad­mired Joe Zaw­inul for a long time be­fore I played with him. We played to­gether for around four years and it was re­ally fun; an in­cred­i­ble learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t be­lieve my skills were ac­tu­ally up to the level of what was needed at the time. He’s gone now but I wish I had a chance to play with him again. It was an in­cred­i­ble pe­riod; get­ting to lis­ten to him play ev­ery night was truly amaz­ing.

gui­tarists are no­to­ri­ous For not leav­ing space. i’m try­ing to do this more be­cause i play bet­ter when i do

If Scott’s views on play­ing, writ­ing and per­form­ing have whet­ted your ap­petite, then check this out. The Mu­si­cians In­sti­tute launched on­line cour­ses for the first time in its his­tory in July 2017. MI On­line (https://on­line.mi.edu) is open to stu­dents around the world and in­cludes ex­clu­sive on­line pro­grammes from jazz, blues, and rock gui­tar le­gend, Scott Hen­der­son who shares his unique ap­proach to gui­tar im­pro­vi­sa­tion. The cour­ses have been given high-pro­file praise from ex-KISS guitarist, Bruce Kulick, who said: “Scott Hen­der­son is not only a phe­nom­e­nal guitarist with amaz­ing ar­tic­u­la­tion, he plays his uniquely beau­ti­ful styles by blend­ing jazz with a rock tone that he mas­ter­fully ex­presses. With his on­line course, he ac­tu­ally ex­plains how he does it! So learn with Scott as he shares his wis­dom, un­lock­ing the se­crets of his skills.”

Scott plays his Suhr Sig­na­ture Clas­sic gui­tar

Scott Hen­der­son: one of jazz-fu­sion’s most in­flu­en­tial and ex­cit­ing play­ers

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