In­stru­men­tal in­qui­si­tion!

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Gui­tar in­stru­men­tals have sup­plied some of mu­sic’s most evoca­tive mo­ments. We asked some top gui­tarists for their take on this iconic move­ment. To­day we meet one of the finest fusion gui­tarists of them all: the bril­liant Mike Stern. GT: What is it about gui­tar in­stru­men­tals that ap­peals to you?

MS: I love the sound of gui­tar, so that’s what ap­peals to me.

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

MS: I re­ally like a vo­cal ap­proach. I have been singing along with my gui­tar but even with­out the voice in­volved, I like to say some­thing with melodies. Some­times you can play things in­stru­men­tally that are im­pos­si­ble to sing.

GT: Are there any ten­den­cies with in­stru­men­tals that you em­brace or avoid (rhythms, har­mony, play­ing ap­proach, tones)?

MS: I don’t think of it that way. When I’m writ­ing a song, I try to make sure to carry the emo­tion be­hind the in­spi­ra­tion of the song. If it’s ex­cit­ing, if it’s sad, I want to keep that. What I in­clude or ex­clude comes nat­u­rally as I’m writ­ing. The heart comes first.

GT: Is a typ­i­cal song struc­ture verse, cho­rus, mid­dle eight, etc al­ways rel­e­vant for cre­at­ing a good in­stru­men­tal?

MS: No. I don’t mind a typ­i­cal song form. But it doesn’t have to be that.

GT: How use­ful is study­ing a vo­cal­ist’s ap­proach when it comes to cre­at­ing gui­tar melodies?

MS: Very, very use­ful. For me, it’s very im­por­tant to try and sound as vo­cal as pos­si­ble.

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

MS: Writ­ing is a big chal­lenge for me. It’s usu­ally 10% in­spi­ra­tion, 90% per­spi­ra­tion. For most peo­ple, I think that holds true, if you are try­ing to write from the heart, and not me­chan­i­cally.

GT: What do you aim for when your per­for­mance is cen­tre stage for the du­ra­tion of the piece?

MS: It’s the same pri­or­ity. The emo­tion of the mu­sic al­ways comes first and fore­most. And some­times that’s dif­fi­cult in writ­ing or in play­ing. Some­times it seems im­pos­si­ble, but you gotta go for it in my opin­ion.

GT: Many vo­cal songs fea­ture a gui­tar solo that starts low and slow then fin­ishes high and fast. Is this struc­ture use­ful for in­stru­men­tal writ­ing, de­vel­op­ing pace and dynamics over the in­stru­men­tal’s du­ra­tion?

MS: It’s not nec­es­sary, but it’s im­por­tant to try and build a solo how­ever you do it. Some­times you don’t have to build a solo in a su­per dy­namic way, you can just tell a story in a more even way.

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

MS: Not re­ally, but what­ever the tempo is, the time feel is al­ways very im­por­tant to me.

GT: Do you have favourite modes that you like to write or play in?

MS: Again, not re­ally. All scales and modes are re­ally cool, and each has unique pos­si­bil­i­ties. I try to learn as many as pos­si­ble and then cre­ate melodies from them.

GT: In­stru­men­tals of­ten re­quire con­sid­er­able vo­cab­u­lary. How do you de­velop it?

MS: For me, learn­ing new mu­si­cal stuff is al­ways dif­fi­cult, like learn­ing a new lan­guage. But, it seems that the more vo­cab­u­lary you know, the more it opens up pos­si­bil­i­ties to ex­press colours and emo­tions.

i like a vo­cal ap­proach. but even with­out the voice in­volved, i like to say some­thing with melodies

Mike Stern with his well­worn Yamaha sig­na­ture gui­tar

Mike is equally com­fort­able in all keys, tem­pos and modes

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