Updated: Jan 4, 2022
As a guitar player, instrumental music is part of who I am.
My sense of that is because a melodic line executed as an extension of myself, my inner voice, is incredibly fulfilling. An inner energy just extends itself from my core through my hands as if I can breathe it, hear it and watch it happen as if only an observer and appreciator.
When you start to have this experience, you are leaving the intermediate level. Things also start to become familiar in different ways. What I mean by that is that you find yourself fingering a familiar pattern in a different place on the neck creating new sounds, phrases and lines that really speak to what you want to say. And you’re not thinking about how to play it. You just play it and it makes sense and works at the same time. That's the flow going. You're inner guide intuitively knows how to take something familiar and try it in a different place.
Artistic growth happens in time. If you play consistently, it comes in small increments, and occasionally one giant leap occurs which is not only cool and motivational, it’s inspiring.
Back to the musical part of it. Some of my best friends, and best musical people I’ve come to know need the lyric. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I do as an artist. I appreciate the word craft, but it doesn’t come to me in the form of song – I hear it in a melodic story line.
So the challenge becomes what background music, what instrumental arrangement might I choose or create to use as a canvas to explore and play in my own musical storyland if you will. And there is no end to the options. Creating a soft background is often fulfilling unto itself. I'll play to a bass line, percussion, a pad, piano for sure ... and any combination of such any day of the week. That's how I develop feel.
What I go for is flow and feel. I’m not into angular arrangements, complex changes and unnatural timing – so I go for flow because that is how I feel it, not thru memorization or sophisticated, academic technique.
Unlike a lyrical piece that can continue to reuse melody and verse as the foundation for the message, an instrumental doesn’t have the same privilege. It would quickly be boring. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that you can’t improvise over a cover tune, it’s just not where the audience wants to go for long. And for me as a player, breaking away from the famous part isn’t as fulfilling when you know too well how the tune was written. You want to get back to the famous part because it sounds so cool. After all, it's famous for a reason.
As a player, you need to be inventive. It’s the basis of every famous melody. In an instrumental, you have to keep it going. It’s the opposing challenge for not creating the lyric.
My approach to this is to first appreciate the beauty of the music I am listening to by listening to it with a present mindset. And as I repeat that process, I start to imagine where I hear tidbits of melody forming in my head. Those tidbits become foundational as motifs throughout the piece. They are what I return to, to ground myself in the vibe, the vibe that came to me naturally.
As the music plays, I enjoy playing those motifs, then consider how I change it up between them … the real improvisational, exploratory stuff.
Since the motif is already a line of sorts, I lean more into what is going on with the background music. I might want to interplay with the percussion and work that from a rhythmic picking perspective. Then I might think in intervals, just picking a few to go back and forth on, making sure there’s a chord tone in there somewhere. A good place to stress a little tension so it doesn’t sound bland or too arpeggiated. Then hit a passing tone and swing into a motif. That’s how I think about connecting the pieces.
So from this guitar players perspective, I love the playground. I go in with an open mind and skip a few familiar steps. And then I find something I like from safely exploring off the beaten path. And that brings me to something else and something new. Creative, self sourced development in a very natural way.
As a guitar player, instrumental music is part of who I am. And this is how I think about it.