Arlen Roth on Instrumentals
This has always been a favorite thing of mine to do musically, and I suppose it has always just come naturally to me as well. The main thing is that your guitar must truly “sing” from the inside of you, and translate to those strings. I can recall one time long ago, I was teaching a student who only wanted to “fake” guitar while singing, which was annoying enough for me, but when he said “you know, playing the guitar is one thing, but a voice is from God!” “Oh really………” was all I could come back with, since I never heard anything so dumb in my life!
So, according to this guy, if you’re hearing and feeling it in your soul, and can make that speak through an instrument, it’s not a “God given thing”, but just something lesser, somehow! Well, for anyone who’s ever played an instrument with feeling, you’ve got to know that this statement was just totally naïve as well as foolish, and it showed his real lack of pure and simple understanding when it came to the very art and the very soul of what it takes to make music. It even therefore made me very suspicious of what his singing must’ve been like too!
All that being said, when you do play an instrumental version of a vocal song, you must be able to actually let that song and all its nuances “flow” through you. It’s not so much that we are interpreting the s of the tune, but rather that we are stating the almost non-verbal expression of what this song feels like to hear, as well as to play. I never think of the words of a song when I am playing an instrumental….to me notes can say so much more than words! After all, a word pretty much locks us into what it means. Yes, there can be words that are open to interpretation by the listener, but once they take the instrumental route, it’s a whole new road map!
This is also why I love to so spontaneously create guitar solos on the spot. It’s usually meant to be a very honest and true statement of what that particular song is saying from all angles; emotional, musical, structural and of course, verbal. Actually, you can think of that solo you might take during a vocal song as the beginning of how you’d interpret that song from an instrumental perspective altogether. You’ll be amazed at the fertile territory you’ll be farming when it comes to new ideas, and remember, just let that “song” flow right through you, and let it become your own very personal way of singing it “from within.”
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.