The Amazing Alex Sill
Guitar Techniques|January 2021
Guitar instrumentals have supplied some of music’s most evocative moments. We asked some top guitarists for their take on this iconic movement. This month: new guitarist for Simon Phillips’ fusion band Protocol, the amazing Alex Sill.
Alex Sill

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

AS: The open-ended nature of instrumental music, its limitless colour palette, and technical possibilities are certainly appealing. I also feel that there’s some sort of special, unconscious language that’s only possible through instrumental music.

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

AS: I believe that instrumental music provides some unconscious form of communication, a sort of storytelling without words that’s not confined by interpretation. Maybe it’s a more direct form of communication!

GT: Any tendencies with instrumentals that you tend to embrace or avoid?

AS: The more tools one has in his/ her arsenal, the better, but there are certain things, technique-wise that I try to avoid. I suppose it just comes down to personal preference, and that ends up affecting one’s personal ‘style’ of playing. A particular example I can touch upon is trying to avoid articulation being unintentionally heavy-handed and sticking out awkwardly in the middle of any given phrase. I’m very particular about how I incorporate the notes that are picked versus articulated in a smoother fashion. The articulation and specific placement of those articulations really do play a big role in whether I feel a passage is effective or not. Expanding on that idea, time feel can suffer from misplaced articulation and limited dynamic sensibility.

GT: Is a typical song structure (intro, verse, chorus, etc), always relevant for an instrumental?

AS: I don’t think so. It’s very useful to be able to compose within the confines of a more traditional song form, and often times, songs just happen that way naturally after years of imbuing typical musical structures. However, every piece of music seems to have a different path to completion, and more atypical forms can seem very natural. I suppose it all depends on how you want to assemble your musical puzzle. I will also say that while composing it can be useful to have a goal in mind, form-wise, in order to push the writing process along. For example, I might want to get back to my A section melody so I have to find a way to transition out of my interlude section in order to get there. Imposing limits can help.

GT: How useful is studying a vocalist’s approach for creating guitar melodies?

AS: I believe it’s vital for any musician to sing to at least some extent. I often sing when I’m composing and let it guide my decisions. There’s something special that happens when one taps into their more vocal sensibilities. Even if someone doesn’t consider themselves to be a good singer, being able to enter with that inner, personal melodic space and then connect that to an instrument just seems to get to the heart of what’s important musically, and in a way that defies formulation. Perhaps it has something to do with the singing being one of the most immediate, and or primal ways we have of making music.

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

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