Harmonies in Line w/ Moses Lin
Could you play all parts of a song with just a guitar and your hands? Well Moses Lin can, and he shows us the full range of the acoustic guitar in the process.
SB (StarBeat): Complexities: Your arrangements are a lot more complex than other fingerstyle guitarists on YouTube. What is your process in creating these and how long do they usually take?
ML (Moses Lin): I often like to compare my arranging process with Sudoku. I have ten fingers, six strings, and a dozen different places to hit the guitar, and it’s an exciting challenge of fitting melodies, bass lines, chords, and percussive beats together in a way that they are all equally present and complement each other. My secret that sets me apart from most other fingerstyle guitarist is that I’m willing to change the key of the original song. Because most guitarists arrange in the original key, it often locks them into certain positions on the fretboard and limits the melodic range of their arrangement.
I always start my arrangement process by finding the ideal key of the song that allows me to have high melodies that are clear and distinct, low bass lines that provide depth and presence, and space in-between for chords and to just let everything breathe. I also believe that as an instrumental cover artist, it’s crucial that the melody be rhythmically accurate so people will recognize it, so I take a lot of time making sure the syncopation in the melody is perfect. Some covers like my cover of ‘Stay’ took probably over 40 hours to arrange. My cover of ‘I See The Light’ actually took months because I gave up on ever being able to do a minor third key change and wasn’t willing to compromise the best part of that song. But then one of my most popular covers, ‘Starving’, I arranged entirely on my laptop at a Starbucks without even touching a guitar.
SB: Influencers: Who are your top musical influences?
ML: I was first introduced to modern fingerstyle when I watched a video of Sungha Jung and ever since he’s had a huge influence on my playing and my love for instrumental covers. In fact, at every live performance I do, I always slip in one Sungha Jung cover as a little shoutout to him.
Then in high school, I discovered percussive fingerstyle in the form of Andy McKee’s ‘Drifting’ and it opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. In my music, I try to achieve a blend between the intricate and melodic arranging style of Sungha Jung and the innovative and percussive style of Andy McKee.
SB: Hurdles: I saw from one of your videos that you had tendonitis and carpal tunnel at one point. Are you still dealing with that?
ML: I developed severe tendonitis and carpal tunnel in both my arms and wrists in 2012 because I was practicing guitar about 45 hours a week. And by the time I finally went to the doctor, he said it was too late and I’d never be able to play guitar again. Fast forward two years of excruciating pain and depression, and I found myself at an event at a local church, and someone prayed for me and I was instantly healed. It’s honestly the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me, and a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this story, but all I can say is that for two years I was in pain every single day and I thought I’d never play guitar again, and for the last four years, I’ve never had any pain and now I play guitar as my career.
SB: Videography: What made you start your YouTube channel, and what are your goals? Have they changed since you started?
ML: I first started making Instagram videos back when they were only 15 seconds long. But I never took those very seriously, most of them were simple arrangements that I arranged, filmed and posted in about 15 minutes. A couple of my friends convinced me to start a YouTube channel, and that’s when I started taking things more seriously and actually sitting down and crafting arrangements meticulously instead of just winging it. Like every new YouTuber, I had lofty dreams of a million subscribers and viral internet stardom, but I soon discovered that what I truly loved about YouTube was the platform to be creative.
It’s given me a space to explore my creativity, push my limits and constantly redefine what excellence is.
And in the process of it all, I’ve learned so many great skills like videography, photography, audio engineering, web design, and so much more. One of my favorite videos is my ‘One Year On YouTube’ video, which is a short compilation of every cover from my first year, because you can literally hear me learn how to record audio and watch me learn how to edit video.
SB: Alternatives: Do you use a lot of alternate tunings in your arrangements? Which one is your favorite?
ML: I actually do all of my arrangements in standard tuning. I know that I could do a lot more complex and interesting arrangements if I began experimenting with alternate tunings, but it’s really impractical to be constantly retuning your guitar during a live performance, and having that awkward dead space between songs can quickly kill the vibe, especially at a wedding or private party. In a lot of ways, I like the challenge of arranging in standard tuning; it forces me to adapt and overcome challenges that could easily be fixed by a different tuning. Also, since I have perfect pitch, I associate specific pitches with fret positions, so it throws me off when the guitar’s tuned differently because all the notes are in the wrong place!
Moses on Social: