** As featured in issue 32 **
Hello there and welcome to Guitar Interactive's Quiet Room. In this column we'll be looking at another composition of mine called Study n. 21. This piece features various compositional ideas I really enjoy using, as they introduce elements of surprise in an effective manner.
The most recurrent strategy consists of inverting chords, so that they look, and most importantly sound, different from the same chords in root position. For example the A7 in bar 2 (beat 1) looks and sounds different from the more common ‘a shape – root position’ counterpart. This voicing is, in fact, a 3rd inversion, because the lowest note in that voicing is the b7th (G). Any chord type can be arranged as an inversion. For example, a chord I really like the sound of is the first inversion of an add 2 chord. One of these naughty chords, can be found in bar 2, beat 2. (Dadd2/F#)
Another effective arranging strategy consists of using ‘Modal Interchange’, which simply means borrowing chords from the parallel scales. The key of this piece is Dmajor, and as well as using chords diatonic to this key (within the key), we can borrow chords from the parallel scale Dm (natural, harmonic or melodic minor), or any mode starting from the note D. This will automatically expand our harmonic palette of colours manifold, allowing us to go in and out the key, in order to keep surprising our listeners. An example of ‘Modal Interchange’ is evident in bar 4 (borrowing chord V, A7b9, from D harmonic minor). Similarly, in bar 10, with the D9 from D Mixolydian and bar 12, where the Bb/D derives from the key of Dminor. Try to spot similar harmonic detours and try to apply this concept when composing and re-arranging your own pieces.
A wide variety of extended and altered chords have been used for a contrasting harmonic narrative, and few chords have strong Jazz connotations.
These are mainly the ones derived from the melodic minor scale or mode, like, for example, the A altered chord in bar 17. This derives from the harmonization of the seventh melodic minor mode (the so-called altered scale, aka super-Locrian, or whole tone-diminished scale).
Another specific voicing technique present in this composition and which is essential when writing for guitar are drop voicings. This strategy consists of dropping (transposing) down an octave any note (voice) of a 4 way close voicing (chords with 4 notes within an octave, as close as possible), but the top note of the chord. (You may want to research this topic in your own time for completeness)
Amidst all chords, one which I particularly like using is the one found in bar 20, which is a Dadd2/F# (drop 2).
Another harmonic device included in this piece are the secondary dominant chords. These create a momentary change of tonality and can add some tension and release or simply an element of surprise to the piece. This is evident in bar 10, where D9 changes the role of D from tonic chord (I) to a secondary dominant (V of IV), with the purpose of leading our ears to a Gmajor chord.
I would strongly recommend exploring the above-mentioned techniques to write your own pieces. We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes and we should try to understand why we like or not a particular sound, a chord progression or modulation. Eventually, these sounds will become part of your musical lexicon and you’ll be able to use these with fluidity and effectiveness.
The picking-hand pattern is predominantly as follows:
(Please note E=low E string, e= high E string)
‘p’ focuses of the bass lines, while ‘i, m, a’ play a chord on bet 1 (and occasionally on beat 2) of every bar and then alternate to play the melody of the piece.
Play this part in a relaxed and clear manner, making sure your thumb is a little forward compared to the ‘i, m, a’ fingers, in order to prevent it from colliding with the ‘i’ finger. As always, focus on attack and tonal consistency. The melody and the supporting harmonies will be played with the ‘a’ finger, so more attack is needed to outline the melody.
Next we are going to look at the left hand part (chord shapes):
Bar 1: Open D, ring f on fret 7 of G, little f on fret 7 of B, index on fret 5 of e.
Bar 2: Beat 1: Index on fret 2 of D, G and B. Beat 2: Barre’ on fret 2 and ring f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 3: 3/6 barre’ on fret 3 and open E string.
Bar 4: Open A, little f on fret 5 of D, middle f on fret 3 of G and index on fret 2 of B.
Bar 5: As bar 1
Bar 6: As bar 2.
Bar 7: As bar 3
Bar 8: Open A, middle f on fret 5 of D, middle f on fret 6 of G and little f on fret 7 of e.
Bar 9: Open D, 3/6 barre’ on fret 7 and little f on fret 9 of e.
Bar 10: Open D, 3/6 barre’ on fret 5.
Bar 11: Open D, ring f on fret 4 of G, middle f on fret 3 of B and index on fret 2 of e.
Bar 12: Open D, middle f on fret 3 of G, ring f on fret 3 of B and index on fret 2 of e.
Bar 13: Index on fret 2 of E, open A, open D and middle f on fret 2 of G.
Bar 14: Beat 1: Open E, middle f on fret 2 of G, little f on fret 3 of B and ring f on fret 2 of e. Beat 2: Open E, index on fret 1 of G, open e and prepare little f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 15: Open E, G and B, index on fret 2 of e.
Bar 16: Beat 1: Barre’ on fret 1. Index on fret 1 of A, G and e. Ring f on fret 3 of B.
Beat 2: Open A and G. Middle f on fret 2 of B and ring f on fret 2 of e.
Repeat the first 15 bars and take bar 17.
Bar 17: Open A, index on fret 6 of G and B. Little f on fret 8 of e.
Bar 18: Open D, middle f on fret 6 of G, little f on fret 7 of B and index on fret 5 of e.
Bar 19: Index on fret 1 of A, open D and G, middle f on fret 1 of B.
Bar 20: Barre’ on fret 2. Index on fret 2 of E, D and G. Little f on fret 5 of A.
Bar 21: Index on fret 1 of E, little f on fret 4 of A and open D.
Bar 22: Index on fret 2 of E, open A and D.
Congratulations, you have completed Study n.21!
As always, you will be able to download a transcription by selecting the menu option in this page.
I strongly recommend experimenting with a few picking variations, changing the chords as you wish in terms of voicing (higher or lower), as well as trying the same picking pattern on a different chord progression, or using a ‘capo’ on fret 2 for a brighter outcome.
When repeating any section twice or more, you may want to play ‘sul ponticello’, (closer to the bridge) or ‘sul tasto’ (over the frets) for more contrasting results.
Make sure you highlight the melody (singing is a great strategy to play the melody in more assertive and singing-like manner).
Focus on minimum-movement approach, as this will help delivering the piece in a more accurate and consistent manner, while saving energy.
This will complete this creative fingerstyle lesson.
I hope you will enjoy playing this study piece and that this will give you some ideas on how to write your own solo guitar compositions.