** As featured in issue 58 **
In this column I would like to share a composition of mine called ‘The Archer’, another bespoke composition for the Guitar Interactive community.
Any of you who have been following my previous columns would know that I normally use a Yamaha classical guitar for these fingerstyle sessions, which is my favourite guitar for nylon string recordings.
I thought it would be useful to do a few fingerstyle columns on an archtop guitar, to stimulate the GI readers/viewers’ appetite in this wonderful area.
This piece was specifically written for this lovely archtop guitar made by Fibonacci, a formidable instrument that makes you want to play non-stop thanks to its tone quality, sustain and general feel.
The title was suggested by reflecting on the popular cliché “It’s not the arrow, it’s the archer”, or “it’s not the bow (or the arch from Latin arkus), it is the archer”.
This is often used to credit the player’s ability rather than, or as well as, the instrument used. Outstanding players normally sound equally amazing on any instrument, including the most basic ones. However, it is undeniable that the quality of our chosen instrument can have positive or negative repercussions on the way we play and write music for guitar. The first guitar I have had the opportunity to play as a young teenager, for example, had such a high action that I felt I would have never been able to learn to play. It is only when my brother bought a much nicer acoustic guitar with a ‘normal’ action that I regained the confidence and willingness to learn.
Let’s look at the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content of ‘The Archer’.
Melodic and harmonic ingredients:
The piece features melodic and harmonic devices, diatonic to C major, F and A melodic minor, as well as A harmonic minor.
I enjoyed using drop voicings, diminished and extended harmony as well as inversions as evident in the chart below:
Here are the chords utilized in the piece, described in a concise manner, omitting passing notes.
Cma7 C6 Dm Dm6
Em7 C/E Fma9
Cma7 C6 Dm Dm6
Em7 C/E Fm/ma9
Cadenza in Amel min
Another important harmonic ingredient is the frequent use of open strings to complement the main melody. This is a very effective way of enhancing the melody in a relatively easy way, as the open strings’ sustain will add ‘legato’ qualities to the piece.
The piece features a recurrent use of half and quarter notes, 8th notes (straight and triplet) and 16th notes.
As always, I would like to recommend exploring the above-mentioned techniques in order to compose your own pieces. We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes and reflect on the reasons 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 predominantly on the bass lines, while ‘i, m, a’ play the melody and countermelody or harmony part. The melody is predominantly played with the ‘a’ finger, so it is important to use the appropriate velocity for the note to cut through.
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 fretting hand part:
Bar 1: Middle f on fret 3 of A, index on fret 2 of D and little f on fret 4 of G, followed by fret 2 of G. Ring f on fret 5 of A, index on fret 3 of D, little f on fret 5 of G, followed by middle f on fret 4, index on fret 3 and back on fret 4 of G.
Bar 2: Ring f on fret 7 of A, index on fret 5 of D, little f on fret 7 of G, followed by index on fret 5 of G. Middle f on fret 8 of A, index on fret 7 of D and little f on fret 9 of G, followed by ring f on fret 8 of B, little f on fret 9 of G and index on fret 7 of G.
Bar 3: As bar 1
Bar 4: Ring f on fret 7 of A, index on fret 5 of D, little f on fret 7 of G, followed by index on fret 5 of G. Middle f on fret 8 of A, index on fret 6 of D and little f on fret 9 of G, followed by middle f on fret 7 of G, little f on fret 6 of G and middle f on fret 7 of G.
Bar 5: Ring f on fret 7 of A, index on fret 5 of D, G and little f on fret 8 of B. Next, fret 5 of D and G with index and 6 of D with middle f. Middle f on fret 6 of A, ring f on fret 7 of D and index on fret 5 of G. Then, little f on fret 8 and then 7 of B.
Bar 6: Ring f on fret 5 of A, index on fret 3 of D, G and little f on fret 6 of B. Next, fret 3 of D and G with index and 4 of D with middle f. Middle f on fret 4 of A, ring f on fret 5 of D and index on fret 3 of G. Then, little f on fret 6 of B followed by index on fret 4 of B and middle f on fret 5 of B.
Bar 7: Index on fret 4 of D, ring f on fret 5 of G, middle f on fret 4 of B and little f on fret 6 of e. Ring f on fret 5 of e, index on fret 4 of 3and middle f back on fret 5 of e. Next, index on fret 6 of D, ring f on fret 7 of G, middle f on fret 6 of B and little f on fret 8 of e, with open E. Finally, index on fret 3 of D, middle f on fret 4 of G, little f on fret 5 of B and ring f on fret 4 of e.
Bar 8-9: Barre’ on fret 5, middle f on fret 6 of D, index on fret 5 of G and B, little f on fret 7 of e and open A. Next, play the following line as follows: rind f on fret 7 of E, little f on fret 8 of E. Ring f on fret 5 of A, middle f on fret 6 of D. Index on fret 4 of G, middle f on fret 5 of G. Ring f on fret 5 of B and index on fret 4 of e. Next, you’ll find the following arpeggios from A melodic minor. D maj, E maj, F#dim, G#dim, culminating with a natural harmonic on the 12th fret of e.
Bar 10: Open A, index on fret 4 of D, ring f on fret 5 of G, open B and e.
Congratulations, you have completed ‘The Archer’
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