** As featured in issue 12 **
Hello there and welcome to my fingerstyle guitar column for iGuitar!
In this acoustic guitar lesson we will be looking at a short composition of mine simply called Study in E major, as it does exactly what it says on the tin. E major and E minor are some of the most popular tonalities for guitar music. This is mainly due to the high number of open strings we can incorporate into the arrangement. The main advantage of using as many open strings as possible (particularly to generate bass lines) is that we won’t strain our fretting hand as much. Furthermore, their abundance in a composition or arrangement can definitely help getting a more fluid and idiomatic outcome.
Study pieces are normally bespoke compositions constructed around a particular concept or technical idea such as an arpeggio, a picking or fretting hand technique a time signature etc. This composition, for example makes use of the following picking hand permutation: ‘p’ and ‘a’ fingers simultaneously and respectively on D and high E strings. These are followed by the i, m, i, m, i, m, i on the G and B strings.
The fretting hand follows a descending-parallel harmonic movement, which starts an Emaj6 chord voiced as follows: root, 5, 6, 3
Below is the harmonic content I have chosen for this composition in its entirety. E6 / / / B7/D# / / / A/C#/ / / C6 / / / E/B / / / C/Bb
Please note the use of slash chords like, for example the B7/D#. This is essentially a B7 with its 3rd on the bass. (This voicing is normally referred to as a 1st inversion, as the third of the chord is on the bass).
Similarly the A/C# means an A chord over C# (another 1st inversion). The same applies for the E/B, however this is called 2nd inversion as its 5th is on the bass. Next is a C/Bb chord, which is essentially a C7 third inversion. Please compare the notes and the sound of a C7 with a C/Bb, and try to note the similarities as well as the different mood or connotation they do have.
This sequence is repeated twice to resolve on an Eadd9 chord. I personally love the way the C/Bb leads nicely onto an E chord. In theory, being a camouflaged C7 this should lead nicely to an F chord too (V – I also known as perfect cadence). Try landing on an F chord as well as on an F/A. (F 1st inversion)
The finger picking permutation used in this tune (mentioned above) could be changed as you wish. Once you find a chord sequence you like, you’ll notice that any arpeggio or strumming pattern will work nicely. In other words, the most important thing when crafting a composition is to make sure that the harmonic content makes musical sense on its own (even without a melody).
Here is a breakdown of the composition bar by bar. You will be able to download a transcription by selecting the menu option in this page. As always, I recommend starting with learning the above-mentioned picking pattern with open strings, using the planting technique explained in the previous issues.
Let’s do it!
Bar 1: 2nd fret barre up to the 4th string. Ring f. on fret 4 of G and little f. on fret 4 of E.
Bar 2: Index f. on fret 1 of D. Ring f. fret 2 of G. Open B and little f. on fret 2 of E.
Bar 3: Ring f. on fret 4 of A. Index f. on fret 2 of G. Open E.
Bar 4: Similar to the previous but with the middle finger on fret 3 of A.
Bar 5: Exactly the same shape as the previous down a fret. Middle f. on fret 2 of A. Index on fret 1 of G and open B.
Bar 6: Index f. fret 1 of A. Open G. Middle f. on fret 1 of B and open E.
The above six bars can be repeated twice (or as many times as you wish). 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 a more contrasting result.
Using a wider dynamic and tonal range is important to keep our listeners engaged, especially when repeating the same section. I guess we could call this a ‘yawn-buster’ strategy!
Now let’s continue with the tag of the piece!
Open E (low) and B simultaneously. Middle f. on fret 2 of A. Ring f. on fret 2 of D. Little f on fret 4 of D. Index f on fret 1 of G. Open E and E. Index f. on fret 2 of E (high). Little f. on fret 4 of E. Alternate with open B. Little f. on fret 7 of E. Open B. Little f. on fret 12 to be played simultaneously to an open E string. Barre on fret 9 and arpeggiate string 4, 3, 2, 3, 4. Let ring and play a ‘rallentando’, namely slowing down, for a more conclusive outcome.
Congrats! You’ve completed this tune.
As always, tonal and dynamic awareness is what makes our playing sound ‘expensive’ or ‘cheap’. To meet the former objective, slow practice is key, as we certainly don’t want memorise wrong parts or develop bad technical habits.
Take one beat at a time, memorizing the fretting hand shapes and pattern.
It is wise to follow the recommended fingering and muting techniques, as per the video and the transcription included. Practice singing the melody in the low register played with the ‘p’ finger while playing the piece. This strategy can help performing the tune in a more ‘cantabile’ (singing like) manner.
As recommended in the previous columns, where we mainly focused on the picking hand, we ought to focus most of all on accuracy and consistency of tone. Strategies to further improvement include the use of the planting technique described in the previous columns, resting our fingers onto the chosen strings, and executing each stroke with a controlled and even pressure and with tonal and dynamic awareness. Each note we play should sound as full-bodied and as good as the previous one.
Please 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 fingerstyle and guitar composition lesson.
Whether you will play this composition on a steel strung or a nylon strung guitar, this will provide a great opportunity to improve your muting techniques as well as coordination skills of the picking and fretting hand.
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.