** As featured in issue 31 **
In this fingerstyle guitar lesson we'll be looking at another composition of mine called Study n. 20. As always, I like to share with you a few compositional ideas which I hope will stimulate your appetite for knowledge on different harmonic, melodic and rhythmic concepts, applicable to composition and arranging for acoustic guitar.
As this piece is in the key of D, I have decided to tune the 6th string down to a D, for a lower and fuller sounding root note. While this is a very common arranging strategy, as it expands the guitar range of one tone, tuning the 6th string to a note other than ‘E’ or, in fact, using any alternative tuning, could take some time to get used to. This is because our muscle memory can lead us to play the wrong note or to play with a little hesitancy, as certain notes, which would normally be found on a particular fret when in standard tuning, would be available on a different fret.
Rhythmic, melodic and harmonic ingredients:
While the rhythmic narrative of the melody and the harmony are predominantly of a syncopated nature, featuring mainly sixteenths subdivisions and occasional quaver triples (bar. 16 etc.), the bass line consists of a simple quarter-note pattern which we’ll be playing with our ‘p’ finger. The only rhythmic variations are to be found in bar 1 and 9, where the roots are pushed.
A recurrent strategy, which I have used to colour the harmony of this piece, is the use of 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 12, where I imply an E7 following the Esus4, instead of choosing an Em, as previously done in bar 4.
A wide variety of extended and altered chords have been used for a contrasting harmonic narrative. Some of my favorite chords are the E/D and the Eb/A found in bar 16, 18 and 20. You may want to research this topic further and try to spot other similar chords within the piece.
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’ on the E and A strings, then ‘i, m, a’ on strings G, B, e.
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:
Bar 1: Open D (6th string), ring f on fret 4 of G, middle f on fret 2 of e, pull off to fret 2 of the same strings with a 3/6 barre’. Open G and e. Beat 2: While open G and e ring, play an open D (4th), then fret 2 of G, e. Middle f on fret 3 of B and ring f on fret 4 of D.
Bar 2: Index on fret 2 of A, little f on fret 4 of G and then fret 4 of D and 3 of B.
Beat 2: While the previous double-stop still rings, play an open A, then open e and open G, B and index on fret 2 of e.
Bar 3: Little f on fret 5 of D (6th), open e, fret 4 of D and 3 of B respectively with ring and index f with middle f on fret 4 of D (6th). Open B, and open e.
Bar 4: Middle f on fret 2 of D (6th), ring and little f on fret 2 of D and G. Beat 2: Middle f on fret 2 of A followed by open G and B.
Bar 5: Little f on fret 5 of D (6th), open D (4th), G and B, followed by index on fret 2 of B, index and ring f on fret 3 and 4 of B and D, while middle f on fret 4 of D (6th). Next open e and ring and little f on fret 2 of G and B.
Bar 6: While the previous double-stop still rings, middle f on fret 2 of D (6th). Next, open e followed by index on fret 1 of G and little f on fret 3 of B. Next open B and then e.
Bar 7: While the previous ‘e’ still rings, play an open A, then ring f on fret 5 of D, middle f on fret 4 of G and index f on fret 3 of B. Next open A, then open e and then fret 5 of D, 4 of G and 2 of B with index f.
Bar 8: While the previous chord still rings, play an open A twice and then an open D on the ‘a’ of 2. (2e+a)
Bar 9: As bar 1
Bar 10: As bar 2
Bar 11: As bar 3.
Bar 12: As bar 4 but with G# (index on fret 1 of G) instead of G natural.
Bar 13: As bar 5.
Bar 14: While the previous double-stop still rings, middle f on fret 2 of D (6th). Next, open ‘e’ followed by open G and little f on fret 3 of B with open A. Next, middle f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 15: Open D (6th), A, ring f on fret 4 of D, index f on fret 2 of G. (Beat 2): Arpeggiate as triplets, fret 3 of B, fret 2 of ‘e’ with index f and fret 5 of ‘e’ with little f.
Bar 16: Open D (6th), index on fret 4 of G, B and e (barre’), with the middle f on fret 5 of B. Next fret 5 of B and fret 4 of e. (beat 2): same pattern one fret down and with open A.
Bar 17: As bar 15 but with index on fret 2 of G and e and middle f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 18: As bar 16
Bar 19: Open D (6th), A, d (4th), index on fret 2 of e and G and little f on fret 5 of B, to finish with a Dadd2.
Congratulations, you have completed Study n.20!
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