** As featured in issue 48 **
In this column, I would like to share a short composition of mine called African Sunset, inspired by the beautifully rich and complex rhythmic vocabulary found in African music, particularly from Mali.
One of my favourite aspects of African rhythms is the recurrent use of polyrhythms, often morphing from binary to ternary rhythms, namely subdividing in multiples of 2 or 3. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of singing like melodies and heavily syncopated and/or displaced rhythms or, what in western music are described as metric modulation, consisting of implying different meters at once.
This piece starts with a ‘chorale style’ intro, namely a harmonised hymn-like melody. This is followed by the main theme, harmonised in thirds and super-imposed to an ostinato bass figure, consisting of quartet notes. The guitar is to be tuned in drop D, namely with the 6th down a tone to D. This will expand the range of the guitar in the lower register, and it will also make a few chords easier to play, like for example the F chord in bar 16 etc.
The melody consists of a short repeated motif, rhythmically displaced; in other words, whereas it’s firstly presented on the 1st beat of the bar, this is repeated on the second beat of the 2nd bar, creating an effective rhythmic tension and release, which feels like playing a ¾ over a 4/4.
Below is the harmonic content of the intro and outro, described with chord symbols:
The main theme navigates chords within Am (Am, F, G, Dm11), and A harmonic minor (E7).
This piece provides an opportunity to improve coordination skills, playing the bass line with consistency and with the intended dynamic variations, as well as presenting the melody in a singing-like manner (cantabile), while complementing it with harmonies, often a third below.
As always, inversions have been utilised to create melodic bass lines, which act as countermelodies in the lower register. This is evident particularly in the intro/outro. The term inversion refers to the way a harmonic structure (a chord) is voiced or presented.
Triads can be voiced in three different positions/inversions:
a): Root position: root is lowest note in the chord
b): 1st inversion: 3rd is the lowest note in the chord – (b)
c): 2nd inversion: 5th is the lowest note in the chord – (c)
Seventh chords could also be voiced as a 3rd inversion (7th in the bass). For example D/C = D7 3rd inversion, described by (d)
One of the technical hurdles of this piece is the need to use keep the melody at the fore or the arrangement. To do this, it may help to sing it while playing it, to be sure we are emphasising as needed.
As always, I would like to recommend researching the above-mentioned techniques in order to be able to use these 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 we should be able to use these effectively and creatively.
The picking-hand pattern is predominantly as follows:
(Please note E=low E string, e= high E string)
‘p’ often plays the first two notes of each broken chord, as in bar 1 and ‘i, m, a’ follow.
Play each 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 ‘i, m and a’ fingers, so attack is needed to outline the melody.
Next we are going to look at the left hand part (chord shapes):
Bar 1: (beat 1,2): Open D (6th), A, D (4th) with index on fret 5 of G, middle f on fret 6 of B and little f on fret 7 of e, followed by index (from previous barre’) on fret 5 of e.
(beat 3,4): Middle f on fret 2 of D(6th), index on fret 1 of B, little f on fret 3 of e and fret 1 of B again.
Bar 2: (beat 1,2): Open D (6th), A, D (4th), middle f on fret 2 of G, open B and index on fret 1 of e, followed by open B.
(beat 3,4): Ring f on fret 4 of A, index on fret 2 of G, open B and e, followed by fret 2 of G again.
Bar 3 and 4: Middle f on fret 3 of D(6th) ring f on fret 3 of A, little f on fret 3 of D with index on fret 2 of G, open B and e, followed by a ‘freely’ arpeggio of the upper chord structure.
Bar 4, 5, 6, 7: Open A.
Bar 8, 9, 10, 11: Open A, middle f on fret 2 of G, index on fret 1 of B, pull-off to open G and B and ring f on fret 4 of G with middle f on fret 3 of B. This pattern is repeated, displaced of one beat.
Bar 12, 13, 14, 15: As previous 4 bars.
Bar 16, 17, 18, 19: Similar pattern to the previous one but with the following fingering: Ring f on fret 3 of D (6th), middle f on fret 2 of G, index on fret 1 of B. Pull-off to open B, back to fret 1 of B. Open e, followed by middle f on fret 2 of G and little f on fret 3 of B.
Next repeat section A, adding only a passing note in the final bar (E on fret 2 of D 6th).
Bar 25 to 28: As from bar 8 to 11 but over an open D pedal.
Repeat from the top and then play bar 13.
Bar 13: Open E, middle f on fret 2 of A, little f on fret 4 of D, index on fret 1of G, open B and e. Next, play the natural harmonics found on the 12th, 19th and either on the 5th fret or directly above the sound hole.
Bar 29 to 32: As previous 4 bars, but with an E7 on beat 2 of bar 31 (middle f on fret 2 of D (6th) index on fret 1 of G and little f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 33 to 40: As from bar 8 to 15, apart from landing on an Am in bar 39.
From bar 41 to 44: Play an Am, G, F and C triads over an A pedal, with a triplet figure displaced by one quaver (8th note). These will be played with a 3/6 barre’ (the first 3 strings), on fret 5, 3, 1 and landing on C major. These 4 bars are repeated.
Bar 45 to 48: Similarly to the previous 4 bars, alternate G and C major triad over an F, fret 3 of D (6th). Repeat these 4 bars twice.
Bar 49: Open D (6th), A, ring f on fret 3 of D, open G, index on fret 1 of B and open E. Hold this chord for another bar (a Fermata sign was used to save space)
Bar 50: Middle f on fret 2od D (6th), index on fret 1 of G and little f on fret 3 of B. Hold this chord for another bar as per bar 49.
Repeat from the Sign to the Coda.
Outro: As the intro but with a slightly different RH pattern at the end.
Congratulations, you have completed ‘African Sunset’!
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 classic tune arranged for solo guitar and that this will give you some ideas on how to write your own solo guitar compositions and re-arrangements