** As featured in issue 55 **
In this column I would like to share a composition of mine called ‘Clouds’, another bespoke composition for the Guitar Interactive community.
I often like to think of composing like cooking, as in both art forms the choice and blending of ingredients is paramount. My students can normally tell from my food and recipes analogies that we are getting close to lunchtime. However, for this I don’t always charge …
Cooking a delicious meal is more challenging when we have a restricted selection of ingredients, however, in my opinion, this leads to thinking ‘outside the box’, which can result in a very interesting outcome.
In this piece, for example, I have decided to start from a lovely chord, in a key often avoided. This is a Bmaj7/D# voiced in open position, in order to capitalize on the open ‘B’. To unify my chosen non-diatonic chord progression, I have restricted my melodic palette to ‘two-notes-per phrase’, which I adhered to for the most part.
As it normally happens, after the second chord, I have found myself playing many variations, most of which I was happy with and although composing is about trying different options, eventually a decision must be made. This is the reason why often we may start writing one or several pieces destined to remain incomplete for a quite some time if not for good. The way I deal with this is setting a deadline and thinking about the use of the piece. In other words, while the pieces for guitar interactive tend to be quite short to be able to go through these in a relatively short amount of time, pieces for a live show may be not only be longer, but feature purposeful ingredients and sections to enhance the piece further and making it fit within a set. So, when writing your pieces, make an effort to complete them imagining the context within which these will be performed as well as who these will be performed by, in terms of technical abilities and stylistic persuasion. These sort of prerequisite will help making up our mind and completing our pieces.
Here are the chords utilized and described in a concise manner, omitting the passing notes.
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 continuous 16th driven, fingerstyle picking hand part, with the main melody being pushed throughout.
The melodic content navigates a few tonalities, and features a recurrent use of tension and release with the 4ths (perfect or often augmented) resolving to the 3rd of the chord and has a singing-like quality throughout.
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 left hand part (chord shapes):
Bar 1: Little f on fret 4 of e, index on fret 1 of D, ring f on fret 3 of G and open B. Repeat replacing the little f with middle f on fret 1 of e.
Bar 2: Middle f on fret 2 of e, little f on fret 4 of A, ring f on fret 3 of G and open B.
Repeat replacing the middle f with the index f on fret 1 of e.
Bar 3: Barre’ on fret 1, middle f on fret 2 of A, ring f on fret 3 of G and little f on fret 4 of B.
Bar 4: Barre’ on fret 2, little f on fret 4 of B, open A, fret 2 of D, G and B.
Bar 5: (beat 1 and 2) Play open B followed by open E middle f on fret 2 of A, ring f on fret 2 of D, little f on fret 4 of D, index on fret 1 of G, open B and e, finishing this bar with the little f on fret 4 of e.
Bar 5: (beat 3 and 4) Index on fret 2 of e, open e, then arpeggiate with ring f on fret 4 of D, middle f on fret 3 of G and open B.
Bar 6: (beat 1 and 2) As bar 5
Bar 6: (beat 3 and 4) Index on fret 2 of e, middle f on fret 3 of A, and arpeggiate with little f on fret 4 of D, open G and B, finishing this bar with an open ‘e’.
Bar 7: (beat 1 and 2) Open E and e, then arpeggiate with middle f on fret 2 of A, ring f on fret 2 of D, little f on fret 4 of D, index on fret 1 of G, open B, e and index on fret 2 of e.
Bar 7: (beat 3 and 4) Middle f on fret 3 of G with little f on fret 4 of e, followed by index on fret 6 of D with little f on fret 7 of e and finally, natural harmonic on xii of E, followed by open B and little f on fret 12 of ‘e’.
Congratulations, you have completed ‘Clouds’!
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.