Giorgio Serci - First Steps In Fingerstyle Guitar Essential Pieces Part 5: Campanella Technique

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 9 **

How many times have we heard and used the cliché: “It’s not about ‘what’ we say, but ‘how’ we say it!”  This is very relevant in the concept I like to elucidate in this fingerstyle guitar lesson, which proves this old cliché is true!

This concept or rather popular classical guitar technique is called ‘Cascade’ or ‘A Campanella’, from Italian ‘like a small bell’, as for its legato, smooth qualities, is reminiscent of the sound of bells, and it consists of articulating the same sequence of notes in such a way that the outcome changes from a dry-punctuated one, to an airy-smooth one.

My first example shows the difference between a descending G major scale, played in the more common style, choosing adjacent notes often fretted on the same string, with the more legato sounding one resulting from fingering as described in the video example and the PDF.

Playing G and F# respectively on the 3rd fret of E and 7th fret of B, enables us to sustain the sound of the first note G, which overlaps the sound of the next note (F#). Similarly, while F# is still ringing we can pluck an open string whose sound will overlap the sound of the previous note, and so on. In essence, with the ‘a campanella’ technique, the sound of two consecutive notes in a scale, arpeggio etc, overlap, creating a more fluid outcome. Furthermore, this fluidity is the reason why this technique is also called ‘waterfall’ or ‘cascade’.

Its applications are widespread in a variety of genres, like Country music, Celtic, Flamenco and Classical guitar. Evidence suggests that this articulation style was commonly used in Early Music, for example on the baroque guitar with legato qualities that make the guitar sound a bit like a harp, or a piano played with the sustain pedal on.

Being able to use this type of articulation will add another colour to our palette of techniques, which can be used as we see fit and to add contrast to our playing.

This can indeed be used when playing solo guitar or, (forgive me for playing with words), in a guitar solo! In fact, many electric guitarists, or banjo players particularly in Country music, do use this technique to play passages with amazing dexterity. For example, the legendary Earl Scruggs, who recently sadly passed away.

What makes this technique challenging, is the coordination skills required to combine a variety of picking hand patterns with the often-counter-intuitive fingerings, as demonstrated in the video.

In fact, at times a descending passage will require our left or right hand to go up and down in a seemingly unrelated manner. For example, playing G on the 1st string, F# on the 2nd and back to the 1st string to play an open E etc.

This is indeed unnatural at first, and as always, slow practice is the only way to gain good results. We definitely don’t want to memorise inaccurate fingerings or picking hand permutations. Having said that, it’s important to experiment with a variety of fingering, as well as working on strengthening each right and left hand finger used, particularly the fretting hand little finger.

The second example shows how to apply this concept to a two octaves G major scale ascending and descending.

A good way of capitalising on this freshly learned passage is to apply this major scale pattern in its relative minor key, namely E minor.

Let’s now play the same E minor scale in the ascending form. To do this we should start with an open E followed by F#, with the index f. This note can be plucked or slurred and (try both permutations). Next is G with the middle finger or index, which can also be plucked or slurred.

Open A, B on the 7th of E, C on the 3rd of A, open D, E on the 7th of A, F# on the 4th of D, open G. A on the 7th of D, open B, C on the 5th of G, D on the 3rd of B, open E. F# on the 7th of B and G on the 3rd of E.

Next, we can use a variety of diatonic (within the key) or chromatic (outside the key) bass notes, to accompany any ascending and descending passage within this scale.

This is quite laborious at first, but eventually, once our muscle memory has digested this data, it will be quite straightforward and playing it with the various bass notes as shown in the video and as depicted in the PDF, will be quite satisfying.

For this lesson, I wrote a little study piece for you to practice this technique in a musical manner. Learn the melody part first and then the bass line independently. Next, memorise small chunks of it, ideally two notes at the time. Whether you will play this study piece on a steel-strung or a nylon-strung guitar, make sure that, both, the melody line as well as the bass line are as sustained as possible, for a really legato outcome.

Try to apply this concept to other guitaristic keys, such as C major, A major, E major, C# minor etc and as recommended in the previous columns, focus on accuracy and consistency of tone. Strategies to further develop 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.

This will complete this lesson on ‘Cascade’ or ‘Campanella’ technique. Hopefully this will help generating more contrasting solos and making our performances more dynamically and texturally diverse.

I hope you will enjoy playing this study piece as well as developing this technique, and that your tone quality, attack, dynamic awareness etc continues to improve.

Till the next time, Good-bye!


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