Independent Voices

Monday, December 17, 2007

So far we have dealt with one musical event, be it single note or chord, happening at a time. However, music usually involves many events happening simultaneously, as when several voices sing together or different instruments play in a group. Each of the voices or instruments may be moving independently. This also happens on the guitar, where lines of music represent different “voices.”

This is more easily understood with a practical example.

Here the two separate lines or voices can be seen easily from the stem directions of the notes. How do we count two lines at once? The answer is to focus on the faster moving notes—the longer notes simply need to be held. In this example we will count three to the measure, which will give the time for the quarter notes, and simply leave the finger on the dotted half notes so that the sound continues.

Now try these examples.

Here is a piece in two voices. I have included tablature to speed up the note finding, but as far as possible try to work just from the notation in the upper line, particularly when you have tried it a few times.

At this point we can play pieces by Sor and Bach in two parts. To give them their full effect, we need to hold the sustained longer notes, so be sure to study the notation as well as the tablature.

“Andante” (Fernando Sor)

Study Notes

  1. At this point, the piece actually goes into three parts, because the composer wants you to hold the D and the B for three full counts. In the following measure we are down to one voice. Sometimes this is written with rests above and below to indicate that the other parts are now silent; however, this is not necessary.
  2. Here we are back in three voices again. The rest sign between the F and D at the begin-ning of the measure warns you that another voice is coming in the middle. The same pattern exists for the next six measures.
  3. Remember to hold the high C until all the lower notes have been played.

“Bouree” (J. S. Bach)

Study Notes
Although you have tablature, it is very important to follow the fingering written in the upper line because there are some necessary movements of the whole hand.
  1. The small slide sign beside the first finger indicates that the finger slides up to the A. The thumb moves also so that the hand moves up into the new position.
  2. The second finger crosses over to sound the E because we want the A to continuesounding and to be ready for the next measure.
  3. Be sure to hold the first finger on the F-sharp in spite of the movement of the secondfinger.
  4. This little scale passage should be practiced slowly at first. Start with the m finger andbe sure to alternate the fingers.
“Country Dance” (Frederick Noad)

Study Notes
Practice this to a fairly brisk tempo when you know the notes. Notice that in 6/8 time there are two groups of three, so there is a feeling of two as well as of six. That is why this is known as compound time.
  1. There is a slightly challenging jump of the third finger from the low G up to the F. However, if you repeat this a few times it will take the difficulty out of it.
  2. The sign over the G indicates a slight hold beyond the time value. It serves to show the end of a musical phrase, and is known as a pause sign or fermata.

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Music in Multiple Voices

So far we have concentrated on reading a single line, comparable to the voice of a single singer. But from about the ninth century onward musicians have been evolving interesting ways to make music with more than one voice. Some experiments became agonizingly monotonous—for instance, when a voice was accompanied by a second voice five notes below it. This was found intolerable and was banned by theorists, and the art of counter- point (note against note) developed, with guidelines to make the combinations work in an interesting way.

Fortunately, we can jump a thousand years by turning a page. This chapter covers reading and playing in more than one part, wiht some interesting solos to practice at the end.

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Tunes from Notation

Friday, November 23, 2007

Now that we understand the concept of sharps and flats, it is time to relate these to the guitar, and to play some tunes from notation. Here I have deliberately excluded the tablature so that you have the chance to concentrate on reading the notes.

“Plaisir d’Amour”

“Londonderry Air (Danny Boy)”

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sometimes a tune departs momentarily from the key, necessitating the cancelling of what is required by the key signature. This is done by putting the required sign—sharp, flat, or natural—beside the note in question.

A natural sign ( : ) means “not sharp or flat,” so when we refer to A-natural we simply mean plain A, not altered by a sharp or flat.

Accidentals affect all notes until the end of the measure, after which the change is cancelled. The only exception is when a note is tied over, in which case it retains its changed status. The examples below make these rules clear.

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Sharps and Flats

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We now know that notes are identified for convenience by a letter name, and that the distance from one to the other may be a tone or a half tone. Why the difference? The reason is that Western music is traditionally built on certain successions of notes known as scales, the most common of which is the major scale.

Starting on the note C this is how it looks:

In the diagram, W stands for a whole-tone interval and H for a half-tone interval.
As an example, the first phrase of the tune “Bluebells of Scotland” uses all the notes of the C-major scale.

Everything works fine using the scale of C, but what happens if we want to write the tune higher or lower to make it fit our voice range? If we just shift it up the staff it won’t sound right. Play it to see why:

The tune sounds different because the intervals have changed. To keep the same tune we want the interval from the second note to the third to be a half tone, as it was before. To do this we must raise the F by a half step, which we can do by inserting a sharp sign (#).

Because we raised the pitch to use the notes of the G scale, we are now using the key of G. We find that for the tune to come out right we must raise all the Fs to F-sharp. Instead of doing this to every F individually, there is a shorthand way to do it. The sharp sign # is placed at the beginning of the line on the F, showing that all Fs must be played sharp, like this:

An indication like this at the beginning of a line is known as a key signature because it helps identify the scale of notes used. It affects not only the note you see, but also those in other octaves:

All the Fs shown would be played sharp because of the key signature.
Finally let us change the key to use the notes of the F scale. Transferring to new keys is known as transposing.

Something sounds wrong here. Can you spot what it is by playing it through? One of the notes is wrong for the tune, and in this case it needs to be lowered rather than raised a half tone.

It is in fact the B three notes from the end, and it is a half tone too high. We can lower it by putting a flat sign beside it, like this:

We can also learn from this that in the key of F all Bs are played flat, and that the key signature looks like this:

Key of F

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The Scale

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A scale is a basic building block of all music, because it forms the basis of both melody and harmony. Learning about scales will take you far along in your musical knowledge.

In Chapter 13 we learned about how the notes appear on the staff. We also learned the basic relations between the notes, as defined by half steps (the distance of one fret on the guitar) and whole steps (the distance between two frets). A scale is defined as a special relationship of half and whole steps.

In this chapter we learn that tunes are composed by selecting notes from a succesion known as a scale. We discover that a note may be raised a half step with a sharp sign ( ) or lowered with a flat sign ( ), and that this enables us to keep the same note relationships when moving a song to a higher or lower range of notes. We learn the purpose of key signatures, and how a melody may be transposed from one key to another. Finally we play some tunes from notation to put these ideas into practice.

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The Music Staff

The musical staff has five lines. The notes can sit on the lines or can appear in the spaces between them, like this:

The important thing to realize from the start is that there is no similar-ity to the tablature staff. The lines represent musical pitch—the higher the note on the staff the higher the note. Let’s examine both at once to see the correct relationship:

Notice the time signature as before, showing that the count is in quarter notes, and that there are four counts to the measure.

Play the example now, and it will be clear that the upper staff represents sounds whereas the
lower (tablature) staff represents frets.

Let’s try a complete melody now to see if you can relate the two.

From playing the example you will have learned these points:
As the notes go higher on the staff, the pitch goes higher.
The measures and count are the same as for tablature.

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Why Learn Notation?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

While guitar tablature is a convenient shorthand way of writing music it is in no way a substitute for standard musical notation. Here’s why:

  • Practically everything you are going to want to learn will be in music notation. If you can only read tablature you will be con- fined to a very small repertoire.

  • If you learn standard notation you can read music for any instru-ment. You might want to make a guitar arrangement from a piano score, or simply learn the notes of a song for which you wi be working out chords.

  • Chord construction and harmony theory is much easier to see in notation.

  • You want to be a guitarist, but you almost certainly also want to be considered a musician. It is hard to achieve this if you don’t understand the basic language of music. Other musicians don’t read guitar tablature.

  • One of the problems newcomers to music have is the difficulty of reading the time as well as the notes. Fortunately you already have experience with the basics of counting, so all we have to do now is understand how the notes fit on the music staff.

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    How to Read

    So far, we’ve been notating (writing down) musical examples using guitar tablature, a special system of notation developed just for the guitar. Tablature is a great, easy way to learn, but it can’t capture all the nuances of a piece of music. Plus, not all books feature guitar tablature. “Standard music notation” is more common. Believe it or not, notation is not hard to learn, and once mastered it will speed your learning of new music. Any system that has survived for centuries—and is used to record all types of music—must be a valuable one to learn!

    This chapter shows how music is written in standard notation for the guitar. We learn about the musical staff and how it differs from the one used for tablature. We see how notes are written on the staff and also above and below it, and we relate this to rising and falling pitch. Tones and half tones are discussed and related to the frets of the guitar. Then we put theory into practice and start actually playing from notation, with easy examples of notes on each string.

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    Chord Sequences

    Thursday, August 30, 2007

    The succession of chords needed for a piece is known as a chord sequence. Some sequences will work for a number of songs, for instance the much-used progression C C | Am Am | Dm Dm | G7 G7. This was affectionately known to studio musicians as “we want Cantor,” a reference to the introductory music to an old radio program called The Eddie Cantor Show. You might try it with “Blue Moon,” “Heart and Soul,” or “La Mer.” You will be surprised how much of these and other songs this popular sequence will fit. Chord sequences are often written in simple “lead sheet” form, like this:

    The diagonal lines (known as hash marks) mark the beats. Sometimes more elaborate hash marks show a specific rhythm.

    12-bar Blues
    For practice, here is the chord sequence for a typical 12-bar blues. Try using the barred chords for variety. Here’s a hint: all except the E7 can be found with a bar at the fifth fret.

    “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (F. Andree, W. Schundt, G. Khan)
    Here is a familiar song for chord practice. It was popularized in the sixties by the rock group the Mamas and the Papas, but actually it goes back decades to an earlier era of American popular song.

    Let’s first play the complete chords to get used to the fingerings:

    After learning the positions, try the song with a chord on each beat as indicated, using a simple sweep of either thumb or pick.

    “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

    Words by Gus Kahn. Music by Wilbur Schwandt and Fabiau Andree. TRO–(C)–Copyright 1930 (Renewed) 1931 (Renewed) Essex Music, Inc. Words and Music, Inc., New York, New York, Don Swan Publications, Miami, Florida and Gilbert Keyes, Hollywood, California

    Additional lyrics:
    Stars shining bright above you,
    Night breezes seem to whisper I love you,
    Birds singing in the sycamore tree,
    Dream a little dream of me.
    Say nightie-night and kiss me,
    Just hold me tight and tell me you’ll miss me,
    While I’m alone and blue as can be,
    Dream a little dream of me.
    Stars fading, but I linger on, dear,
    Still craving your kiss;
    I’m longing to linger till dawn, dear,
    Just saying this:
    Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you,
    Sweet dreams that leave our worries behind you,
    But in your dreams whatever they be,
    Dream a little dream of me.
    Chorus (twice)

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    Playing a Full Bar

    Monday, July 30, 2007

    We’ve seen in our previous study that the first finger of the left hand is sometimes used to cover more than one string, as in the F chord, where it is used for two strings. When the finger goes across all the strings this is known as a full bar. Somewhat illogically, anything less than a full bar is known as a half bar.

    Beginners tend to find barring difficult until the left hand has acquired a degree of strength and control. However, if the bar is done correctly it is not necessary to use great strength. As with the half bar, it is far more important to find the right position for the finger so that all the notes can sound clearly with only moderate pressure.

    The Full Bar

    Here is how to find the right position:
    1. Imagine the fret to be taller than it is, like a wall rising from the fingerboard.
    2. Imagine that you are going to lay your first finger into the corner formed by that wall and the fingerboard.
    3. Place the first finger across the strings at the third fret, just touching them with no pressure.
    4. Little by little, ease the finger down until you make contact with the fingerboard. As you do this, pass your right-hand thumb lightly and repeatedly across the strings. At first you will hear only the deadened sound of the strings damped by the left-hand finger. Then, as the barring finger moves into its position in the “corner,” the sound will become clear. At this point do not apply any more pressure; this is all you need.

    The other secrets to good barring are these:
    - Make sure that the crease at the first joint of the finger does not fall on a string. Adjust the position by moving the finger forward or back until the crease lies between the third and fourth strings.
    - Do not let the finger curve—this will produce deadened or buzzing sounds on the inside strings.
    - Remember to make and keep contact with the fret. Stay in the “corner.”

    As a first practical exercise start at the third fret, and try this:

    Chord block, first finger across the third fret

    After playing this several times, easing into the bar until you hear a clear sound from all strings, add the notes of a full G chord like this:

    Chord block

    This is a particularly useful chord shape, because it can be used to make a full-sounding major chord at any accessible fret on the guitar. For example:

    Here the E chord shape is duplicated with a bar to form other chords. In the same way, the A-minor shape may be moved to form new minor chords.

    Instead of showing all the frets from the beginning, it is customary to show the position on the guitar with a Roman numeral. Notes barred together are frequently shown with a slightly curved line.

    Chord block. A chord at fifth fret.

    Here the A chord is played at the fifth fret with a full bar.
    Now here are some more useful movable chords to add to your store.

    Movable Chords

    The chords are shown with their names at the third fret. However, the G minor could be
    moved back to the first fret to form an F minor, or forward to the fifth fret to form an A

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    The Downward Slur (Pull-Off, Descending Ligado)

    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    The term pull-off gives a clue to the technique of the downward slur. The first note is played,then the left-hand finger pulls away, plucking the string as it goes.

    Here is how it looks in tablature and standard notation:

    It is important to remember that the left hand actually plucks the second note. Many begin-ners just lift the finger off, resulting in a weak slur. Try it now, and really sound the open string.

    Where two fretted notes are involved, both fingers must be in position before starting the slur, otherwise the secondnote will be indistinct.

    Place the first finger firmly behind the first fret. Then put the third finger on, play the note with the right hand, and pluck the finger away to sound the lower note.

    Slurs on Inside Strings

    When slurring is between notes on the inside strings, in most cases you will pluck down-wards, with the finger ending up on the fingerboard and in contact with the adjacent string. An exception is the rare case in which the upper string is meant to continue sounding. To avoid damping the upper string, pull sideways so that the finger clears the other string.

    To practice these points, try this example.

    Downward Slur Exercise

    One of the distinguishing marks of the flamenco giants is the quality of their slurs. The hammers produce a powerful note, and the pull-offs have real snap to them. Often flamenco performers will go very fast with these, creating a fascinating and intricate web of sound.

    Practice for Upward and Downward Slurs

    The next exercise is in flamenco style. Play the first three measures alternating i and m. In measure four, follow the marked fingering. From measure five to the end use just the thumb.

    Rhythm of Soleares

    Exercise for Left-Hand Solo

    Here is a challenging exercise for the left hand alone. Start by hammering on the first two notes, then pull off the next two. Then for the next group hammer the first, second, and fourth fingers and pull off to the second finger. Continue hammering on when going up in pitch, pulling off when coming down. This is excellent practice for slurs, and also for strengthening the left hand and particuarly the little finger.

    The music notation is included to show which fingers are used, because in most cases the fingers do not coincide with the fret numbers.

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    The Upward Slur (Hammer-On, Ascending Ligado)

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    Slurs are fun. They are easy to do and open up all sorts of new musical possibilities. The slur is a means of linking one note to another in a way that sounds smoother than playing each note separately. Upward slurs are known colloquially as hammer-ons, and downward slurs as pull-offs, for reasons that will become obvious.

    First let’s learn the upward (hammer-on) slur. What we want to do is to link two notes together where the second is higher in pitch than the first.

    For example, let’s move from the open top string to the note one fret above:

    The curved line between the two notes shows how slurs are written in both tablature and standard notation. To play this example, first play the open first string, then hammer the left-hand first finger down to sound the note at the first fret. Because the first fret is played only with the left hand, it is necessary to bring the finger down smartly with enough force to sound the note. Notice that the two notes sound linked together compared with the two notes played separately by the right hand. Try doing it both ways to hear the effect.

    Remember these technique points:

    • The hammer must be strong enough to sound the second note clearly.

    • The finger that hammers starts from a point not too far from the string, not more than 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Otherwise you could miss the string, or at least the exact point that you want to strike. You will get the best sound hammering just behind the fret.

    • Hammer with the tip of the finger, not the side.

    Now try from one fret to another instead of just slurring from the open string.
    Put the left-hand first finger on the F at the first fret. Play the note, then hammer firmly with the third finger. Practice until you hear two distinct sounds.

    Now try practicing this exercise. When you see the number 5 in the tablature simply slide the third finger up to it, and then back to the 3. We’ll be learning more about position-changing soon.

    Upward Slur Exercise

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    More about Dotted Notes

    Friday, April 20, 2007

    We have seen that putting a dot after a note increases its length by half, and thus that the dotted quarter note lasts for a quarter note and a half, or a quarter plus an eighth. When the eighth note was the beat, as in "The Ash Grove,” there was no problem because the dotted quarter lasted for three eighth-note beats. But what if the count is in quarter notes, as in 4/4 time? The dotted quarter will now have one and a half beats, and we have to find a way to count this.

    Here is how it is done:
    The quarter note lasts into the next beat, so we count the next number while holding the note. If the dotted quarter is followed by an eighth note (as it frequently is), the eighth note would be on the second half of the second beat, so it would be counted with an “and.”

    Try counting and tapping these examples.

    It is worth persisting with the above two examples until you really understand the count. The dotted quarter note is the hardest one for most beginners to count.

    Now try counting and playing these examples.


    “Muss I Denn”

    Irish Air: “Endearing Young Charms”

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    Counting Beats with Fractions

    Friday, February 23, 2007

    So far, all the notes we have counted have lasted one or more beats. Often, however, more than one note occupies a beat, and we have to have a way to count this. For instance, in 4/4 time the beats are counted in quarter notes, so the eighth note will only last a half beat. Here is the way that this is usually counted:
    One Two and Three Four The pulse of the one-two-three-four remains even, but the “and” introduces another syllable between the main beats. Groups of faster notes are usually joined together with a thicker line known as a beam, which makes them easier to recognize. The number of beams corresponds to the number of flags on individual notes. Eighth notes have a single flag, so they are connected as shown below. Try counting and playing these combinations:

    Now here is a song for counting practice. Notice that it does not begin on the first note of a measure, but in fact on an unstressed “pickup” note that is the last beat of an incomplete measure. Count “Three” on this, then “One” as usual on the first beat of the following measure.

    When a piece begins with an incomplete measure, the balance of the time is made up in the last measure, which here has only two counts. First and last incomplete measures always add up to one complete one.

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