Welcome to Gunnar Eisel's
Daily News Coverage for the World Classical Guitar Community
This article previously appeared in the June, 2002 issue of Guitar Sessions©, the monthly webzine of Mel Bay Publications, and is a condensed version of a very detailed three-part series published by the Guitar Foundation of America in the Spring, Summer and Fall, 2002 issues of its quarterly journal, Soundboard. Used with persmission of the author and Mel Bay Publications.
ADDING THE RIGHT HAND LITTLE FINGER TO GUITAR TECHNIQUE
This 16-year research project presents the first publications and recording of music for guitar that make extensive use of the entire playing spectrum of the right hand. Adding the little finger to the right hand technique of classical guitar is a concept that various guitarists have contemplated and attempted since 1825, but lacked the time and/or resources necessary for such a task. Over the years I would occasionally encounter a guitarist who also had an interest in utilizing the little finger and his remark was always something like, “If I had a few years to stop my playing career and devote time to training the little finger and retraining the right hand, I could do it. But, I have to make a living.” I was lucky enough to have an employer, The University of Texas at Arlington, to support my work in the form of a research grant, two summer stipends, a one-year developmental leave and 25% release time from my teaching load in the Department of Music. UTA also provided travel funds to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Spain and Uruguay, as well as within the United States, for work related to this project. I was also naive enough to think that I could complete this project “in a few years.”
two goals to extend right hand technique—a set of right hand studies
to train all five fingers and music to demonstrate the advantages of
this technique in actual repertoire—were released by Mel Bay Publications
in October, 2001, at the Guitar Foundation of America’s Convention
in La Jolla, California. RIGHT HAND STUDIES FOR FIVE FINGERS (MB98710)
is a collection of 353 exercises using chords, arpeggios, tremolos and
harmonics. HOMAGE TO VILLA-LOBOS, and Other Compositions (MB98711),
and its accompanying CD, HOMAGE TO VILLA-LOBOS (MB98711CD) demonstrate
the practical use of a five-finger technique in 12 compositions—standard
repertoire pieces, new transcriptions and arrangements, and original
compositions—fully fingered for both hands. The book presents
the complete scores to all but two of the pieces on the recording and
gives excerpts of the two under copyright to show the use and advantage
of the little finger to the guitar world. The texts to the two books
and the CD booklet are in both English and Spanish
OF RIGHT HAND TECHNIQUE
Federico Moretti published the first known collection of right hand studies for the guitar in 1792 in Naples, Italy, and reprinted the book in Madrid in 1807, under the title Principios para Tocar la Guitarra de Seis Ordenes (Principles for Playing the Six String Guitar). The last section of this book contains 202 arpeggio patterns over a C major chord in first position, using only the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand. Without the ring finger, Moretti's arpeggios require much finger repetition and many awkward string crossings, by today's standards.
The first half of the nineteenth century saw the addition of the ring finger to right hand technique with a difference of opinion between the two leading guitarists of that time, Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829) of Italy and Fernando Sor (1788–1839) of Spain. Sor's instruction book, Methode pour la Guitare (Method for the Guitar—first published in Paris, 1830), uses a diagram to show that the ring finger is geometrically unsuited for proper hand position and explains that he only employs it for the playing of four-note chords where there is an intermediate string between the two lower notes. In 1812, Giuliani published his Metodo per Chitarra, Op. l (Method for Guitar). The first part is a set of 120 right hand studies for the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers over a C major to G7 chord progression in first position, bearing a strong resemblance to Moretti's arpeggio studies. These studies, published separately, are still an important part of right hand pedagogy.
The first known endorsement for the use of the right hand little finger came from the Spanish virtuoso Dionisio Aguado (1781–1849) in his 1825 method book Escuela de Guitarra (School of Guitar). Study #12 from this book is a five-string arpeggio pattern with instructions that it can be played with the five fingers of the right hand. It is a mystery and a pity that Aguado did not further explore the little finger.
Argentinian guitarist Domingo Prat (1886–1944) made the first major attempt to add the little finger to right hand technique. His book, La Nueva Técnica de la Guitarra.....para la práctica de los cinco dedos de la mano derecha (The New Technique of the Guitar..…for the practice of the five fingers of the right hand), was published in Buenos Aires in 1922. Prat put forth the radical idea of severely bending the right hand wrist to the right while playing arpeggios in an inverted order—for example, to play a five-note chord or arpeggio on the first five strings, he would use the order of thumb, little, ring, middle and index for the fifth to first strings, consecutively. All of the exercises in Prat's book include normal right hand fingering as well as this inverted order. The book is incomplete and disorganized, but the inverted order of fingering probably discredited the good that could have come from this book.
American virtuoso William Foden (1860–1947) and Brazilian jazz/classical guitarist Laurindo Almeida (1917–1995) made limited use of the little finger to play five-note chords. Their New York-published method books, Foden’s Grand Method for the Guitar (1920) and Almeida’s Guitar Tutor (1957), as well as some of their solo compositions, show this use.
Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) is one of the greatest contributors to twentieth-century guitar literature. He considered the cello to be his main instrument but also taught himself to play the guitar and the piano. After the death of his father, the 12-year old Heitor helped support his family by playing guitar in street groups and cafés in Rio de Janeiro. Being self taught, Villa-Lobos seems to have naturally begun playing the guitar with all five fingers of the right hand, even though he claims that he later studied the techniques of Aguado and Sor. Many of his early compositions were guitar solos, which, along with his later and better-known guitar pieces, abound with arpeggios and five-note chords that are easier to play with the use of a five-finger technique. Villa-Lobos never notated the little finger in any of his published manuscripts (which have almost no fingerings of any kind) and makes reference to it only one time in his memoirs, published by the Villa-Lobos Museum in Rio de Janeiro. In their first meeting, Villa-Lobos claims that Andrés Segovia told him that his compositions were not guitaristic because they used the right hand little finger, which is not used in classical guitar. Villa-Lobos retorted, “Ah. It's not used? Then, cut it off!” After a rough start, their friendship led to the Twelve Etudes (1929) and the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra (1951). Segovia never convinced Villa-Lobos to stop writing for the little finger and Villa-Lobos never convinced Segovia to use the little finger; and, guitarists have always found a way to get around Villa-Lobos' obvious use of the little finger.
Over the years, many guitarists have realized the advantage of using the little finger but have refrained from its use, believing that doing so would place the right hand in an improper playing position—the same reason used by guitarists in the early nineteenth century for resisting the use of the ring finger. The facility gained by the use of the little finger far outweighs the disadvantages of a modified hand position. A similar debate over keyboard technique took place during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. At that time, keyboard players debated the use of the thumbs (not normally used at that time) and their tendency to place the hands in a position that constrained the movement of the other fingers. The complex music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) and François Couperin (1668–1733) forced keyboard players to the systematic use of the thumbs.
OF RIGHT HAND STUDIES FOR FIVE FINGERS
SCALE STUDIES: The study of scales in any technique is very important, but is a whole book in itself and beyond the scope of this book because of the complexity and variety of left hand fingering systems. Maintaining the same procedure now used with the four-finger technique, I recommend the practice of scales—both rest and free stroke—alternating with all six of the two-finger combinations (im, ia, ic, ma, mc, ac) to develop independence, strength and dexterity in all of the fingers. The little finger alternates quite easily with the index and middle fingers, but is very awkward when alternating with the ring finger, with which it has very little natural independence. Some very fine concert players have recently shown that three-finger alternation of ring to middle to index (ami) in scale playing is a very fast combination. I used that combination for many years, with more speed than I could ever get with the standard index and middle finger alternation. I now alternate little to middle to index (cmi) and it has proved to be even faster, due to the little finger’s strength and its extra independence from the middle finger.
– HOMAGE TO VILLA-LOBOS BOOK & CD
use of the right hand little finger in his playing technique shows up
throughout his compositions, with five-note chords and arpeggio patterns
that are easier played by a five-finger technique. His Prelude #2, with
the arpeggio pattern in the middle section that perfectly fits five
fingers of the right hand, is the best example and is the only one that
I include in my recording.
Previously, I had also come across a few piano pieces by Claude Debussy that I wanted to transcribe, but found them very difficult to transfer to, and perform on, the guitar without the use of a well-trained five-finger technique for the right hand. La puerta del vino (The Wine Gate) is an impressionistic habanera that refers to one of the inner gates in the Alhambra castle in Granada, Spain, and comes from Preludes, Book 2 by Debussy. It contains passages that imitate the sounds of flamenco guitarists, passages made playable with the addition of the little finger. Debussy's interesting harmonic progressions make Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum (the first movement of his Children’s Corner suite) a beautiful arpeggio study for the five fingers.
While working on this project in Peru, in 1986, I encountered the beautiful music of that country and arranged two Peruvian popular songs to perform as encores on a concert tour sponsored by the American and Brazilian embassies. I naturally put in some sections that made good use of the little finger. José Maria, by Alicia Maguiña (b.1939), is a creole waltz and representative of the music found along the coastal regions, while Vírgenes del Sol (Virgins of the Sun), by Jorge Bravo de Rueda (1896–1940), represents the indigenous music of the Andes Mountains.
I also wanted some original compositions for this recording. Stephen Dodgson, the prominent English composer, told me that it really takes a guitarist to compose specific right hand studies for the guitar. Upon his advice, I decided to draw upon my background (I was an undergraduate theory/composition major in college before switching to guitar performance my final year) to produce compositions that would involve the use of the little finger in scales, chords, arpeggios, tremolos and harmonics. My goal was to produce music that did not sound didactic but used a heavy dose of a certain technique (or techniques) in various sections. As a student, performer or teacher, I have always believed it best to do technical exercises with a specific goal in mind to help learn or better perform a piece of music. The reverse is also true—it is good to choose interesting repertoire pieces containing technical exercises that improve and maintain a proper technique.
Homage to Villa-Lobos, in three movements, pays tribute to the composer who has been the biggest inspiration to this project, for his foresight in composing music for a five-finger technique long before anyone else. Each movement of this homage is inspired by different guitar compositions of Villa-Lobos, presenting various uses of the five fingers in chords and arpeggio patterns. My visit to the Villa-Lobos Museum in Rio de Janeiro in 1985 was an important beginning to this project.
Variations on a Theme of Prokofiev was inspired by the Piano Concerto #2 in G Minor of the Russian composer, Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953). I arranged one of the themes for the guitar while on vacation and began improvising variations as chord, tremolo, arpeggio and harmonics studies. The more I improvised, the more ideas came to me until I had almost twenty variations.
My first interest in guitar was in the field of jazz and I often find myself improvising on the guitar to relax during practice sessions. These "relaxation breaks" led to all of the original compositions presented here and are best represented in Improvisation on Green Dolphin Street, a set of jazz variations based on the title song from the 1948 movie, On Green Dolphin Street. The many five-string arpeggios and five-note chords, as well as the fast single-string scale runs of the introduction and “quasi improvisation” section, make excellent use of a five-finger technique.
Copyright © 2002 Worldguitarist