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I. Basics a. On a standard guitar there are six strings. Standard tuning is in fourths between all strings except the second and third strings. This generates the pitches, from lowest to highest- E, A, D, G, B, and E for the open strings. The lowest string in pitch is actually the highest physically in relation to the floor.
(Open strings in standard tuning- Note that the guitar is written an octave higher than it sounds)
b. Each fret represents one-half step, and the pitch rises as the string is cut off at a higher fret. The frets near the headstock are called the lower frets and the frets closer to the soundhole and the bridge are called the higher frets. Since the strings are tuned in 4ths the pitches repeat after the fifth fret on the next lowest string. In other words, you can play an A-flat (written a m6th above middle C, but sounding an octave lower, see below) on the first fret of the G string, on the sixth fret of the D string, on the 11th fret of the A string, etc. At the 12th fret, all the pitches in open position repeat an octave higher. (This is because the 12th half-step would be an octave higher than the open string.)
(Roman numbers indicate fret position, numbers in circles indicate string number)
II. Left Hand a. Every finger on the left-hand except for the thumb is involved in fretting notes (in special circumstances, the thumb will fret a bass note, but this is awkward and is very rare). There are several ways in which the left-hand finger can fret a note. Single note lines are fretted by individual fingers executing different combinations of fingerings (similar to string instruments). Chords are fretted by different fingers on different strings (two notes fretted on the same string will result in only the higher note sounding.)
(Numerals not enclosed in a circle indicate left hand finger, 1 for index through 4 for pinky)
Chords with notes on different strings but the same fret will often be played with a barre. This technique involves one finger fretting across a few different strings, which are not necessarily consecutive. Usually barres are played by the first finger, and can be played over any number of strings, from 2-6. Under special circumstances, other fingers can execute a barre, most notably the fourth finger. Many players do not have the flexibility to do a barre with the second or third fingers, especially when there are other fingers involved in fretting the chord. Barres are notated with a “C” to indicate capo, or barre, and the roman numeral of the barred fret. If a more specific notation is desired, the
Since the left hand is producing the sound. Since the frets are closer together higher on the neck. (Left hand technique is oriented based on the fret that the first finger is playing on. and the other fingers would line up fret by fret above the first finger.if the first finger is on the 10th fret. Shifting between nearby positions can be achieved fluidly. playing a major 7 9th chord in closed position is pretty much impossible unless there are open strings involved. b. because the intervals are too closely spaced. Larger left hand shifts. Also. etc…) before the C.) e. Slurs are executed by either hammering on or pulling off one note to another with the left hand. c. For instance. consult the fingerboard. slurs will lend rhythmic clarity to a passage because of the way in which they define a grouping. Traditional piano voicings are often difficult to play on the guitar. for instance. the range of possible frets to stretch increases as you pass the 7th fret. with little or no trace of break in the legato. As a general rule. can be difficult to execute quickly. When in doubt. a good portion of time is spent with the hand in extension or contraction of a position. However. Nevertheless. these decisions are often left to the performer. Big stretches must be written with care. d. . Where a passage is fingered strongly affects its timbre and character. ie from 12th position to 1st position. because of the shape of a chord or the demands of a passage.sometimes as many as four or five. In order to write a slur. use a phrase marking between two notes under the notes if they are stemmed upwards and over if they are stemmed down. it is said that the player is in 10th position. there are usually a few different position options for fingering a passage. Problems arise when a chord contains too many consecutive intervals equal to or smaller than a major 3rd where open strings are not involved. it will not have the same dynamic or timbre as notes that are actually struck by the right hand. the largest stretch that most players can play comfortably is a five fret span between the first and fourth fingers. If you also want to indicate a phrase marking in the same passage. but are by no means impossible. 1/6. Of course. 2/6.number of strings to be barred can be indicated by a fraction of 6 (ie. it may be clearest to use a dotted line for the phrase marking. Stretching between the other fingers is limited based on the anatomy of the hand stretches between the first and third finger are easier to play than stretches between the second and third finger.
bass or inner voice of the arpeggio. this is primarily the purvue of editors and performers.f. The pinky is usually reserved for flamenco strumming (see rasqueados) .bottomto top. d. the middle (m). Striking the strings with a movement away from the palm of the hand with the back of the nail is more of a strumming effect. or the ring (a).) f.The fingerscan executethe sweep techniqueas well. The strings are plucked by the thumb (p). In addition. and can be played with any number of articulations. e. let ring.This is helpfulin six notechords.. e. The thumboftenplayson the bassstrings(6. Chordscan be pluckedall at onceor rolledin any numberof combinations(top to bottom. let vibrate. and the pattern possibilities are numerous. or string crossing patterns. though it probably will not have as round a tone as the other fingers. dynamics. etc.. like closing the hand). It can be difficult however. but in rare cases can be involved in plucking a string either individually or in a chord.4) becauseit has a full soundandhas morefacility thanthe individualfingers. or simply attach indefinite tie markings into the next measure or rest.wherethe thumbcan play the bassstringsandthe fingersplay the trebles. Arpeggio passages are very common in guitar. or sweepacrossconsecutivestringsmoreor less with rhythmicsimultaneity. to bring out inner voices in a virtuosic arpeggio.. b. The thumbcan eitherplay only onestring. c. Single note scales tend to be played by alternating fingers. If you would like notes of an arpeggiated chord to sustain past their written duration.Bassandchordaltexturesare usuallyachievedwith the thumb playingbassandthe fingersmovingin opposingfashionpluckingchords. the index (i).) Thumband fingerscan pluckany combinationof strings. Keep in mind that notes will not be able to sustain if there are other notes on that string called for in the following material.RightHand a. All fingers pluck into the hand. or melodies can be brought out in the arpeggio either in the treble. arpeggios can be played as a sound effect.5.. so the thumb and fingers are plucking in opposite directions (towards each other.v. eitherpluckingone stringper fingeror employingsweeps(see d. It is not necessary to include right hand fingerings. but not as successfully. either write l. It can be difficult to skip . III.
it can be difficult to play a virtuosic arpeggio which calls for a combination of all the fingers on the top strings and immediately shifting to the bottom strings. thereby stopping the natural sustain of the sound. thick sound. and then tie to the sustained value. 5th to G. 3rd to F#. and sometimes breaks the flow between movements. this is usually done by the thumb stopping the string. Every note on the guitar has harmonics associated with it. but . There are natural harmonics which sound clearly at the 5th. however. c. the 5th fret harmonic generates two octaves above the open string. Natural harmonics are notated in myriad ways.) The technique used to pluck the string affects the articulation: for instance. b. Any given voice can be muted.over groups of non-consecutive strings back and forth in the middle of a virtuosic scale passage. 9th.the most common alternate tuning is 6th string to D. the rest stroke involves the finger plucking the string and coming to rest on the next string below and produces a meaty. etc. any one voice can sustain past others.ie one faster line in conjunction with two slower lines. the performer will decide whether or not to use rest or free strokes. the 7th fret generates a twelfth above the open string. For this reason.. the 4rd and 9th frets generate an octave plus a tenth above the open string. 7th. especially those on the higher strings. g. Continuous rasgueados tend to be across at least 4 or 5 string consecutive strings (most classical players can't control the rasgueado to play it continuously on fewer strings. For instance. (Somewhat similarly to the left hand. For a shorter rasgueado followed by sustained tones. Contrapuntal lines tend to be played with the thumb versus fingers. IV. Likewise. Rasgueado is a flamenco term for a whole system of strumming.. The harmonic possibilities of scordatura tunings are worth exploring because they allow for the resonance and prominent overtones of the open strings within a different pitch structure than the E minor heavy standard tuning. among others. it is common to have a melody note last for 2 beats while the bass and inner voices play an eighth note and dotted quarter rests. ie. In most cases.) Shorter rasgueados can be on specific smaller string sets.” based on what string the a (or ring) finger is playing on. but many others have been employed. SpecialEffects a. but it is not impossible. When sustaining specific pitches over others. Alternate tunings. 12th.basses and open strings will tend to sustain longer than fretted notes.. write the rhythm of the strum. the right hand has three basic “positions. mainly with the back of the nail of the thumb and fingers. f. Equally as common is voices of different rhythmic values simultaneously. and past the fretboard.Retuning does take a minute or two in performance. The 12th fret harmonic generates a pitch an octave above the open string. In the bass. whereas in the free stroke the finger floats in the air without coming to rest after the note is plucked. In fast passages. 17th frets 3rd. it may prove to be cumbersome to add a lot of muting to an already complicated right hand fingering. consider the notes natural decay time. It can be continuous or as short as one strum. 6th to D and 5th to G. See Vc. Rest Strokes are far more common in single line passages because they require a slight adjustment of right hand position.
They are soft and bell-like and will not be heard above an ensemble. Softer mellow sounds usually produced by plucking nearer the fingerboard are called tasto sounds. and the body of the guitar can create many different sounds in different spots. There are many different timbres and colors that can be achieved on the guitar. etc. and then indicating normal articulation with normale. It is notated with a 0 that has a line through it. not during. accompanied by the word. no matter what pitch it is tuned to. It is a virtuoso technique.. h. then thumb on another bass note. if you want a piano ponticello sound. Bartok pizz is similar to on any string instrument. Artificial harmonics can be generated for any note by lightly plucking and touching the string 12 frets above (or the equivalent of 12 frets or splitting the string in half if this is above the fretboard) the fretted note. whether or not their tremolos are extremely even rhythmically.the clearest notation is to write the sounding pitch 8va higher than it sounds (just like other guitar music) with a 0 next to the notehead and an indication of the appropriate fret and string. thumb. Create a key if using several different percussive sounds. Tremolo is an effect where the thumb plays a bass line and the fingers rapidly melody notes above to create the illusion of a continuous line. The palette for percussion effects is unlimited. They are also technically fairly involved. by fretting the note and lightly touching the fret 3 or 4 frets above on the same string. more of a slapping sound is produced. otherwise guitarists . this relationship remains constant for every open string.. and usually can't be played with more than one other note simultaneously. Usually the tremolo is in groups of fours. akin to slap funk bass. Sometips a.. though a five note tremolo is also possible. pizz. using a dotted line for the effect’s duration.. and notate them with X noteheads on different pitches in the staff. Harmonics may also be generated similarly to how they are executed on string instruments. notate it specifically. The melody note will switch in between the grouping. The brighter nasal sounds that are usually produced by plucking near the bridge with a straight nail attack are called ponticello sounds.. then three fingers. Guitarists will often use color to create the illusion of dynamic even of the decibel level is not actually louder. See the below example for the relationship between an open string and various harmonics. V. e.. f. Pizzicato on the guitar is an effect that involves muting the strings with the right hand while plucking. but one that most guitarists have experience with. For this reason. g. but since the guitar strings have more slack. Notate it with the word pizz.
and may have reduced sustain. c. while the frets are set up in a very close approximation of well temperament. ensemble music will be written for the guitar at pitch. b. Dynamics on guitar are largely relative anyway. and for each voice. c. b. and might jeopardize the chances for more frequent performances. VI. the G major chord will be out of tune. Stemming is used to delineate melody from bass and inner voice textures. but the bass strings propel the sound more than the trebles. This is because the natural harmonics sound based on the pure harmonic series. as in violin . If you try and line these up. and you get some delightful idiosyncracies. or if there is a clear reason to want to delineate two voices in that fashion. For instance. but this should not discourage composers from being creative about articulations which are concerned with the duration or ends of notes. d. just as with regularly executed notes. The exception of writing the part in treble and bass staves is only necessary if the notation would become crowded in one staff. and the fretted G# on the 9th fret of the 2nd string. That said. tenuto. because they are fundamental to the sound of the instrument. switching between bass and treble clefs. it is much easier to achieve a true fortissimo when a note on the 5th or 6th string is involved. but this remains difficult for many guitarists. Guitar music is almost always written in one treble clef staff. One of the most fascinating aspects of the guitar is the discrepancy between the pitches of natural harmonics versus fretted notes. OtherNotationTips a. which don’t need to be simultaneous with the other voices. etc…. The range of articulations are available on the guitar. Factors such as range of pitches and number of notes in a chord will have a significant effect of dynamics. Ponticello will accentuate the overtones of a note more than a tasto sound. accent. including staccato. The guitar is capable of many variations of duration for individual voices. Artificial harmonics which are intended to executed with just the left hand. even if it is not necessarily louder in decibels. etc… Of course there is a limitation to what guitarists can do to a note once it has been struck. the G# harmonic on the 4th fret of the low E string will be a few cents off from the fretted G# on the 4th fret of the high E string. For instance. Whether or not you decide to exploit these characteristics. Natural harmonics are notated with a circle above the notehead. The C and C# at the 8th and 9th frets on the high E string are wolf tones on many guitars. e. which should be written one octave above the actual sound. Occasionally. they are worth thinking about and understanding.may not choose ponticello. Artificial harmonics that are intended to be executed with both the right and left hands are notated with a diamond note head on the sounding pitch. not the fretted pitch. Add to this that guitarists frequently bias the tuning of their instrument by tuning to certain chords in first position or chords that appear frequently in a piece. if you tune the guitar to an G major chord in first position. a fortissimo arrival on a double stop in the high register can be a very effective gesture. Durations and rests should be indicated within the range of a particular voice. whether in a chord or a single note.
It can be helpful to write in fret numbers next to natural harmonics to avoid confusion. it begins decaying almost immediately. once a chord is struck. sul ponticello. are written with the fingered note and lightly touching note above it in parentheses. see II c e. d. unless you merely want this intention to surface in the interpretation. Write timbral indications as sul tasto. Remember that a crescendo can only happen on guitar if notes are being struck. while the sounding note is written with a diamond notehead above the parentheses.harmonics. f. it is also not necessary to write a diminuendo on one chord. etc… . For notation of slurs and phrases. Therefore. and any shape of that chord is created by vibrato.
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