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Two Kinds of Guitarists

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Two Kinds of Guitarists

I played a concert at The Banff Centre once and Oscar Ghiglia, who was holding a master class there that summer that I attended, was in the audience. I had already played for him a few times, but I guess something about my approach puzzled him. He came up to me afterwards and said, "you used to play folk guitar, didn't you?" I had to confess that I had started on bass guitar and steel string, both acoustic and electric. I don't know what he heard that tipped him off, but I didn't play much folk, mostly blues and rock.

In any case, I am learning a pair of gavottes by Bach that I haven't played before and I notice something about the fingering that might be interesting. The editor, much of whose fingering I changed right off the bat, must have been a rhythm guitarist at one point. This might seem an odd claim to make about a classical guitarist, but in North America especially, most of us who end up as classical guitarists actually started out as some variety of pop guitarist playing steel string and electric guitars. Among pop guitarists (meaning just "non-classical") there are two basic kinds of guitarists. Let's call them JL guitarists (after John Lennon) and EC guitarists (after Eric Clapton). John Lennon was a solid, even outstanding, rhythm guitarist; Eric Clapton a really great lead guitarist. In most bands from the "guitar era" there was one of each in each group. Keith Richards, rhythm, Brian Jones, lead; John Lennon, rhythm, George Harrison, lead and so on. In Cream, of course, all three of the players were so busy there was hardly room for a rhythm guitarist--Jack Bruce did some rhythm guitar on the bass when he wasn't doing "lead" bass!

In the classical world, of course, all concert artists are pretty much "lead" guitarists but sometimes a guitar editor might reveal his roots. And so it was with my edition of the Bach. Let me show you what I mean. Here is the first phrase of the gavotte in his fingering:

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The first half of the phrase is all bar chords with no open strings. Here is my fingering:

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That inner voice C is on the third string. I have two things I am aiming for: first of all, to try and connect voices by putting consecutive notes on the same string when possible and connecting by moving a finger along a string. The first two notes of the melody, for example, are on the first string, the next two on the second string, there is one note on the first string open, and then it returns to the second string. The falling fourths are usually going to be on two adjacent strings. The other thing I do is avoid bar chords whenever possible. This is for two reasons: first, they immobilize the left hand and, especially when prolonged, create fatigue. Second, they tend to turn melodies into arpeggiated harmonies. Take the first few beats, for example. I want the E A F G E F to sound melodic, not harmonic. I also want to do the rests as they let air into the line.

If you sit down and play through the two fingerings this will all be clear!

The two kinds of guitarists, rhythm guitarists and lead guitarists, we can see as guitarists who focus on the harmony and ones who focus on the melody. Of course a good classical guitarist is focussing on both, plus rhythm, phrasing, counterpoint and so on.

There are a lot of editions out there by "rhythm" guitarists. One thing I notice is that they are rarely concert artists. As soon as I saw this edition I went to my shelves to find the edition by Oscar Ghiglia, but sadly, that was one score I lost years ago. Ghiglia has an excellent fingering, of course. This gavotte is from the 3rd lute suite published by Suvini Zerboni. Other editors with good fingerings are Leo Brouwer, Andrés Segovia and José Tomas--all also concert artists.

Let's have some music! I had to go through five or six guitarists before I found one who does, pretty much, my fingering. This is Jason Vieaux with both gavottes:


And just for fun, this is the only clip that I know of where we can see John Lennon and Eric Clapton playing together. Bonus: Keith Richards is playing bass. The song starts around the 1:05 mark:




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