Molding and Shaping

Words are deceiving. If you want to have some fun, go yell at your best friend as though you were madly in love with him or her. However, instead of using kind and loving words, use obscenities. If your friend does not look at you like you’ve got twelve heads I will be surprised. What is Logan getting at? Well before you call the boys with the little white jacket, hear me out. Although words are responsible for definite communication of exact ideas, it’s the tone, pitch, volume, and speed of the voice that relays the true intentions of the individual. For instance, in the above example it was not the words that relayed your feelings, but the different inflections of the voice. The guitar is a kind of voice box, it’s language is abstract but very communicative and exacting. Just as the voice needs inflection in order to convey emotional content so does the musical line.

The Tools

The tools of the trade are simple in theory but difficult in practice. The first of our tools in the belt are dynamics, these are crescendos and diminuendos. A crescendo is a gradual increase in volume, a diminuendo is a gradual decrease in volume. Simple enough, but play a scale and crescendo up to the highest note, then on the way down diminuendo making the lowest note the quietest. The key here is to start VERY, VERY, quiet. The problem with the guitar is that it does not have a wide variety of volume, like the violin and piano. As guitarists we tend to always play loud to be heard, so in a way, we kind of desensitize ourselves to varieties of volume. Also, the rise and fall of sound must be even, it is a gradual increase in volume, not a sporadic one. There are sudden volume changes for suddenly loud and suddenly soft, subido forte, which is suddenly loud and subido piano which is suddenly soft.

The next tool is tone color. Tasto, is when you play near the fretboard to produce a nice silky tone. Example 1 is the first few measures of the D major section of the Bach Chaconne. All the dynamics are marked accordingly. Try to balance the voices do not make one louder than the other. The tempo is slow and hypnotic and even though you get loud keep playing tasto. We have the habit of playing loud as we move the hand; resist this tendency.

Ponticello is when you produce that brassy tone by playing near the bridge. Example 2 is an excerpt from El Colibri by Julio S. Segreras. Don’t be afraid to lay into the notes for some metallic like tone El Colibri means “the hummingbird” so be descriptive.

Tambora is a great technique. It is accomplished by striking the strings with the side of the thumb near the bridge. Example 3 is a few measures of Clear Night Sky by Logan L. Gabriel. The tambora is written out under the chord that utilizes the technique. Try to balance the notes and don’t get carried away with the action of striking the strings. It is very unbecoming to have a nice lush arpeggio section and then SLAM a huge tambora.

One of the most descriptive techniques a guitarist can apply is that of rubato. Rubato is the borrowing of time from certain notes in order to give to others, and then slightly rushing through the next passage in order to make up for the borrowed time. This is called strict rubato. Remember that you are borrowing time in order to alter note values not the beat. You could employ rubato in example 1, on the second measure you could borrow time from the second half of beat three in order to hold beat two in order to accentuate that note before the rise to the high point in the phrase which is the a in the second half of beat three. The second type of rubato is free rubato. With strict rubato you borrowed time but always replaced it. With free rubato you borrow as much time as you like without paying it back. This technique can be quite dramatic and effective, but it must be done at the choicest of moments otherwise it can sound out of place and very tacky. One place you might employ free rubato is when you have an arpeggio on the dominant, encompassing several octaves, and you hold the highest note before resolving to the tonic (in English that would be in the key of A minor, an E7 arpeggio holding the highest note indefinitely, then concluding on an A minor chord).

Vibrato is a technique that all guitarists must learn and employ on a regular basis. There are two ways to execute vibrato. The first is by a pendulum motion. Play a b on the third string (that would be the fourth fret) and imagine your thumb and first finger are joined through the fretboard and create a pivot point. After doing this, sound the note and rock the hand rapidly on this pivot point to set that waivering of the tone in motion. This type of vibrato may also be used on chords. The second type of vibrato is done by rapidly bending the string in and out of pitch. A master of this kind of vibrato is B.B. King. The second type of vibrato is very difficult to do on the classical guitar because the thickness of the strings make them difficult to bend.

These are just a few of the many things that a guitarist can use to bring out the quality of the music. One of the best things you can do is to listen. Listen to other guitarists and other instrumentalists as well as orchestras and listen to people talk; how their voice rises and falls with their intent. Music as well as talking is a description of environment, it is a series of sound used to conjure images of description.