Friday, March 30, 2007

La Patrie Concert Cutaway with Carlos CP-1 High End

Amazing gig tonight. At this micro brewery I play on Thursdays, I'm usually done by 9:30 PM because most folks have eaten, drank and split by that time (Ladies night at the Railroad Blues just down the street). But, every now and again, the place is rocking until 10:00 PM (My "official" quitting time). I played until 10:15 tonight. There were two huge groups in, one of which was a group of Harley tourers. Lots of fun.

It just so happened that tonight was the first night I decided to play an entire gig with my new La Patrie Concert Cutaway, which I have now put the Carlos CP-1 High End co-axial undersaddle pickup in.

As much as I love my two Anthony Murray concert classicals, I just can't perform any serious gigs with them anymore. I compose way too much stuff that goes above the twelfth fret, and playing my set on a non-cutaway is simply more trouble than it's worth now. The La Patrie is the perfect solution for me.

You may notice that I have a metal wound G string on the guitar. It works better on this instrument with the Carlos - a nylon G wolfs out for some reason, sounding twice as loud as the rest of the strings. I'm thinking it may be the compensated saddle. I'll use it this way for now, but I may find a fat, uncompensated saddle and see how that works, but the nylon G was simply unusable. Like I say, at least twice as loud as all of the rest of the strings (Which balance perfectly). The Carlos is... highly strung and temperamental, I'm afraid. Like this girlfriend I used to have who was a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. Beautiful, but touchy.

One nice fringe benefit is that, since the Carlos CP-1 is so incredibly sensitive and has such a ridiculously wide dynamic range, the super thin German Spruce top on the Murray made it difficult to control - it would feed back way too soon, and my ham-fisted playing made it a.. er... "challenge" to hold an interpretation together. The thicker Cedar top on the La Patrie gives the CP-1 plenty of dynamic range - more than any other nylon string system out there for sure - but it provides more control (And, fewer feedback problems) as well as a darker, woodier tone. One of my regular listeners said, "It sounds just like an acoustic guitar!" Exactly. The Godin Grand Concert Synth Access guitar with the RMC Polydrive does not sound acoustic - it sounds electric - but I like that: It will remain my main axe for the forseeable future. The La Patrie/Carlos CP-1 setup will just broaden my tonal palette.

On a tangentally related note, the fretted Glissentar has a solution now too, which I will work out in the coming months. What I need there is more gain and tone control, so I'll use the preamp of the Lexicon Signature 284, which will up its anemic output (Which is a result of the semi-solid nature of the guitar, and not a shortcoming with the Carlos CP-1A Professional pickup). For that I'll need to get 1) another Signature 284, and 2) a Lexicon MPX-1 to replace the MPX-G2. Should be fun: I love to play with gear. But... it will be expensive. *arg*

I also now have an endpin in the La Patrie, so I'll be able to play it standing up.

I did a few gigs standing up a year or so ago - and I want to get back to that - but I need to re-arrange my rehersal space (Spare bedroom) to allow me to practice standing again. One of the things I learned to love as a rock guitarist was playing standing up, and for big stage gigs (Hey, I can dream) there is nothing like it. Mucho fun.

I also have a truss rod in the La Patrie, so I can FINALLY use extra hard tension strings on an acoustic. Now my dream of using the same D'Addario EXP44 sets on both electric and acoustic guitars is finally a reality. Hooray.


Finally, I am going to Tucson to play at El Ojito Springs tomorrow, so no more posts until next week sometime.

Hope it's not too hot in Tucson... Then again...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Modal Mastery: Metronome Addendum

One thing I neglected to mention so far is the type of metronome I use for this project. Back circa 1990 I got two of these diminutive Seiko DM20's and have used nothing else since.

After over fifteen years, I'm only on the second set of batteries!


What I like about the Seiko DM20:

1) The beat range goes up to a logical 250 BPM.

Many digital metronomes only go to 208 BPM, which is a holdover from the mechanical metronome days - it used to be that 208 BPM was as fast as a mechanical metronome could reliably go. Korg metronomes max out at 208 BPM, which is why I use Seiko. I am already at 210 BPM in the Modal Mastery series, for example, and I find it much easier to play at alternating strong/weak eighths than to keep track of strong/weak/weak/weak sixteenths. Once 250 BPM is reached you'll have to go to sixteenths, of course, but 208 BPM is just too soon, IMO. At 250 BPM, for instance, you just divide by two and return to 125 BPM and select the sixteenth subdivisions. I just think it makes more sense.

2) Subdivisions of eighths (which I'm currently using), eighth triplets, and sixteenths can be selected.

I don't need fancy, schmancy subdivisions of odd numbers, or of subdivisions with an element de-selected, I just need the basics, and this has all of the basics. 1, 2, 3, 4. 5. 6. and 7 can be selected without subdivisions, though, should you want to work with those. It's just that, at 250 BPM maximum velocity, you'll run into limitations if velocity is what you are working on.

3) They are super easy to use.

Because it does not have a bunch of arcane functions, the DM20 is intuitive to use right out of the box.

4) They are about the same size as a stack of four or five credit cards.

I just toss one into whatever gig bag or guitar case I'm using, and I always have one with me.

5) The batteries last for... for... for... ever... ever... ever...


The problem is, of course, these Seiko DM 20's haven't been made for many years. Not to worry: The same old metronome in a sassy new package (I FINALLY figured out how to embed an image in a hyperlink, so you can click on the image to go to Amazon):

Ta, daaaa! The DM series is now up to 70 (It was only 10 and 20 when they first came out). I just ordered one of these, so I'll update this later and let you know how it works.


Bad things can happen if you lose track of the time.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More Milestones

This is pretty cool:

15,000 is small potatoes in the larger scheme of bloggers - especially some of those politicos - but for a little niche music blog it's kind of neat. It took over a year to get to 5K and less than eight months to add 10K more, so my traffic has increased quite a bit (From 10-20 per day to 30-40 per day).


Got some cool gigs coming up:

Monday 03/26 I'll be at the Railroad Blues in Alpine from 8-10 PM.

Thursday 03/29 I'll be at the Edelweiss Brewery just down the street from 6:30-9:30 PM.

Then on 04/01 I'll be in Tucson, AZ at El Ojito Springs from 7-9 PM.


The Modal Mastery project is coming along nicely. I have gotten into the thirds now, and my velocity is comfortably in the 200 BPM range. I'm going to take a break from that series for a while until I catch up. Got some guitar blogging to do anyway.


Spring is sprung, the grass is riz...

and a man's fancy turns to...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Modal Mastery III: Six Weeks to Mastering Fourths and Fifths

This is the hurdle. Fourth intervals are the mother bear since they require flanges (Laying fingers flat across two strings) to execute. Now, I'm not putting fingerings on these patterns because there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat here. One decision you have to make is whether to project finger 4 forward from three when it needs to traverse two major seconds on a string, or whether you want to allow fingers one and two to make the first second (Versus one and three). The other issue is when to play three notes on the G string versus only two. I'll allow you to work out which logic you prefer, as I did the same thing, and experimentation helped me out quite a bit, so it will do the same for you.

I'm just finishing pattern one from the previous entry, so I'm getting way ahead of myself here, but I want to establish the patterns for those who may work faster than I do, and so with this entry the ambitious can extrapolate the rest of the six week chunks. For the record, I've nudged up against 200 BPM during pattern 1, so that goal is completed.

Here are the fourth patterns:

And the fifths:

Good luck with these. They are quite a challenge. It was several attempts before I managed to get through these for the first time with free-style (No metronome) plectrum technique, but when you do, you'll be ahead of over 90% of the guitarists out there, because I hear these patterns in almost nobody's improvising (Alan Holdsworth is a notable exception).


That's actually quite clever of Elvgren: Note the Tory Gate entrance to the dog house, and the Kanji characters above it. The dog, of course, is a Shi Tsu. Sure, it's a mixing of Japanese and Chinese influences, but quite nice nonetheless.

I spent an inordinate amount of time in a dog house that looked just like that back when I was married. This year marks the blessed tenth anniversary... since I divorced her.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Modal Mastery II: Five Weeks to Mastering Seconds and Thirds

This regimen is divided up into six week chunks (Though, I hardly ever manage to do a form every day), so the basic competence stage is really just the first seven days of this six week series addressing second and third intervallic patterns through the mode forms. It just so happens that playing the mode forms linearly is the first "pattern."

I really have no idea what classical guitar teachers do with scales in terms of pedagogy - I had a classical guitar teacher give me the position-shifting "Segovia Scales" once and I realized they were illogical, so I blew them off - but what I developed through this method was the ability to improvise modally like Al Di Meola and Paco DeLucia do: That is the goal here. In other words, the idea isn't to have as a goal only the technical ability to play linear passages in composed pieces solidly, but to master the mode forms by applying patterns to them so that one can improvide lines in any modal form. A higher musical goal, IMO.

Also, if you go through this series you will have developed an integral view of the entire fretboard in your head, which as a composer of music for the guitar, I find to be indespensible. Those goofy Segovia Scales won't do that for you.

Here are the first two weeks' patterns:

And the next three weeks worth:

As you can see, there is a logical and systematic pattern developing here. I actually copped these patterns from real Al Di Meola licks and just organized them into a systematic modal exercise series, so these patterns are really the basic building blocks of that kind of an improvisational style (I'm sure Al - I call him "Al" because I've met him before - practiced patterns just like this). Remember, I came up with this when I was a twenty year old student at Berklee playing with plectrum technique. I got plenty fast doing this too.

Now, these patterns are a lot longer than just playing straight through the mode forms, so the system will have to be foreshortened to keep to the ninety minute per day goal. This is quite easy to do. To cut the system in half, all you have to do is play up the pattern in one position, and down the pattern in the next higher or lower position (Depending on whether you are working up or down the neck). To cut it in half yet again (Which will end up being just 25% of the original system) we will be playing down the fingerboard at one metronome setting/using one right hand fingering variation and then up using the next lower or higher metronome setting and the next right hand fingering permutation. So, in actual point of fact, these patterns will take less time to play through (I did two mode forms of pattern one today).

At some point here you will reach critical mass, and you will break through and get close to your natural trained maximum velocity - when I did this with plectrum technique I reached that point going through pattern two here - and that is a great feeling. Already during this project I've gotten from 184 BPM to 196 BPM, so it's coming, but I'm not there... not quite yet.


In honor of St. Patrick's day I give you the most gorgeous example of Irish colleen in recorded history:

The Quiet Man is, like, my favorite John Wayne movie of all... for some reason.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Modal Mastery I: Seven Days to Basic Competence

Back in my rock and roll days I went through a phase during which I spent several hours per day playing scales. In fact, I spent so much time on mindless scale exercises that it became a hindrance to other aspects of my musical development. This poisoned my outlook so much that when I switched to traditional guitar, I vowed never to waste so much time on scales again. Well, never say never: I've recently been running into some technical limitations with respect to single line playing, and there is no way around the problem other than to put in a lot of time playing scales with a metronome. It's not so much velocity I'm after (I have a ridiculously slow natural maximum, so that would be fruitless anyway), but strength and solidity. Scales can give you that like nothing else.


One of the nice things about being a mature musician is that you know how to practice smart, versus just practicing hard: Having been through the scale work before with plectrum technique, I know exactly what I need to do with alternating finger technique to get the desired results in the least amount of time. What you have to do is break the elements down and go through the permutations in the most efficient manner possible.

For the modes, there are the seven basic two-octave forms - those things are constant between plectrum and finger-style techniques. The right hand is exactly twice as complicated with finger-style technique though: Instead of having just upstroke and downstroke beginnings to deal with, there is rest stroke, free stroke, starting with i, and starting with m. With twenty-eight basic variants to deal with, you can easily see that getting bogged down is a real danger.

In order to avoid getting hopelessly mired in endless variations, it is necessary to combine the permutations into a single routine. The first step - the preliminary phase - is to make sure you have the seven two-octave in-position mode forms securely under your fingers.


These are the forms I'll be using. You should get to the point where you can comfortably and effortlessly play through these seven mode forms at 120 BPM (As though this page was a piece of music) before proceeding.


Once you have the forms under your fingers, then it is seven short 90 minute sessions to basic competence. Doing one of the forms per day ought to be no problem for even time-starved players. Here is the schedule:

DAY 1:

Form I: Ionian

01) Play from position IX to position I and back using rest stroke starting with i at 120 BPM.

02) Play from position IX to position I and back using rest stroke starting with m at 110 BPM.

03) Play from position IX to position I and back using free stroke starting with i at 100 BPM.

04) Play from position IX to position I and back using free stroke starting with m at 90 BPM.

Here, you can see that I have combined metronome work on a single mode form with all four right hand permutations. This is the basic pattern, which we will now repeat.


05) Play 01 at 80 BPM.

06) Play 02 at 70 BPM.

07) Play 03 at 60 BPM.

08) Play 04 at 50 BPM


Now, we will start to accelerate back to 120 BPM and beyond. Remember to allow only one finger on the fretboard at a time. The reason for this will becaome apparent when we start playing patterns in step two.

09) Play 01 at 40 BPM

10) Play 02 at 50 BPM.

11) Play 03 at 60 BPM.

12) Play 04 at 70 BPM.


13) Play 01 at 80 BPM.

14) Play 02 at 90 BPM.

15) Play 03 at 100 BPM.

16) Play 04 at 110 BPM.


Now we are right back exactly where we started from.

17) Play 01 at 120 BPM.

18) Play 02 at 130 BPM.

19) Play 03 at 140 BPM.

20) Play 04 at 150 BPM.


I knew going in that my maximum comfortable velocity was circa 180 BPM, so at this point I start proceeding by increments of 5 BPM.

21) Play 01 at 160 BPM.

22) Play 02 at 165 BPM.

23) Play 03 at 170 BPM.

24) Play 04 at 175 BPM.


And at this point I start increments of 2 BPM.

25) Play 01 at 180 BPM.

26) Play 02 at 182 BPM.

27) Play 03 at 184 BPM.

28) Play 04 at 186 BPM.


My goal for this series was to be able to comfortably play eighth notes at 190 BPM (By day seven), so from here I proceed in increments of a single BPM. Depending on your natural maximum velocity - I have the slowest maximum of any guitarist I've ever heard of - you'll start slowing at whatever is 30 BPM below your natural max.

29) Play 01 at 187 BPM.

30) Play 02 at 188 BPM

31) Play 03 at 189 BPM.

32) Play 04 at 190 BPM.


I started this project about ten days ago, so I'm well into the second phase now. During this first phase I kept a diary, and my failure point when I started was 184-186 BPM. By the time I finished I had increased that to 192-194 BPM, which is positively screaming for me.

One thing to keep in mind is that natural maximum velocities are genetic: If you are slow, there really isn't much you can do about it. These maximums vary not only by individual, but - as a percentage - by race as well. I'm a Caucasian of northern and western European ancestry, and we - as a group - tend to possess the lowest natural maximum velocities. Southern and eastern Europeans are by and large faster, and the negroid races posess the quickest velocities of all. There are always exceptions of course, but Paganini and Liszt were both southern/eastern Europeans, and I can think of no transcendental virtuosos who were northern/western Europeans. Al Dimeola, Paco DeLucia et al would tend to confirm this, but Ingwie Malmsteen seems to be an exception. Then there are people like Andre Watts and Stanley Clarke, who effortlessly reel off impossibly fast and smooth linear passages that also require incredible strength. It isn't fair, I tell you, but it is reality.

I learned about this years ago when I was a runner, by the way: There are two general types of muscle fibre - fast twitch and slow twitch - and they can function in two possible ways - aerobically or anerobically. Fast twitch anarobic guys become world class sprinters, while slow twitch aerobic guys become marathon runners. The perfectly balanced kick ass at about 10K.

I have all slow twitch aerobic muscle fibre, so I can run forever, but at a snail's pace. That translates perfectly to the guitar for me: I can jam for ten hours, but I can play no fast licks. I was much faster with a plectrum, but the slowness of my baseline - and everybody's baseline "speed limit" -is manifested in rapid alternating movements like fingers, arms, and legs going back and forth.

The idea here is simply to minimize my weakness in the area of single line playing as much as I can, not to join Paco DeLucia, Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin (Another exception) to form a quartet of Guitar Monsters.

BTW: If you have a lower natural max than I do, I'd really like you to contact me. I'm convinced that I'm the slowest guitarist in history. There ought to be an award for that!


A reward like that would do nicely.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Axial Fugue: Toward a Fair Copy (Pt. 2)

OK, this little booger is in the bag now.


We are at the beginning of the second half of the development here, and the c finger is required on the top system. After that, however, it's right back to orthadox traditional technique again.

Primary to making these things readable is consistency: I have the right hand indicators at the stem end of the note all the time, and the left hand indicators at the head end. Sometimes it is not possible to put the left hand finger designator numbers to the left of the note head because of crowding. Traditionally, this was solved by reducing the number of measures per system, but I select the numbers of measures per system to reflect the phrasing. So, I just put them where they will fit some times (Such as the final measure of the middle system here).

The pitch climax is the c-sharp in the last measure of this page, and so the fifth position is as high as the piece ever gets. Quite conservative in that respect, actually.

Here at the beginning of the recapitulation is the original Sergei Taneiev inspired contrapuntal combination that I wrote at the beginning of this project. Since I have been using my c finger since I was a steel string player, the alternating a - c on the second system is not as difficult as one might think. The repetitive pattern is actually quite natural feeling. Getting the left hand fingers into position smoothly is another thing entirely, though.

What I plan to do is learn the piece by sections: Learning the exposition will make the counterexposition easier to learn, learning the first development area will make the second easier to learn, and all of that together ought to shape my technique up for the recapitulation.

The recap is also in two parallel parts, the second of which is more developed, as you can see, so that will make for six bite-sized chunks. I figure one every month or so and in six months to a year I'll be ready to debut the thing. Grave, of course.

"Well, there you have it. There it is." as the line from Amadeus went.

I have posted both of these wretched, blasted PDF's on my Fileshare Page for those interested (In addition to the urtext and a MIDI to MP3, of course).


I'm feeling quite a bit better today, and if I can just manage to get to sleep without any NyQuill tonight, I ought to be back to my practice routine tomorrow. That would be perfect, as the new year's first major gigs are coming up soon.

"Hi Ho, Silver!" Indeed.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Axial Fugue: Toward a Fair Copy (Pt. 1)

Well, I have the flu. This is actually OK, since the active ingredients in stuff like Alka Seltzer Plus and NyQuil ruin my playing almost as effectively as alcohol does. This way, I can finish this project without feeling guilty about slacking off in my practice routine. In fact, I actually feel good about doing so much work during this "downtime."

The Lord works in mysteroius ways.


I'm not much of a stickler about how my scores look, and the traditions of notational typesetting do not interest me in the least. In fact, the iconoclastic side of me fairly rebells at notational traditions. I just want my scores to be easy for me to read. In other words, If I had a nickel for every beautiful score I've seen of music that sounded like crap... You know? The audience does not see the score, they just hear the music.


The first step in this process for me is to create an urtext of the final version of the music with absolutely no performance indicatiors at all. Then, if it is a solo guitar piece in open score like this one is, I go back through and level off all of the beams. I know this isn't the way it is "supposed" to be done, but it makes the music easier for me to read once I add all of the fingering indicators. You can download a PDF of the urtext as well as a MIDI to MP3 of this final version at my .Mac Download Page if you are interested.

I'm not going to bother posting the urtext version, since this post is about how I set the music up so that I can learn it most efficiently. Yes, I have decided that I am going to make learning this thing a priority, since I do consider it to be the most masterful thing I've ever come up with for the guitar. Due to my technical limitations, my idealized tempo of 160 BPM will certainly be out of the question - hell, I'll be happy if I can achieve a smooth Grave with it - but I'm going to do the best I can.

See, this looks clean as a whistle, doesn't it? I don't know why angled beams irritate me so much, but they do. This just looks technically superior to me.

One of the nice things about doing a project like this in multiple steps is that you catch mistakes and omissions at every stage of the process: I found several errors when creating the urtext and a dozen or so mistakes and omissions were found when copying the fingerings off of the old rough.

This way, when I get to memorizing the piece - which is the very final stage of the process - I won't be beset with a lot of error corrections that would slow me down.

You may have noticed that there are no page or measure numbers anymore. This is because of a wretched, blasted bug in the wretched, blasted software (I love that new HBO series, "Rome") that cropped up when Apple - and I - went to OS X.4. There is no patch for it because Encore 4.6 will address the problem, along with adding several nice new features. The problem is, when a score reaches a certain size - about 325K - you can not add any more elements to it without the program quitting unexpectedly (A nice Appleized euphemism for crashing).

So, at the present time, I have to break scores down into sections when they exceed this limit. I was two wretched, blasted pages away from getting it all into one wretched, blasted file too.

You may have also noticed that we're five pages in at this point, and I have not needed to employ the c finger of the right hand either: Not only is this piece perfectly possible to play, but Andres Segovia could have played it thus far.

Even here, at the half-way point, the technique required is perfectly traditional.

Not until the final two systems of page seven - the end of the first development area - is the c finger required. But from this point on, it will be used quite a bit.

I'll post the second wretched, blasted file tomorrow.


Think I'll hve her make my wretched, blasted fair copies from now on.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Logically Extending Classical Guitar Technique

My previous post about Kazuhito Yamashita got me to thinking...


Back in the early days of rock guitar, many guitarists in that idiom did not use the little finger of the left hand. The situation at the end of the past century (Millennium, actually) in the classical guitar world was perfectly analogous: Players did not use the little finger of the right hand.

After the age of Jimi Hendrix in the rock guitar world, more sophisticated players arose who took a more logical and inclusive approach to thechnique. Not only did the little finger of the left hand get drafted into action, but a host of extended techniques arose as well: The melodic tap technique of Eddie Van Halen, the liquid legattos of Alan Holdsworth, the blazingly fast pick-every-single-note technique of Al Di Meola and Steve Vai... you get the idea.

In the classical guitar world, however, the pace of change has been glacial. Basically, there are no significant numbers of classical guitarists who have advanced technique beyond that of Andres Segovia and his heir apparent Christopher Parkening.


Well, there is no doubt but that the vast majority of the existing classical guitar repertoire requires nothing beyond Segovia's technique, for one thing. After all, he transcribed and/or edited much if not most of it. That which he did not have a personal hand in during his astonishingly long life and career, his various desciples did.

But another factor is simply the granite-headedness of the majority of today's classical guitarists. I've heard some say that the right hand little finger is "unusable" because it is so much shorter than the other three. Not to name any names, but the dolt who spewed forth that nonsense is one of a pair of brothers who are relatively prominent in the pdagogical world of guitar here in the United States.

So, let's look at this logically, shall we? If length is the yardstick here (No pun intended), then what about the thumb?

By that measure (Ha, ha), the thumb is worse than useless, because it's much shorther than the pinkie finger is.

Flush that idiocy.

Truth is, the hand was designed by Its Creator (Whether you are a creationist or an evolutionist) to relax so that the fingertips align perfectly.

So, let's just call a spade a spade, shall we? Most classical guitarists don't use the c finger because, A) The conservative and threadbare old repertoire they play doesn't require it, and B) they are too lazy and/or scared to modify their ninteenth century technique to adopt it. There: Don't we all feel better being honest?


Since I come from a rock and jazz background, I've never been squeemish about adopting so-called "extended" techniques (Which are really simply inclusive techniques). In fact, I actively seek out pieces that will expand my technique so that my compositional horizons will be broadened. That is why I perform things like Eddiie Van Halen's Spanish Fly and Joe Satriani's A Day at the Beach: So that I can cop the tap techniques to use later in my own stuff.

Why anybody would be reticent to expand their musical universe, I'll never understand, but many seem content to spend their eternity in the previous millennium. Not me.


In a related note, there are many comments to this blog that I don't publish. The reason? In a nutshell, they are idiotic. I've spent over thirty years studying just about everything that has anything to do with music, music theory, and musical composition, so pardon me if I simply have zero tolerance for zit-faced kids with strong opinions and no knowledge or understanding to back them up: I do not suffer fools, gladly or reluctantly. In other words, if you are not wise enough to learn from my work, take a hike.


One of the pieces that I've written - and the series of posts I've created about it - that has been most controversial has been the series on the Axial Fugue in E Minor for solo guitar, which is the finale from Sonata One. I got a lot of the "Well, actually; there are several parts of the fugue that are physically impossible to play." Yadda, yadda, yadda/Blah, blah, blah. I suppose I could have responded and explained the stages of my compositional process, but judging from the rest of the content of the responses, it would not have done any good. Some people simply refuse to recognize art when they encounter it. They don't even honestly attempt to understand it.

So?... I did the fingering for it just to prove that it is possible to play. Not only that, but much of it is actually quite easy, because it is idiomatic guitar music!

To reiterate, my compositional process ia an unfolding series of revelations. It starts with an inital spark - a premise of one sort or another - and then it grows. First, all of this growth is in my noggin, and - when it has reached critical mass - I then commit it to pixels or paper (Hardly ever paper anymore).

The goal is - in the case of guitar music especially - to write the purest form of absolute music possible, and then see what, if any, compromises I have to make to realize it on the guitar. After playing the guitar for over thirty years and writing for it nearly as long, I don't get myself into any dead ends anymore. Oh sure, I may have to adjust note durations - add rests in certain places and stuff like that - but when I write a guitar piece away from the guitar now, I know it will work.

This was exactly the case with the Axial Fugue, which at over four hundred measures, is by far the most epic piece of guitar music I've ever written.


The prospect of of fingering this piece out scared me. No joke. Most of the pieces I write are miniatures - the overwhelmingly vast majority, in fact - and there are several reasons for this. Paramount among them is my uncontrollable "workaholicism": Once I start a project, I absolutely, positively cannot leave it until I either finish it, or pass out from exhaustion. The latter was the case in this instance, as after fingering over ten pages of it - which took about thirty hours - I simoply had to go to bed. Miniatures don't do that to me.

Another factor is my technique. Since I'm a composer who happens to play the guitar, versus a guitarist who happens to compose, I'm no virtuoso in most senses of the term. I can compose beyond my ability to play any old time, but what is the point? If I had a Kazuhito Yamashita or a Christopher Parkening to play my work, no problemo. Heck, I'd probably stop performing entirely if that were the case.

Alas, I'm just a minor genius laboring away in obscurity (/joke).


About seventy-two hours ago I began this project, and I cannot guarantee that there aren't a few mistakes and/or omissions - I sure there are - but the piece as fingered is possible to execute if you A) Have the technique, and B) have large enough hands (I'm six feet two inches tall and my palms are pretty wide, so I can make some fairly radical stretches).

Other than that, there are no tricks or magic here, despite the fact that I am a wizard (I'm watching the Dresden Files in the lower right hand corner of my monitor at present).

Since the progression of voice numbers is two, three, four between the exposition, counter-exposition, and recapitulation, there is nothing to see here: As it appeared in my head, it is possible to execute on the guitar: I changed nothing on this page. Though the non-open string zero axis on E in measures 20-33 is tricky, it is not overly difficult either.

On the last system of page two the counter exposition begins. Since the drone on the high E and the zero axis on B are open strings, this is not all that difficult to play. As I said, it's idiomatic guitar music organized around the open strings of the axe.

Though the true three-part answer section on the top system is not exactly easy, any descent virtuoso could play it. Yamashita could probably sight read it. So, here we are one hundred measures into the piece, and I've had to change exactly nothing from the pure, absolute music version that I wrote in my head.

Over one hundred thirty measures, and I still have had to change absolutely nothing. Since there's nothing to see here, let's move along (Unless you want to check out the fingering for yourself, of course).

You'll notice quarter rests in measures 143 and it's inversion at 155, but I knew these unisoni were going to be impossible to execute when I initially wrote the passages. I've made it through the exposition and counter-exposition with no problems: 165 measures... and counting.

Though the top system- the beginning of the development (This is a sonata process fugue, remember) - looks formidable, all of the open strings involved make it pretty easy to execute. Same with the middle system and the bottom system: The judicious use of open strings adds a lot of weight to a guitar texture. Why do you think Mr. Yamashita uses all of those scordaturas anyway?

OK, here I got a bit of a surprise, as I had to add the quarter rests to the top voice on the first system. I nearly made it two hundred measures with absolutely zero modifications from what I had imagined. Not bad for an old cowboy.

As you can see, I haven't removed all of the analysis markers from the book version yet, and I haven't changed the second header title yet either. Over thirty hours is a lot of work: You are bound to miss a few things.

Same deal here: The quarter rests in the top voice for the uppermost and bottom systemsare new. Part of the point of the compositional process I've developed is to get the most pure form of absolute music possible onto the guitar with the fewest possible compromises to the idiom. I want the music to be idiomatic, but I don't want the guitar to write it for me (As is the case with the majority of contemporary guitar composers out there today).

The half rests in the lead of the top system here also are new, but they are not really unexpected. Besides, if I can ever work this up to the tempo I want it at (Not likely), those rests will be entirely pedantic and not noticable at all.

In the fourth system there are dotted quarter rests, which I have had in the score since the beginning: I knew the B-flats would be problematic because they are not an open string.

Here in the recapitulation - on the upper two staves - we have the original contrapuntal combination that I came up with before I even started writing anything out. The only thing I had to change was to add the quarter rest in measure 306 (The rest in 305 was already there).

In measure 327 there is a new quarter rest in the bass, other than that, all is as it was.

Same passage/different mode: the rest in the bass at 357 is new.

Though I figured this out before I started fingering the piece, the reast in the bass at 387 is new from the last version I posted here.


So, there you have it. Out of 404 measures I had to slightly modify a handfull in order to make them technically correct with respect to exactly what the guitarist can actually execute. Other than those minor details, the piece is perfectly perfomable (Though it is beyond my abilities for certain).

I hope this puts an end to the infantile anonymous comments that come through about this, but somehow I doubt it. When people have a lot invested in being willfully ignorant, they will go to extreme lengths to mitigate against the cognitive dissonance that encounters with the truth will inevitably produce.


Now, I'm going to get back to nursing this cold I have.

I feel your pain, baby: I feel your pain.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Kazuhito Yamashita: Undeniably the Greatest Classical Guitarist Ever

When I say "undeniably" I mean that no rational person with any real understanding of the guitar can deny that Kazuhito Yamashita is the greatest classical guitarist... EVAR! Nonetheless, almost the entire classical guitar universe has been in denial since he exploded onto the scene circa 1984 and demolished stage after stage right on through to the early nineties.

Mr. Yamashita completely redefined what the traditional nylon stringed guitar was capable of by inventing entire classes of never-before-used techniques. These techniques most notoriously included multiple scordaturas-on-the-fly (Re-tuning strings multiple times in mid-performance to make impossible passages possible), and single-finger tremolos (Using both the contraction and extension strokes of a single finger to create tremolos). In addition to these seemingly impossible techniques, he also used extreme dynamic contrasts which had never before been heard.

Add to this his extensive use of the c finger (The right hand pinkie) and the fact that he had no "important" western teachers, and you have the entire recipe for why he alienated almost all of the unfathomably conservative classical guitar mainstream.

Austrailian guitarist Peter Inglis says, "[Kazuhito Yamashita's innovations] should have shaken up the world of guitar pedagogy, but this apparently didn't happen." Well, yes and no: Yes, the mainstream of classical guitar continued on it's well worn path to oblivion - like so many dinosaurs munching contentedly away while watching the afterglow of the asteroid impact in the distance - but no, insofar as those few who could see how Mr. Yamashita changed the entire order picked up his mantle and have marched on.

Kazuhito Yamashita is nothing less than a Nicolo Paganini or a Franz Liszt for the guitar. Just as it took a generation or so for the rest of the virtuoso violinists to catch up to Paganini and for virtuoso pianists in general to catch up with Liszt, it will take a while for other virtuoso guitarists to arise to the technical level of Mr. Yamashita. Due to the obscene amount of pig-headed inertia present in the classical guitar world, it may take a little longer in this instance.

So, "What gives?" you might ask, since it's been well over fifteen years since Mr. Yamashita published and performed his earthshattering transcriptions of Pictures at an Exhibition, Firebird, and New World Symphony. Well, things are progressing nicely, thank you very much: There is a young woman from Bulgaria, IIRC (A Google search turned up nothing for me, but I have encountered her name on the web before), who is now performing Mr. Yamashita's transcription of Pictures - I'm so glad that a woman was the first to do this! - so it's only a matter of time before the peer pressure motivates others to do the same.


UPDATE: Coincidentally (Or not) the woman I referenced anonymously above, Galina Vale, has invited me to join her MySpace circle of friends! My Memory sucks, as she was born in the Ukraine, and she is also ridiculously gorgeous!!!

I have made her the numero uno in my Top Friends group. Not that I'm looking for any special treatment or anything. ;^)

As you were...


Currently, the Segovia transcription of Bach's Chaconne is the sine qua non of the guitar repertoire for aspiring virtuosos, but in due time - inevitably... inexorably - that will be replaced by the transcriptions of Kazuhito Yamashita.

Today, Mr. Yamashita has other priorities beyond virtuoso guitar pyrotechnics, such as performing duets with his adorable daughter Koyumi, and promoting the music of eastern composers. Since his CD output is over sixty (!) now, the rich range of his legacy is assured, not that there was ever any doubt in my mind about that. And, somehow, I don't think he's going anywhere anytime soon: There will be more, since he's only forty-six!

You can read about the legendary Metanya Ophee's initial impression of Mr. Yamashita from 1984 here. This is the first part of the performance that Mr. Ophee witnessed:

And, you can read Mr. Ophee's fine defense of his now close friend Kazuhito Yamashita here. (Those links should take you to a cached pages, as the originals are sadly no longer on the internet).

Why am I creating this monster of a post in honor of Kazuhito Yamashita? Well, in 1989 I was a graduate student at Southwest Texas State University (Now simply Texas State University) and the GFA (Guitar Foundation of America) event that year was - almost unbelievably - in Lubbock, Texas. I attended, of course. On the program were such luminaries as Alice Artzt, Oscar Giglia, The LAGQ, and Stepan Rak... plus this diminutive little Japanese guy named Kazuhito Yamashita. I simply couldn't believe it. He played his transcription of the Dvorak New World Symphony and I was sitting about 25 feet from him watching every move and absorbing every nuance of the sound... with my jaw slackened to the point that it was resting on my chest. Watching him perform a single-finger, multiple-string tremolo with the i while simultaneously using the p to play a bass part, and the m/a in alternation for a melody, AND the c for even higher treble effects was... SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE TO BELIEVE!!! But, there it was, right in front of my very own eyes. Oh, and let us not forget about the constant series of scordatura re-tunings, shall we?

One thing I'll never forget was the dynamic range of the performance. The hall was a fairly crude college auditorium - far from the ideal acoustic environment - and I was sometimes tempted to cover my ears! I've never heard any other acoustic guitarist who was even in the same dynamic universe as the one Mr. Yamashita inhabits. On the other end of the spectrum, the pianissimos were so soft as to be nearly inaudable, but somehow there was never any danger of missing even a single note.

The tonal range was almost as striking as the dynamic range was: From perfect harp impersonations - achieved by playing glissandi with the right hand over the fingerboard - to raspy woodwind effects and nail-biting brass attacks, it was all there... the totality of Dvorak's orchestration, I mean.

After the performance ended, the silence was deafening. The absolutely, positively, mandatory standing ovation was made overwhelmingly conspicuous by the abjectitude of its absence. He just stood there, seemingly to demand the ovation he so richly deserved. Meanwhile, the audience - most of whom were guitarists - were scrambling to collect their wits. I know I was [Let me see here. I know I had at least some wits when I came in tonight]. What seemed to me to be the entire timeline of the universe elapsed (I'm sure it must have been only several seconds, but it sure seemed like forever), then a couple of us started to clap - I'm proud to say I was among that small group who started simultaneously - and it built up into a better screaming crescendo of a standing Oh-My-God! than I have ever been a part of before... or since (And remember, I've been to decades worth of rock concerts).

After the show, I encountered the usual string of what I call the "Lobby Critics." You know, the guys who can't play the guitar worth a damn, but who nonetheless think they are qualified to criticize every great guitarist who they hear perform... even the greatest, which Mr. Yamashita had just proven beyond all rational doubt that he was. Those idiots talk louder than their best guitar forte as well. Fortunately, I had no time for that nonesense, as I was invited to a get-together in Mr. Ophee's room with Alice Artzt, Stepan Rak... and Kazuhito Yamashita. There were as many people there as could fit into the room! Mr. Rak improvised a fugue - which totally blew me away - and Alice played some too (What amazingly smooth tone she gets - Like a female version of Parkening or something). Mr. Yamashita just sat back in a stuffed chair and looked exhausted. I tried not to stare. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to ask him for an autograph, which he happily gave me in the classic Japanese Kanji characters. If I recall correctly, I was the only one who even asked!

Being cursed with soft-as-paper nails, I have had to resort to other means, but you can see where the idea came from.

You need to use all five right hand fingers when you write solo guitar music with passages like this. It was looking at Mr. Yamashita's transcriptions - notated on multiple staves just like this - that gave me the inspiration.

I'll never be as fast or as furious as Kazuhito Yamashita, but the technical aspects of my style are wide open and include many things that mainstream classical guitarists wouldn't do on a dare.

Thank you, Mr. Yamashita.


For some reason, I thought an anime pinup girl would be apropos.