Magazine article Guitar Player

Contrapuntal Considerations

Magazine article Guitar Player

Contrapuntal Considerations

Article excerpt

Guitarists often assume that getting their fingers on the right frets is what playing is all about. But while fingering notes can be demanding, it's only the first hurdle, a prerequisite to real music-making.

Mentally separating contrapuntal lines results in a clearer understanding of their character and direction and helps you grasp a composer's thought processes and the piece as a whole. What's the best way to approach this? It certainly helps to visualize the parts. Standard notation can be an aid in this regard, but it's not essential and is rarely sufficient by itself. Thinking in intervallic terms is often more helpful than trying to memorize whole sections of notation. So this mental process can involve a combination of aural and visual images, which may include fret-board positions for more abstract combinations of shapes and even colors.

Visualizing parts needn't be confined to contrapuntal music; it can be used for all types. A seemingly straightforward pattern can often be broken down into a number of distinct strands. To see how this works, let's look at the different ways a passage can be visualized for improved performance.

Notice Ex. 1's main harmonic components: Am7-Em7/G-D7/F#-E. While guitarists tend to think in terms of chords, in reality these don't usually appear as block shapes. Ex. 1's foundation is the descending bass line (notice how using F# instead of F# produces a Dorian character). Here the predominant interval is the fourth - A down to E. This tonic-to-dominant relationship provides the first self-contained visual image.

Now look at the melody's overall shape. The top line descends, but it's staggered relative to the bass line and goes from G on the first string through E, D, C, and A, to G# on the third string. This gives us another visual image: a major seventh interval suggested by the G#-G relationship. …

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