Frets, May 1986

Fingerstyle Finds Its Heart

At The Milwaukee Fingerstyle Guitar Festival Top Pros Agree:  Emotion is the Key

by Rick Gartner
Page 2

In terms of technique, what style of guitar playing attracts you most?

I'd really like to put to work those well-established classical guitar principles; incorporate them more into what I do.  Classical players seem to be able to put more life and feeling into the notes, and that's what I'm after.  Feeling is what it's all about.   Also, I'd like to get to the point where I'd be able to lay several voices in a tune, and actually be ware of each one as I play, but always keep the total sound in mind.  I'd like to get beyond alternating bass.  I'm not saying that all my tunes are trapped in the alternating-bass thing, or that I'm unhappy with the stuff I've written up to this point.  I just want to be able to get more out of the guitar.

You've been talking abut right-hand techniques.  What about the left hand -- are you working on that as well?

Yeah, there's so much you can add with a strong left hand.  Here again, the classical players have it.  Their fingers are up over the strings, not squashed down.  If there's one thing that really drives me nuts when I listen to other players, it's that dryness you get when your left hand isn't able to do its job.  If you don't add some life with vibrato and a few decorations, the music really suffers.  And of course the left hand has a lot of the responsibility for legato, too.

What are some other things you do to add feeling to your music?

In some situations, I play around with time.  It's touchy, but in a 3/4 tune, sometimes I'll lag the third beat -- just enough to build up a little anticipation.  Also, I like to keep some air in a composition.  By that I mean you don't have to fill up every beat with notes.

You like to use variations in texture?

Right.  And sometimes I do that by sort of crossing over with my right hand.  In other words, I'll bring my thumb up into the high end, where I'd normally be using one of my other fingers, and vice-versa.  That's one way to avoid the alternating bass trap, and also a way to get a different sound out on a particular melody note.

What about dynamics, in general terms?

One thing I'd say is that you need to know the top and the bottom, or the hot and the cold of your dynamic range.  You should spend almost no time at either extreme; the edges are just for special emphasis.  You should be moving from the middle out towards the edges, so to speak.  That way, the sound stays much more "floaty" and it breathes better.  How's that for a profound generalization?

Not bad.  Does your study include reading exercises, as well as the the materials you mentioned?

Yeah, and I've found that [19th century composer/guitarist] Giuliani is the best guy for reading exercises.  He wrote a lot of really short pieces that are easy enough to work through.  He can get awfully boring, but his exercises are a good way to get familiar with the guts of the musical staff.

I suppose that working on the long-awaited book of your tunes has been an experience, too.  [Leo Kottke -- Eight Songs, Hal Leonard Publications, Box 131819, Milwaukee, WI 53215.]

That's been illuminating.  It seems that there's less agreement on how guitar music should be notated than there is on music for any other instrument.  There are a lot of choices to be made.  John Stropes [1985 Fingerstyle Festival Coordinator] has been doing the notation for the book, it couldn't have happened without him.  What you find when you try to write your stuff down is that there are at least two ways to write it.  The problems usually seem to be centered on whether you want to be exact on paper, or more readable on paper.  One thing that kept coming up had to do with note values.  We had to decide whether to write it in 2/4 with sixteenth notes or in 4/4 with eighth notes.  What we decided to do was use the larger note values.  We're accommodating the reader, not the metronome.

I haven't seen you play a 12-string guitar here, yet.

I'm having an argument with the 12-string.  For years, the 12-string was my only point of view, and the only thing I wanted to hear.  But I've gotten increasingly angry with it.  Mostly it's sound problems I've had on stage.  Also, as I told you, I've given up using fingerpicks; but they really seem to be necessary on the 12-string.  That tends to mess me up.  I've started working with Taylor guitars.  I want them to build me a 12-string I can play without picks, one that isn't over-braced like most 12-strings are.

But all in all, you're pretty happy with the way things are going?

Oh yeah, I'm sure that the more I learn the more I'll be able to make out of whatever inspiration I get.  I'll go twice as far with half as much.  I just want to be a better player, and I see it starting to take shape. [The End]

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