Basics of Guitar Composition

logoThe guitar is obviously a very popular instrument, the creative applications of which go well beyond the folk/pop idiom.  Here are some general principles and notions for composers who would like to write for the guitar but don’t have much experience with the instrument.

-notes sound an octave lower than they are written

-the left hand can usually stretch the span of four frets (one finger per fret) and can extend to six frets if needed

-barre – the first finger holds down some or all strings at a particular fret

-left hand:  pinky – 4, ring – 3, middle – 2, index – 1

-right hand:  thumb – p, index – i, middle – m, ring – a, pinky – u

-Roman numerals indicate the fret at which the first finger of the left hand is placed

-ff dynamic somewhat questionable

-guitar notes decay rapidly; will be masked easily in thick passages

-long notes are more easily obtained on the lower strings

-very quick notes are easily obtained; repeating notes depend on the skill of the player; 16th notes at qtr=132 are safe

-the right hand determines the loudness and timbre of the guitar’s tone, but through articulation, the guitar’s version of the violin’s bowing techniques, the left hand also controls much of the musical expression

-guitarists can play several notes on a single pluck

-string choice can be composer-determined to control subtle shades of timbre

-string choice can also be used for a klangfarben effect (i.e., same note, different fingerings for shades of timbre)

-where to pluck the string can also be determined (ponticello, tasto, etc.)

-what to pluck with can also be determined

-arco with bass bow is possible; can only use the first or sixth strings alone or all of them at once

-most standard string techniques (vibrato, scordatura, glissando, multiphonics, etc.) can be produced on the guitar

-two kinds of percussive techniques:  striking the strings (tambura) and striking the wood (golpe)

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