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Strength and Accuracy for the Guitarist

Your Weekly Dexterity and Stamina Exercise

Updated March 24, 2005

Drop D Tuning

Let's look at this rationally. The guitar does not have the range of the piano -- or the lute. There have been attempts to extend the range of the guitar that run from adding an outrigged harp (like Gibson did at the turn of the Twentieth Century) or by adding additional courses (like Yepes had done in the late 1960's with his ten string guitar.) I am not sure whether extra courses or outrigged harp appendages are the answer for extending the guitar's range. The lute was probably the most popular instrument on the planet when it had oh, fifteen strings. As builders produced instruments more outlandish in appearance and even more outlandishly hard to tune, play and maintain, the lute went right into the closet next to the golf clubs (used once) and tennis racket (a gift from Aunt Tilly, never used -- the tennis racket too!) It's age had come and gone due to its rating: CUMBERSOME. Who wants to see the guitar go the same way? Not I. My closets are not that big.

The most simple method to add a bit of range (and admittedly only a tiny bit of range) is to retune the sixth string E to the D one whole step below. Yeah, it isn't a big difference, but it makes pieces like the Bach Chaconne in d minor and First 'Cello Suite (as transcribed) much more interesting and easier to play effectively.

As you could probably assume, the first drop d tuning pieces I ever played were transcriptions of lute pieces by Albert Valdes Blain. I mean the transcriptions were by him, not the lute tunes -- he wasn't that old. In his book 700 Years of Music for the Classical Guitar, and if you can find a copy, grab it, there are six anonymous lute pieces. Taken together, they make an attractive early music selection for the student-recitalist to use in a short program. They aren't show-stoppers, but have a unique charm that makes a first-time foray into a new tuning a pleasant experience. The book has been out of print for years, but was published by Charles Hansen back in the late 1960's. I wish someone would reissue it.

Let's talk about that D tuning first. The nylon strings on your classical guitar are an annoying thing to deal with. By the time (apparently) they are stretched in, they are in need of replacement. They never seem to stay up to pitch -- unless you are drop tuning a string, then it keeps creeping sharp. The secret to drop d tuning -- especially in the midst of a program -- is to tune it slightly flat,. tug the string a few times (but not too furiously), then bring it almost up to pitch. Find a place in the piece where you can quickly twist a tuning machine if necessary because that D will start to creep back up. It is the curse of nylon -- it has a great tension-memory and will always attempt to get back to where it once was!

Okay, you've gotten that E string to want to be a D string. Now you'll have to rethink your reading skills. F? It ain't on the first fret anymore, bucko.

In the lute piece Number 1 the first thing you notice is something you've never seen as a guitar player before -- unless you've already played in drop D tuning, that is. It's a whole new way of thinking because not only is every written pitch on the sixth string now played two frets higher (a whole step) but it forces the player to 'set up' for notes on the other strings differently as well.

I can't offer any other suggestions to make your transition into the world of alternate tuning any easier -- just feel blessed that these pieces don't also have the G string dropped to an F# as well. Many lute transcriptions include this alternate tuning as well! Sight-reading pieces in alternate tunings will force you to become a better reader. You will have to think more clearly and consistently and this is always a good thing. Enjoy these cute little gems and think a kind thought about the late Albert Blain!

Please buy this book if you ever spot a copy -- you will not be unhappy!

700 Years of Music for the Classical Guitar by Albert Valdes Blain

  LOW END  By Harry George Pellegrin.  The first in the Gary Morrissey series of mysteries.  Dealing with modern subject matter in the classic style of the 1940's Mystery Noire masters--think Raymond Chandler in New York in the 1980's...  LOW END is the story of a drug addict who is murdered after he believes he has found evidence of a major government conspiracy.  Is it only drug-induced paranoia?  Might be, except his paranoia could be considered justified: he was murdered, after all.  Friend Gary Morrissey takes it upon himself to find out just what happened and lands himself in the crosshairs.
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Classic Guitar Method  Composed, written, transcribed, edited and arranged by Harry G. Pellegrin: Now in one volume, much of what the novice classical guitarist will need to know to lead him or her to the recital stage. From proper instrument care and maintenance to the necessary technical skills, musical mind-set, and the standard repertoire—all exposed and explored with enough detail and insight that the student will wish to keep this book handy years to come as a ready reference source.
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DEEP END: The Wreck of the Eddie Fitz  By Harry George Pellegrin. A mystery novel. Involving a semi-professional musician and a Kreyol death cult, DEEP END takes the reader from the bottom of Long Island Sound to the steamy streets and Blues clubs of New Orleans. Alternative spirituality does battle with the common working man.  Published by PAB Entertainment Group in association with LULU.com.
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Reflecting Pools    Original Music by Harry G. Pellegrin:
Reflecting Pools is a departure for me as it is totally keyboard. Well, the guitar did show up on one track...

"...Reflecting Pools is a notable first album [for Mr. Pellegrin]. A dramatic sense of tonality and mood are propelled by exemplary musicianship and exciting compositional exploits."

Available through www.BATHTUBMUSIC.com...

...And containing nine tracks that are relaxing, inspirational -- sounds like a snooze. Not really, this is great stuff to listen to on a rainy afternoon, while with your significant other (nudge, nudge, know what I mean?) Please visit the Reflecting Pools page on this site or www.bathtubmusic.com.

In That Zone, is now out! Please visit www.bathtubmusic.com for details and to order.

See the info page on this site...

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Deep End is the exciting sequel to the first Gary Morrissey novel Low End. Spanning the gap between Haiti, New York and New Orleans, Deep End is an exciting tale of smuggling, rock n' roll, love and murder.

 
 


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