It’s July 4th, Independence Day here in the United States, and a historic time where the largest group of people to ever assemble in the history of the world are in Egypt to attempt to have a hand in their own freedoms. It made me think about one of the things that can give us freedom and independence from the patterns (or “ruts”, as my old guitarist friend Steve Freeman used to call them) that we can get locked into as guitarists. One of the best ways that I have found to keep yourself growing as a musician and guitarist is to have a constant influx of new material into your playing, and while it’s great to learn things for other guitarists, one of the best things that I have found to practice is music written for other instruments.
Over the years I have – like many of you – learned Charlie Parker be-bop solos and saxophone “heads” etc., but one of the best things that I have ever done for my playing is to work on Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Violin. The great thing about this music is that while it is very arpeggio oriented, and it teaches you great ways put those on the guitar that are not the way that everybody teaches across the neck. But besides this, the violin being tuned in 5ths gives it different open strings, and as such there are things that are very challenging in it for a guitarist in it that would be easy for a violinist.
The main reason that this is great for a guitarist is that really one of the most important things that we can learn to do is to figure out the easiest – which usually also means the best sounding – way to get something on our instrument. When the notes to play are predetermined for us and we can’t “just play something easier”, we HAVE to find a way that is playable to do it. I have literally developed all kinds of moves on the guitar that I would have never thought of if Bach hadn’t shown them to me. Sure, lots of guys play Bach on the guitar, but I am largely talking about single note pick style guitar stuff here, not stuff that has been arranged for classical guitar – although I have done that as well and it’s fantastic, but it didn’t grow me as much as the single note partitas and sonatas did.
One of the main things that I am into in this book now is really getting so I can play the Partita III in E (BWV 1006) in a really musical way where as many times as I can, I get three to four 2nds to ring against each other. For example, playing an ascending E scale from B to E playing the B open, the C# on the 4th string while also holding the D# on the 3rd string, and then the E open again. This is a very common bluegrass type way to play an E scale that guys like Tommy Emmanuel do so well, but I can assure you that there are LOTS of things like this that you will figure out to play if you try to do that a lot in Bach’s Partita III.
Besides that, the Partitas are a great way to work on speed and endurance, just because that is what happens naturally whenever you work out one specific way to play a piece and sit with a metronome and regularly play it again the same way. How often do I do this? Well, like all of us, the honest answer is “not enough”, but at least a couple of times a week. Over the couple of decades that I have owned this book I am sure I’ve played everything in it once or twice and many of them close to a hundred times. And I won’t even start on what this will do for your sight reading and ability to recognize scale passages and chordal ideas on paper.
So, those were just my thoughts when I woke up this 4th of July, time to get ready for a gig and then a beach BBQ with the Martin flat top 😉
Los Angeles, CA