Contrapuntal Etudes for Jazz Guitar, Vol. 1, by Hristo Vitchev

One of the common ways for master musicians to both grow their own abilities as well as teach their students is to write etudes – which is actually Spanish for “study” – to challenge their playing and understanding of music overall. Master jazz guitarist Hristo Vitchev has done just this in his new Contrapuntal Etudes for Jazz Guitar, Vol. 1, which provides very needed literature to high intermediate to advanced level jazz guitarists.

He does so exactly the time honored way that all jazz musicians hone their craft: on a series of studies based on the most commonly played standards in jazz. To do this he has selected a list of tunes that have been traditionally been selected by jazz educators for their students because of their particular unique set of harmonic situations, so as to help them deal with almost any other kind of chord progression they will encounter in the future. “All the Things You Are” is a favorite by almost all jazz musicians just because of the interesting way it twists and turns it’s way into (mostly) four different key centers, and this opens his collection here.

One thing to note for any guitarist starting in on Vitchev’s challenging collection of studies is that even if your standard notation reading is very good, you definitely need to look at the accompanying tablature staff to show you the correct fingering. Yes, you can play them however you want to, but you won’t get the same sound with the held sustained notes Hristo has in mind unless you finger them as he has notated in the tab staff. The stretches required here are considerable sometimes, and for anyone unused to them, they should work on these with care. I recommend warming up with stretches to the fingers and doing the same kind of multiple short practice sessions that any other kind of athlete would do starting any new muscle work out. Guitarists are athletes just like any other, they just use very small muscles for what they do.

But the reward for getting the stretches together here are considerable sonically as well as in teaching counterpoint to the modern jazz guitarist, and area of study that is usually designated to the keyboard player or large ensemble arranger. Etude #2, based on “Autumn Leaves”, is a great example of this, with it’s single notes positioned on the downbeats accompaniment to the top lines giving a sort of modern harmony ragtime-esque effect.

Etude #3 is based on the classic jazz waltz “Someday My Prince Will Come”, with the counterpoint and melody lines constantly changing rhythmic roles on what they are doing in the measures. As far as from a musicality perspective, “My Prince” is my personal favorite piece here. “On Green Dolphin Street” is the subject of Etude #4, and here the counterpoint is very much of a sort of low bass groove, with the melody was towards the top of the guitar a lot.

The chromatic approach notes of “How Insensitive” (Etude #5) make it one of my favorites here, and will do a lot to show guitarists a modern harmonic approach to make a standard tune sound more “exotic”. Here Vitchev gets some particularly nice second intervals between the melody and counterpoint lines, making this a great one to expand someones harmonic understanding as well as physical guitar technique.

Hristo’s list really wouldn’t be complete without the most famous “men from the boys division tune” of all time, “Giant Steps”, which is the subject of Etude #6. Let’s just say that if you’re looking for a way to impress your other jazz guitar friends, this would be it.

Etude #7 is “Stella By Starlight”, another “must know” jazz standard. This one is definitely challenging in the stretch department with LOTS of long sustained notes with LOTS MORE activity in the counterpoint line, but it’s still very musical in it’s effect and not at all just to show how far you can stretch on the fingerboard. Etude #8 is devoted to “Autumn In New York”, and closes the collection here.

In creating Contrapuntal Etudes for Jazz Guitar, Vol. 1, Hristo Vitchev has put together a set of very “stretching” studies for jazz guitarists on the level of Jimmy Wyble’s “Art of Two-Line Improvisation” or the 60s classic “The Johnny Smith Approach to the Guitar”, and very few jazz guitar educators can lay claim to that.

You can here Vitchev play Contrapuntal Etudes for Jazz Guitar, Vol. 1 at his YouTube Channel here:, and you can purchase a copy of the Etudes directly from him via email for $25, sent via PayPal:

But Hristo Vitchev is quite a bit more than an educator though, with many great CDs under his belt with his quartet, who tour all over the world regularly. Check out his entire catalog of recorded music here:

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Doug Perkins,
Nov 11, 2019