When I was a young guitar student at Berklee, one of the best things I did for my sight reading and understanding of how to put harmony on the guitar was to work through the famous Bach “Sonatas and Partitas for Violin”. The fact that it was written for a stringed instrument tuned differently from the guitar made me have to work with fingerings that many guitarists never get to in their lifetimes, and taught me tons about harmonic analysis. That’s exactly what David Becker’s new collection of 25 short “etudes” does for modern guitarists in in a contemporary jazz genre with “Etudes You Can Use”.
Becker uses a lot of what I call “Bach spread voicings” to create his etudes, which are wide dispersion arpeggios in 5th and 6th intervals which he uses the top lines to create melodic flow with. Each etude is based on certain harmonic concepts that he describes in their names, which helps a lot to understand the ideas behind them, and understanding others harmonic ideas it the key to creating your own.
The term “etude” actually means study, and many don’t know that quite a lot of the existing classical guitar pieces that are still played today were written by the great guitarists of the day for their students to teach them how to deal with various musical situations within a pleasing musical composition. David has used lots of differing “musical situations” in each etude, and I am pretty sure I hear the famous jazz standard “All The Things You Are” in Etude IX.
This is the kind of thing that you can hear in guitarists like Pat Metheny and will show you how to play over the guitar neck “horizontally” – meaning up and down” instead of just across the neck in position, as the great guitarist educator Mick Goodrick has talked about so often in his books. To prepare you to wrap your head around the concepts, he begins with a short listing of the various fingerings that are common to each etude, and I really recommend that guitarists spend some time on that section repeating each one until they are comfortable in both your hands and your head before moving on to the etudes themselves.
When I was a student at Musician’s Institute we had a class called “Guitarmanship” with guitar legend Jimmy Wyble that was devoted to very simply “how to make things sound great on the guitar”. Lots of people blew it off because it wasn’t about fast licks etc, but it showed me a LOT about how to make each note last as long as possible (or “legato”), and these etudes are perfect for that. If I could point to one single thing that has made me “very employable” for both recording and live music work, it’s probably that one ability, and that’s just what you can learn with these etudes.
I don’t know if I really have any particular favorites here, but I like the ones that go around the cycle of 5ths/4ths and in certain intervals a lot. I also really recommend to people that they analyze the chordal harmony that the etudes create to get the most out of this great book and teach themselves how to create etudes of their own.
It’s hard to find really melodic and memorable solo guitar pieces that are both fun to learn and sound great these days, but that’s what you’ll get here. I’m planning on adding this as an alternative to the Bach pieces that I sometimes use in teaching students these subjects and giving them something that they can feel proud to perform for others.
So, in short I really recommend David Becker’s “Etudes You Can Use” to both students and pros alike – you will definitely be about to use them from teaching and learning material and performance.
March 30, 2021
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