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 â€œSonatas and Partitas for Violinâ€. 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. Thatâ€™s exactly what David Beckerâ€™s new collection of 25 short â€œetudesâ€ does for modern guitarists in in a contemporary jazz genre with â€œEtudes You Can Useâ€.
Becker uses a lot of what I call â€œBach spread voicingsâ€ 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 â€œetudeâ€ actually means study, and many donâ€™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 â€œmusical situationsâ€ in each etude, and I am pretty sure I hear the famous jazz standard â€œAll The Things You Areâ€ 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 â€œhorizontallyâ€ – meaning up and downâ€ 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 Musicianâ€™s Institute we had a class called â€œGuitarmanshipâ€ with guitar legend Jimmy Wyble that was devoted to very simply â€œhow to make things sound great on the guitarâ€. Lots of people blew it off because it wasnâ€™t about fast licks etc, but it showed me a LOT about how to make each note last as long as possible (or â€œlegatoâ€), and these etudes are perfect for that. If I could point to one single thing that has made me â€œvery employableâ€ for both recording and live music work, itâ€™s probably that one ability, and thatâ€™s just what you can learn with these etudes.
I donâ€™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.
Itâ€™s hard to find really melodic and memorable solo guitar pieces that are both fun to learn and sound great these days, but thatâ€™s what youâ€™ll get here. Iâ€™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 Beckerâ€™s â€œEtudes You Can Useâ€ 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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