Guitarra MagazineGuitarra Magazine HomeGuitars of SpainGuitar HistoryGuitar CatalogGuitar MuseumGuitar Photo Gallery

Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer (b.1939) has written some of the most popular pieces of the 20th century guitar repertoire. The composer's output can be divided into three distinct creative periods. In the nationalism period, influenced by Cuban popular music, we have works like the Preludes and Fugues, the 'Piezas Sin Titulo' and others. The avant-guard period is influenced by atonalism. Pieces like 'La Espiral Eterna' and 'Canticum' are representative of this period. The world-music-like period, his current phase, is a mixture of everything he has done. 'El Decameron Negro' and his 'Sonata' are good examples of his latest pieces.

His Simple Studies for guitar are among his first works, influenced by Cuban Nationalism. They feature a very personal style of writing and cover a wide variety of musical textures, idioms and basic guitar techniques.

They have great pedagogical use for the beginner and the intermediate student, for they work with all the basics of guitar playing. They also serve as an introduction to contemporary music for students who are most likely playing studies by Carcassi, Sor, Carulli and Giuliani, which are representative of the classical period. The Brouwer Studies introduce different harmonic, rhythmic and melodic structures, for students who are used to playing tonal harmonies and square forms, in a way that connects the classical guitar tradition to the music of our day. Therefore, they fill a gap in the guitar repertoire, also being useful for concert performance.

Following, study notes are given for each study.

Study I introduces the series in a very rhythmic way. The texture is based on a melody on the bass strings and the accompaniment on the open strings. The syncopated melody is a little complex for the beginner student so it is important to understand the rhythm with the metronome. The use of the right hand and thumb to bring out the melody ('cantado el bajo' - singing the bass) and keeping the accompaniment in the background are the main goals of the study, along with the realization of the dynamic contrasts. The contrasts are musically essential to the study - without them it would sound boring - so the student should follow the dynamic marks exactly as they are written.

On the third and fourth lines of the score, there is a 'conversation' between the accompaniment and the bass melody. It is the time for the accompaniment to be accented equally to the bass melody.

It is important to know exactly where the high point of the piece is. In this study it is clearly in the end of the fourth line (fortissimo and marcatto marks), lending the energy to the next bar with the relaxation on the E and C#. It is appropriate to do a little 'ritardando' there while keeping the syncope and the 'decrescendo' and 'crescendo' on the relaxation that follows.

The piece also works with the alternation of 'p' and 'i-m' and the positioning of 'i-m' on different strings (for the different open string accompaniments).

It is important to note the distinction between the C and C# in the repetition of the first and last sections. They may sound a little weird at first but it makes sense once you get to the relaxation with the accents on the C# (fifth line).

The form is a clear |A|B|A| and the piece is concluded simply, doing the 'rallentando' and the 'decrescendo' ('morendo' - dying).

One minute is the approximate time of the piece, suggesting a moderately fast tempo. The student should always practice in different tempos to have a better understanding of the piece.

Study II is a very slow 'Coral' (choir). This is a four-voice harmony. Therefore, the challenge here is the balance of voices. The student should practice each voice individually to be able to listen to all voices together when performing.

The articulation is very important here. The legato sound is essential. It is going to be obtained by the precise movements of the left and right hands. The shifts should be practiced slowly for the development of the left-hand finger independence. It is important to practice the vertical notes being played simultaneously. It is very idiomatic for the guitar to roll the notes and it is musical to do that but not in throughout the entire piece. The student should be able to play all the notes at the same time as well as roll them - always for interpretative reasons.

The rhythm is, like Study I, syncopated, but in a much slower tempo. The student should pay attention to the rests (as in the second measure). They define the pick-ups to the next measures. Also, the basses are supposed to last the entire measure throughout the piece.

The fingerings as well as the tempo and dynamic marks should be followed exactly as the composer wrote them. The high point of the piece (the accents on the first and second measures of the second line) should be emphasized.

This is also a good study to practice the vibrato. It perfectly suits the slow tempo and helps the 'legato'. The approximate duration of two minutes indicates how slow Brouwer wants it to be.

This study is about the fast coordination of 'p-m-i', one of the most common and useful right-hand formulas for guitar playing. The thumb plays the legato bass lines and 'm-i' play the fast answer notes. The 12/8 time signature has the subdivision in three that is very appropriate to the 'p-m-i' formula.

Again, the finger independence of the left hand is worked here. Brouwer uses the same left-hand patterns to build this study.

Slow practice is highly recommended to help the coordination between right and left hands. Students should increase speed (around 10 bpm a day) to see how fast can they coordinate the exercise.

As in the other studies, the composer's marks should be respected here.

Study IV is very similar in texture to the first one, so most of the study notes of Study I apply to Study IV. The differences are the time signatures, harmonic variety and the slower tempo.

Here we have a 5/4 time signature (2 + 3), that is quite unusual for a beginner's piece. The accompaniment moves a lot more than in Study I, mostly in the upbeats here.

On the third line, the upbeat figures change faster than before. This passage should be practiced slowly, following the exact fingerings.

The high point and also transition to the repetition of the A section (end of fifth line) should be emphasized.

Like all the previous studies, this one is concluded by getting quieter until silent.

Legato and vibrato should be exercised in the entire study. Besides being rhythmic, this is a very lyrical study.

Number V is like a song accompaniment with some different chords and rhythms. It starts with a C chord moving to unpredictable harmonies. The use of the bass on the second subdivision of the beat and the repeated notes create a different groove.

It is the first one in the series to work systematically with the 'a' finger. The 'p-i-a-m' and 'p-m-i' patterns are used but always in a syncopated rhythm. The metronome should help in understanding the rhythms and making the syncope clear.

On the third line, on the modulation and transition to the B section, the crescendo should be clear in order to stress the new tonal (modal) center Eb.

In the transition to the repetition of A, the finger substitution should make the passage easier.

In the conclusion, the accents on the minor second should be noticed; it is a very dissonant interval that is emphasized two times here. Also in the conclusion, the articulation of the syncope should be clear even though the tempo is slowing down.

Similarly to Villa-Lobos's Study I, Brouwer's VI is a right hand formula study. It is based on the 'a-m-i' and 'p-a-m-i' movements and the placement of 'a' on the first and second strings. Speed, balance and steadiness should be the goals here.

The harmony is based on a beautiful chord progression centered in A. It starts in A Lydian, moves to A Dorian, A Aeolian, then to a dominant region and finishes in A major. The shifts can be tricky so the student should practice them slowly, making sure to prepare the first notes on the right hand first, taking time to get the rest of the notes in their due time.

On the last two lines of the score, the time signature and the right hand formula change. The shift to the 10th position of the left hand has to be done carefully, making sure to mute the E string when playing the A on the first measure of the second to last line of the score. Otherwise, the E will ring over the A making the resolution unclear.

This is the only study where the composer didn't specify any dynamic or tempo markings. It is a very free study, so the student should be encouraged to experiment. Brouwer also suggests trying different right-hand formulas over the same chord progression.

The indication on the beginning of this study shows that it is going to be something unusual. It says Lo mas rapido posible, (As fast as possible). This is the funniest sounding of the studies. But that doesn't mean it is going to be easy; the technical aspects are quite challenging.

The fast coordination between the slurs on the left-hand and the plucked notes on the right, along with the sudden dynamic contrasts are the main objectives.

On the first line, the student should be careful to mute the first four notes (right hand thumb) before placing finger 1 on the D and making the slurs to the F. The rest that follows has a very important musical value, so it is important to do it accurately.

The contrast between the short accented fortissimo note on the E bass string and the long pianissimo major seventh interval on the trebles should be clear. The muting of the E bass can be done with the right hand thumb.

The left hand '4-1' and '1-2, 2-3, 3-4' slurs are worked here. Students should practice in different tempos to obtain balance between the two hands.

Study VIII starts with an early music feel. It is divided into two distinct sections. The first one is an imitative two-voice counterpoint. The distinction between the voices should be clear and the sound legatissimo. The student should play a little accent on the tied notes to make the syncope clearer. This is the slow section.

Next, we have a faster (piu mosso) section. The texture is totally different but the theme, played on the bass strings here, is the same as the slow section.

The objective is to control fast 'p-i-m' and accents with the 'a' finger with the right-hand. On the left-hand, there is a constant note (A#) that works as a pivot to all the movements around it.

In the end of this section, the transition to the repeat of the slow section is done by 'rallentando' and 'decrescendo'.

In the conclusion, there is a fermata on the last notes. After the decrescendo, the student should make sure to let notes ring until they die completely.

IX is a fun study that resembles a country music guitarist or banjo player. The technical goal is to control the slurs on the left hand and to mute the bass notes when it is necessary.

The slurs have to be clear but these are note melodic slurs. They are rhythmic slurs. That is, they don't have to be as stressed as a slur on a 'cantabile' line; they can be done faster.

The study is clearly divided into three small sections. The form is A B C, but there are elements of A in all sections. The slurs on the B section (third line of the score) have a different character. They are more like melodic (cantabile) slurs.

The high point of the piece can be considered the D # on the sixth line of the score. It should be stressed because it is a surprise element in the harmonic structure of the study.

The ending is also surprising. It is the first time in the series of studies that Brouwer ends with forte accents.

The approximate time suggests a moderately fast tempo.

Study X is a fast rhythmic piece that works with finger independence of the left-hand, dynamic contrasts, slurs and right-hand 'a-m-i' formula.

On the first line of the score, we have accented syncopated chords that should be played staccato. The rhythm here is quiet-unusual, so it should be learned with the metronome to make the downbeats clear in the student's mind.

There are three left-hand patterns used by the composer: '4-3-2-1' , '1-2-3-4' and '1-3-2-4'. They are done on different strings with the following slurs: '1-2' ,

'0-1', '3-4' and '2-4'. That means the student should be able to coordinate plucked notes and slurs and a variety of combinations.

The dynamic contrasts are very important to the music. As in most of the studies, they are essential. It is important to observe that most of the phrases start on the upbeats. The comprehension of the rhythm is also fundamental for the realization of the study.

The tempo is not determined but the approximate time suggests, like in Study IX, a fast tempo.

Tucson, AZ - May, 2003

Glossary of Musical Terms

-Syncopated Rhythm: Notes are attacked after the down-beats and are tied to the next note, common in Brazilian and Latin rhythms.
-Dynamics: Related to volume, how loud or soft the sounds are played.
-Marcatto: Accented, marked.
-Ritardando: Slowing down the tempo
-Accelerando: Speeding up the tempo
-Crescendo: Getting louder
-Decrescendo: Getting quieter
-Rallentando: Same as ritardando
-Articulation: The way notes are played (e.g. accented, slured, pizzicato, etc)
-Legato: No gap between the notes of a melodic line. Notes last until the moment the next one comes.
-Staccato: Gaps between the notes of a melodic line. Very short notes.
-Fermata: the notes with a fermata can last for as long as you want.
-Cantabile: Singing like