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  • Introduction
  • Chapter A
  • Chapter B
  • Chapter C

  • Introduction

    This is the first of a series of three articles.

    These articles are designed to be used in conjunction with the accepted classical guitar scale fingerings used for the examination requirements of most North American and European music schools, and to further the guitarist's understanding of the guitar fingerboard and the immense number of fingering permutations available for a given idiom. Choice of fingering will be seen to have a profound effect upon the interpretive presentation of a musical idea through the alteration of timbre (caused by string selection) and phrasing by means of shift selection.

    The permutations in the grids are best approached GUITAR IN HAND in order to understand them best. They appear quite complicated at first but become easy to understand when attempted once or twice. To demonstrate them for oneself in this way is probably the best way to absorb them. PLAYING WHILE LEARNING is also the best way to incorporate mechanical finger patterns into the neuro-muscular memory as soon as possible (provided that the student practices slowly and correctly). I have avoided using picture diagrams or "boxes" in these articles as these diagrams only serve to separate the student's knowledge of the notes and their names from their positions all over the fingerboard. With the grid system used here, the student should be constantly referring to the scored scale above and, as a result, must absorb the notation AND the note's position on the fingerboard simultaneously.

    The jazz or session guitarist of today is expected to improvise freely in all keys and also be able to read fluently all over the neck. With these articles I hope to equip the classical player with some of the tools of the jazz guitarist, which can help bridge the unfortunate gap between styles and allow anyone studying this work to gain better understanding of their instrument and the music played upon it.


    All scales in the intermediate and advanced grades of most examination requirements for classical guitar can be considered as mobile fingering forms that can be performed at any position on the neck, thereby changing in key without altering in mechanical presentation. For the following articles these forms are best understood as follows;

    2 Octave Major Scale commencing on String 5 or String 6

    Chapter A & B

    2 Octave Harmonic Minor Scale commencing on String 5 or String 6

    Chapter C & D

    2 Octave Melodic Minor Scale commencing on String 5 or String 6

    Chapter E & F

    3 Octave Major Scale

    Chapter G

    3 Octave Harmonic Minor Scale

    Chapter H

    3 Octave Melodic Minor Scale

    Chapter I

    These nine chapter designations have of course NOTHING to do with the key names and are simply a way of listing them for the convenience of giving each permutation some sort of a designation that is logical within the framework of the article.

    This article, the first of a three part series, deals with Chapters A, B and C only.

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    Figure 1

    I have utilised a reference system of letters (alphabetically indicating the scale forms as ordered in this work) and numbers (indicating the shift string) to give the student easy reference to the various forms. e.g. A4 refers to the 2 Octave major scale form commencing on String 5 and shifting on string 4.

    Systematically transplanting the shift develops the above form as follows;

    Figure 2

    A1 has an auxiliary shift on string 2, which I have designated by ii as shown here after the A1 scale code. This will distinguish it from another form to be seen later in the article.

    Below shift on String 2

    Figure 3

    A2ii also has an auxiliary shift on string 2. Hence the ii after the regular scale code.

    Figure 4

    Figure 5.a

    Figure 5.b

    To use this form in all major keys, simply begin the scale from the relevant keynote and position.

    B major Position I, C major Position II, C# major Position III, D major Position IV, Eb major Position V, E major Position VI, F major Position VII, F# major Position VIII.

    All of the permutations are constantly applicable irrespective of key.

    Here is a passage from Sylvius Leopold Weiss' Allemande from Suite 13 (British Museum collection) with which we shall explore some uses of the previous scale developments.

    Figure 6

    We need a fingering to execute the slurs well and then comfortably reach the C major chord at Position VIII, while best exploiting the rhythmic stresses of the passage.

    Figure 7

    A2 seems to deal effectively with the slurs. If one's policy is to reach the C chord more easily, A3b works very well, especially if the note previous to the chord is pre-barred. This is the least complex of all these fingerings as it only involves one shift. Perhaps the best fingering policy is to adopt the A2 auxiliary form, which conveniently allows the correct slurring and also accentuates the rhythmic stresses by shifting to the fifth position on the fourth beat of the measure.

    The tonal differences in these two forms are worth noting, as this factor may affect your decision to use either fingering. Both forms begin in the same way, but A2 develops a brighter timbre sooner than A3b because of the former's earlier access to the 2nd string.

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    Chapter B
    The 2 Octave Major Scale Form commencing on String 6

    This Scale form is normally performed with no shift at all as follows.

    Figure 8

    Here are the opening nine bars of Sonata (Kirkpatrick 79) (Longo 80) by Domenico Scarlatti.

    Figure 9.b

    The scale passage in Bars 3 and 4 is sequentially echoed at the octave in Bars 6 and 7and extended in Bar 9. One of the limitations in fingering these last three bars is caused by the contrapuntal nature of the texture in this area. There is another voice in the treble, which must also be given a considered fingering.

    The B fingering begins brightly on String 1 with string crossings at Bar 3, beat & of 2, and & of 3, which is in part echoed by the imitation at Bar 7, which has its crossing (in the imitative bass) at beat & of 2, 3 and & of 3. Bar 4 continues with rapid string crossing not imitated in its "real" imitation at Bar 8, but at Bar 9 we see the rapid alternation of strings, which acts as a delayed imitation of Bar 4. This imitation effect is desirable in this form of sequential counterpoint, making B a desirable fingering for this example.

    Because of the limited number of possibilities of using Form B in this example, next I have shown two modifications of B6, called here B6a and B6b. In both, the beginning is "sweeter" than in B because of String 2 at the VII position. The sound is also more concentrated and serious than on the 1st string. The string crossings in Bar 3 are at & of 2 and & of 3. At Bar 7 they come at & of 2, 3 and & of 3. A good imitation! Although both fingerings cease to cross strings at Bar 8, (but instead just use String 6 in the lower voice) B6b begins its rapid alternation again at Bar 9, which is reminiscent of the fingering in B at this point.

    Another advantage of B6b over B6a is the elimination of the extra shift to Positions V and III at Bars 8 and 9 by a direct shift to Position II. Another point worth mentioning is that the fingering at Beat 2 and 3 of Bar 9 in B6a is much too awkward to be an effectively smooth transition. In Bars 5 and 6, I have fingered the double stops differently in B6a and B6b, but have not related them to the scale form B6. It is interesting to hear, however, that in B6a, the third beat of each bar better prepares us for the strong downbeat at the beginning of the new bar, than in fingering B6b. This is because of the effect of precipitation caused by placing the top voice on the same string on Beat 3 as on Beat 1. Also, at Bar 6 of B6b. it is more technically difficult with the passage as the hand is out of position and has no guide finger onto the next beat.

    I have included an open string scale fingering which demonstrates the lack of imitative string crossings using this approach at Bars 3 and 4 versus Bars 7, 8 and 9, thereby emphasising the value of the more complex B forms to use as tools to exploit this effect. The purity of the voicing at Bars 5 and 6 is worth noting, however. Each part keeps its respective string throughout the bar, which is a fine imitation of the simplicity of Bars 1 and 2.

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    Chapter C
    The 2 Octave Harmonic Minor Scale commencing on String 5

    This form is normally executed with a shift on String 3 as follows;

    Figure 10

    To use this form in all minor keys, simply begin the scale from the relevant keynote and position.

    Bb minor Pos.I, B minor Pos.II, C minor Pos.III, C# minor Pos.IV, D minor Pos.V, Eb minor Pos VI, E minor Pos.VII, etc.

    Figure 11

    This is the last scale passage in Agustin Barrios' Estudio en Si menor (Study in B minor). The first two bars contain a straightforward B Harmonic minor scale, which in the last two bars, upon its descent, becomes arpeggiated and takes some changes in direction before finally falling back to the B root note. The slurs are Barrios' own, so they are best left intact to preserve the composer's desired effect, although an editor may feel that Barrios was limited by his own choice of fingering and that the addition of a slur at a strategic place, made possible by a change in fingering, could improve the overall effect.

    C2 is Barrios' own fingering of this passage. His four-note sequences all begin with two slurred notes until the fourth group (last four notes in Bar 2) where his fingering cannot cope with the obviously desirable inclusion of a slur in its regular place. Instead, however, Barrios uses an open E as a device to effect a relaxed shift to Position VI. This creates a campanella (cross string over ring) effect, an attractive substitute for the missing slur. This occurs a few notes before the appropriate slur, however, and one might feel that Barrios has jumped the gun a little here, leaving the fourth group itself a little bare of legato.

    In C1 we see a possible solution for the slur problem discussed above. Fingering the area on the first string now allows the slur. Admittedly a new shift (to Position III) is introduced, but it dispenses with the shift to Position VI found in C2.

    C3 provides a viable alternative to C1 and C2. It evenly spaces the shifts and allows the C2 slur pattern. Because of its neatness, it would probably be the fingering with the most potential for speed. C4, however, introduces an extra shift, and in a descending direction on the neck. These two factors combine to render this fingering impractical in the ascending part of the passage.

    In the descending section of C2, Barrios has utilized certain effects. In bar 3, between beat 3 and & of 3, the F note slides to the D note in position III. This prepares the campanellas over rings on the B minor chords found at both Position II and IV.

    The descending section of C1 displays a practical way of playing the same notes without any campanellas. Instead, a crisp scale is heard, which some players may prefer.

    In C3 the campanella effect is introduced as soon as the second beat of bar 3 by the use of a half barre at VII, but in the last three notes it combines the accumulative over ring with the definition of individually played scale notes.

    In the last two bars of C4, we see how it is possible to use the campanellas to full advantage. The left hand stays at Position VII in a full barre for the last three beats of bar 3 and shifts conveniently to Position IV at the bar line (nicely accentuating this shift in a natural way). It then goes on to use the cross string effect for best results to the very end of the passage. The introduction of a slur at beat 2 of bar 4 effectively smoothes out the only "lump" in this approach.

    Next time we shall examine three more of the 2 octave scale forms.

    2 Octave Harmonic Minor Scale commencing on String 6 Chapter D
    2 Octave Melodic Minor Scale commencing on String 5 Chapter E
    2 Octave Melodic Minor Scale commencing on String 6 Chapter F

    Until then, I hope you will have enough time and patience to grasp the points I am attempting to make in today's article. Perhaps even to try to put some of the principles examined and explained above, to use in your own repertoire.