Sunday, October 30, 2011

Twelve studies in harmonics for guitar

While I keep my eyes open for job leads and work on stuff connected to pending eye surgery I can still compose music now and then, right?

I have recently finished six more studies in harmonics for guitar.  I wrote six studies in harmonics for guitar years ago and should have known I wouldn't limit myself to just six.  I completed studies 7 through 12 within the last few weeks and am refining them for eventual performance and recording.  There are not a lot of dedicated studies for the use of harmonics though there are plenty of guitarists who have made extensive use of harmonics.  My own interest in them stems from, well, having been a U2 fan in my early teens.  I've just been intrigued by the sound of harmonics on the guitar as a thing in itself.  Any musicians who have worked with me for even a short period of time will know that harmonics for stringed instruments intrigue me. 

Years ago when I was moving from temp job to temp job I came down with a terrible case of tendonitis.  It was so bad I had to get it treated as though it were carpal tunnel.  Simply holding silverware was sometimes a painful and awkward activity.  I spent months getting not particularly wonderful or personal occupational therapy treatment at a local medical facility and during that time I was exasperated that I could not play guitar the way I had before.  It was one of those times where I almost cried in frustration at not being able to play any music.  My hands had no strength to play the things I usually played. 

I was able to regain a majority of the strength in my hands over time and even went on to write what is a punishingly difficult F minor guitar sonata.  But during those months when I couldn't play in a normal way I cast about for a way to keep playing and writing guitar music despite crippling tendonitis.  Before I got tendonitis I had written what is now study #6 in harmonics for guitar from my set.  I realized that though I had lost all my grip strength and endurance I had not lost my left and right hand flexibility or agility.  So to cope with otherwise being unable to play guitar I began to compose studies in harmonics as a way to make sure I was still creating music despite my miserable handicap.  Thus studies 1 through 6 in harmonics were born over the course of years, even long after I had gotten over the damage my tendonitis caused my hands.

So now I have roughly eighteen minutes worth of material using harmonics alone.  Pieter van der Staak's studies in harmonics are fun but cover all types of uses of harmonics in guitar literature.  What I have aimed for is more specialized than that.  Because I have been playing classical guitar with a church orchestra at least once a month throughout this year studies six through twelve have been, uh, heavily informed by various hymns used in churches.  I settled on this theme for the second set of studies for two reasons, first simply to make use of traditional melodies that will make the studies easier to learn, and secondly the probably obvious motivation to compose some studies that could be used as unobtrusive music in small-scale liturgical settings. Or, you know, if you felt like playing them on an electric guitar through an amplifier that would be fine, too.  I'm not a purist about classical guitar.

I have not had the opportunity to record all twelve studies yet but I hope in time to do that.  I also hope to complete my twenty-four preludes and fugues for solo guitar, preferably before the end of this year if I can help it.

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