Quick announcement: For the Spring Semester, starting in December, due to authors traveling abroad (to Italy, South Africa, France, and more!), Unleashed is being published once a month.
We warmly welcome, once more, the words of Matthew Grasso!
We warmly welcome, once more, the words of Matthew Grasso!
Playing the Extended 7-String Classic Guitar
Perhaps contrary to popular thought, there have been many diverse configurations of the 7-string guitar. The Russian 7-string guitar of the 19th century featured an open G-major tuning (DGBDGBD). Napoleon Coste played a 7-string that had a floating bass string tuned to a low "D" or "C". The modern 7-string usually has a low "B" or "A" string. Occasionally I have seen a 7-string with a higher "A" string as in one of Lenny Breau's guitars. A former student of mine plays an electric 7-string that is a hybrid of a bass and a guitar. It has the first five strings of a guitar (E, B, G, D, A), and the two lower strings of a bass- E and A, and it is fan fretted. Thus, the conceptions of a 7-string guitar are seemingly endless.
Transcribing for the 7-String Guitar
If the melody is in the soprano voice, I suggest sketching that part first, then the bass line. The inner voices in piano or orchestral writing seldom work as written. You will need to rearrange the voice leading to fit the guitar. With Bach's music, however, I am able to add bass lines to fill out the implied harmonies. Obviously, the added 7th string affords more bass line possibilities as well as greater opportunities for variations in chord voicing.
A skilled guitar duo can sound like one giant guitar. One way to orchestrate four parts for the duo format would be to delegate the bass and alto voices to Guitar 1 and tenor and soprano to Guitar 2 (Example 4). This approach will produce an "interlocking" effect. The 7-string guitar makes it possible to double the bass in which Guitar 2 will play the contra bass, tenor and soprano. I developed this idea from symphonic orchestration; if you listen carefully you'll notice that the cellos and contra basses are often doubled in octaves. This technique really fills out the sound (Example 5), whereas playing the bass part in octaves on one guitar will weaken the orchestration.
In my opinion, the guitar trio and quartet become less intimate and sound more like chamber or orchestra music. My transcriptions for guitar trio consist of one 7-string guitar and two 6-string guitars, whereas my transcriptions for guitar quartet consist of two 7-string guitars and two 6-string guitars. One of the most monotonous things you can do when transcribing for guitar trio or quartet is to have all the guitars playing all the time. When you hear a full symphony orchestra play, are all the instruments playing all the time? By allowing certain instruments to rest, you promote timbre and dynamic contrasts.
With the added range of the 7-string guitar, I have encountered two major notation issues. The first problem lies in how to write the lower notes without excessive ledger lines. One solution is to write an "8" beneath any bass note lower than low "D".
Some would argue that the bass clef should be written as though sounding an octave lower in pitch, just as guitarists use the treble clef. If the bass clef is written at pitch, however, you'll never exceed three ledger lines above or below the staff; by contrast, writing the bass clef as though sounding one octave lower in pitch can lead to some very high ledger lines above the staff.
The extended 7-string guitar presents the arranger and player with a myriad of new fingering and chord voicing possibilities. For example, let's take the "F" chord. There is only one way to play the voicing of this chord on a 6-string guitar, but on the 7-string, this chord voicing can also be played across the 7th through 4th strings. This fingering gives the chord a much richer sustaining quality as all the notes are being played on the bass strings.
The cross-string trill shown in Example 12 is not possible to play on a 6-string guitar, but is completely idiomatic to the 7-string.
There is a similar problem in the Bach lute suites. The E major and E minor chords that should be voiced with the root in the bass and soprano voices are compromised on the 6-string guitar by altering the chord to its first inversion or playing the chord with no third.
So why change to an extended 7-string guitar? I converted for a number of reasons. I am a symphonic musician at heart and love orchestral music more than the traditional guitar repertoire. Like the piano, the increased range of the extended 7-string offers more voicing options; this guitar brings me closer to the piano or orchestra aesthetic.
About the Author
Matthew Grasso is classical guitarist, composer, arranger, musical instrument innovator, and improviser began playing guitar at age twelve. He attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, were he studied with Scott Tennant, Dusan Bogdanovic, and Lawrence Ferrara and participated in master classes held by artists including Eliot Fisk, David Russell, and the L.A. Guitar Quartet. Matthew complemented this training by studying the classical music of North India at the Ali Akbar College of Music with the late sarod master Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
Matthew performs on an extended 7-string guitar, 25-stringed raga guitar, and a 14-note octave just intonation guitar. The extended 7-string has an additional bass string and 22 frets on the first-string. This instrument has one octave more in melodic range and greater harmonic/contrapuntal possibilities than the traditional 6-string guitar. The 25-stringed raga guitar is a hybrid of an extended 7-string and the sarod, an Indian instrument. There are 7-playing, 12-sympathetic, 2-chikari, and 4-jawari strings, plus a just intonation fingerboard. The 14-note octave guitar has 6-strings and is set in a 7-limit just intonation microtonal tuning system. Matthew has worked with luthiers Greg Byers, Scott Richter, and Waylin Carpenter to design these instruments, which provide myriad possibilities for transcribing, composing and improvising.
In his quest for new guitar literature, Matthew has contributed to the classical guitar repertory by transcribing numerous works for solo extended 7-string guitar, including Barber's Adagio for Strings; Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite; Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun; Rachmaninoff's Symphony no.2; Bach's Chaconne; and other works in the pop vocal genre from the 60’s and 70’s.
As a composer, Matthew has contributed works for solo guitar, guitar ensemble, chamber works for guitar and strings, women’s choir, music in just intonation tuning, and his Guitar Concerto for Extended 7-String Guitar and Orchestra. His music has been set to dance and film, and receives commissions from many artists.
Through his understanding of musical systems of the east and west, he has created a flexible and creative voice in improvisation and has developed a unique style of rendering classical ragas. In addition to keeping with Indian tradition, he has conceived new talas (rhythmic cycles) such as 10 ½, 27 ½, 9 ¼, and 5½, as well as original ragas (melody forms). This music can be heard on his 25-stringed raga guitar with his group, Nada Brahma Music Ensemble.
As a founding member of Trio Seven, the group has established a distinctive sound in the classical guitar ensemble genre. The group performs on three extended 7-string guitars and presents the works of Debussy, Rachmanioff and many other composers leading to groundbreaking transcriptions never imagined on guitar. Trio Seven also specializes in rendering their favorite movie themes.
Matthew performs and lectures throughout Northern California. He was a featured soloist with the Camellia Symphony, Solano Symphony, Davis High School String and Symphony Orchestra, American River College Orchestra, Solano County Youth Symphony and Auburn Symphony Chamber Players under the baton of the late Maestro Michael Goodwin. His recordings include six CDs: Intimate Settings (1995), Echoes of a Lake (1999), Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (2001), Music for the Extended 7-String Guitar (2006), The Five Deadly Talas (2008) and Past, Present, Future (2010). In addition to recordings, Matthew has published,"Playing the Extended 7-String Guitar" inMel Bay's Guitar Sessions, as well as his own compositions and transcriptions.
Currently Matthew is on the faculty at Sacramento City College, American River College, California College of the Arts, and he teaches privately. He has designed college courses in the area of North Indian and western music, and resides in Davis, California. Matthew's website can be found at: http://www.matthewgrasso.com
Matthew Grasso is the high priest at the 7-string guitar church in Davis, California.