Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt


This is the final installment of my technique tip on cross-string ornaments. In this part, I show examples of how to use them in real-life repertoire.

First, you will learn how to use them in a Baroque piece, the well-known Bourée by J.S. Bach. Then, I will demonstrate how to use them in Romantic piano music, specifically La Maja de Goya by Enrique Granados, and guitar favorite Leyenda (Asturias) by Isaac Albéniz.

I think they are lots of fun. Enjoy!

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CROSS-STRING ORNAMENTS, Part 3 of 3

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.



How to use cross-string ornaments in real-life repertoire!

Let's look at some real pieces where we can use cross-string ornaments. Let me remind you once again that the use of ornaments will vary with the:

  1. Time period in which the piece was written
  2. Composer
  3. Country
  4. Musical context
  5. Instrument
  6. Time value of the ornament and the notes preceding and following it.
  7. Tempo
  8. Style of the music
  9. Personal taste and opinion of the performer

The Bach Bourée

Below are the first eight measures of the Bourée from J.S. Bach's Lute Suite No. 1 BWV 996.






Next, I have written out some possible ornaments for each of these first eight measures. These are by no means all the possibilities, but you will see that I can ornament almost every beat!

Thanks Doug, but I will look at these later. Let's move on.


















Yes, I will look at these later. I want to move on.















Yes, I will look at these later. I want to move on.















Yes, I will look at these later. I want to move on.










Yes, I will look at these later. I want to move on.

















Wait, I've changed my mind. Take me back to the beginning of the Bach Bourée ornamentation examples.

Most people today would probably say that using that much ornamentation is overdoing it. But I must point out that in other arts of the period such as baroque architecture, furniture making, and plasterwork, almost every surface is highly decorated. Look at these examples:




































Granted, musicians and writers of the baroque period often spoke of using ornaments tastefully. But one must maintain perspective. Based upon the artistic aesthetic of the time, my best wild guess is that what was tasteful to them would be considered overdone today.

Another important point to remember is that musicians of the baroque era prided themselves on their skills of improvisation. Musicians as accomplished as Bach seldom played a piece the same way twice. One of the primary methods to "change it up" was to vary the ornamentation in a piece. To me, the aesthetic of the period and the improvisational bent of its musicians point to a generous rather than sparing use of ornamentation.

My advice is that if you wish to be "authentic", use lots of ornaments. But if you wish to conform to current taste, by all means use ornamentation sparingly.

Here is a fully ornamented version of the first eight measures:











Now, listen to me play it.

If you don't see a video, refresh your browser.

Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

La Maja de Goya

La Maja de Goya by pianist Enrique Granados is an example of a very different style of piece in which cross-string ornamentation may be used. It is in the style of the Romantic Era rather than the Baroque. Ornaments of the period are often written as grace notes in front of the principal note.

Guitarists usually play these ornaments using slurs (hammer ons and pull offs). They play the grace note furthest to the left on the beat (simultaneously with any bass and accompaniment notes). This results in the principal note falling after the beat.

However, most pianists play the grace notes ahead of the beat and place the principal note on the beat. Any accompaniment and bass notes are played with the principal note on the beat. The pianistic style is well-captured on the guitar using cross-string ornaments.

In the following example I show you the original notation for each ornament, its execution using traditional guitar slur technique, and execution using the cross-string ornament technique:




































Listen to the first several measures played in the traditional guitar manner with slurs:

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Now, listen to these measures played in the pianistic style with cross-string ornaments:

If you don't see a video, refresh your browser.

Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Now, here is an A-B comparison of each ornament using the two styles of execution:

If you don't see a video, refresh your browser.

Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Leyenda (Asturias)

Our beloved Leyenda or Asturias, is also a piece from the Romantic period. The ornaments in the middle section are candidates for playing with the cross-string ornament technique.

Once again, guitarists usually play these ornaments using slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs). They play the grace note furthest to the left on the beat (simultaneously with any bass and accompaniment notes). This results in the principal note falling after the beat.

Pianists who play the piece play the grace notes ahead of the beat and place the principal note on the beat. Any accompaniment and bass notes are played with the principal note on the beat. Again, the pianistic style is well-captured on the guitar using cross-string ornaments.

Here is the notation for executing the ornaments with the traditional slur technique:











Listen to the first several measures played in the traditional guitar manner with slurs:

If you don't see a video, refresh your browser.

Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Here is the notation for executing the ornaments with the cross-string ornament technique:





















Now, listen to these measures played in the pianistic style with cross-string ornaments:

If you don't see a video, refresh your browser.

Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.




Final Thoughts

Love them or hate them, cross-string ornaments can be used in a variety of repertoire. Once you learn the basic technique of execution, they are actually fun to play. I believe they have many positive attributes when used in the right situations. Don’t like them? Use the traditional technique of slurs produced with hammer-ons and pull-offs.

The PDF Version

We have a PDF version of this article with the video embedded in the document so you can save the entire article to your computer, video included!

IMPORTANT:

The PDF version of this article contains embedded video. It will not play well unless you save this PDF to your computer first. Then, open the file you just saved and the video will play smoothly. The PDF is 73 MB so it may take a while to download.

Note: You must have Adobe Reader 10 or later installed on your computer to play the videos contained in the PDF. Download Adobe Reader here.


"I can't save the PDF. I don't see a save button and if I right-click the PDF it doesn't give me an option to save. What do I do?"

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