Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt

Douglas Niedt's
Fabulous Fingerings

Douglas Niedt, guitarist



  • My fabulous fingerings are not necessarily the easiest fingerings to play.
  • They may be easier or they may be much more difficult than other standard fingerings.
  • But, they are what SOUND BEST.

Classical Guitar Technique

FABULOUS FINGERINGS

BOURRÉE in E minor from Lute Suite No. 1 (BWV 996)

By Douglas Niedt

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



A Little Background

The earliest polyphonic and contrapuntal music was mostly performed by singers. Therefore, when talking about counterpoint, we speak about a piece or passage being written in 2, 3, or 4 "voices" even if it is performed by an instrument. Instead of saying "voices", sometimes we also casually refer to them as "parts".

For example, a two-voice passage would be two parts (upper voice and lower voice). The two parts could be referred to as melody-bass, voice one-voice two, upper part-lower part, or soprano voice-bass voice.

If it is three voices, one could name them the upper voice-middle voice-lower voice, voice one-voice two-voice three, upper part-middle part-lower part, soprano-alto-bass, or soprano-tenor-bass.

If it is 4 voices, they are usually referred to as soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. But, they could also be called voice 1-voice 2-voice 3-voice 4. Again, these terms can be applied to instrumental or choral music. In choral music, a voice can be sung by one person or many.

The Voicing of the Bourrée

Our Bourrée is written in two voices or parts throughout. The notes belonging to the upper voice have their note-stems pointing upward. The notes belonging to the lower voice have their note-stems pointing downward. Here is the phrase beginning with the upbeat of measure 16 to measure 20:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices



Now, imagine that the piece is being sung by two ladies and two gentlemen. The ladies are singing the upper voice and the gentlemen are singing the lower voice. The ladies sing the red notes and the gentlemen sing the blue notes:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


Listen. You can clearly hear the two distinct parts. It sounds good.

Bourrée (J.S. Bach) Measures 16-20 sung in two voices.



It sounds good played as two voices on the guitar as well:

Watch:




The Final Phrase is the Problem

The final phrase (the last four measures beginning on the 4th beat of measure #20) sounds very clunky and unmusical if played on the guitar as two voices:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


Watch:




It doesn't even sound very good when it is sung. It sounds dry and a bit disjointed:

Bourrée (J.S. Bach) Final phrase sung in two voices.



Most guitarists finger the final phrase for ease of playing with little thought given to what is happening in the voices. They don't sound very good.



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


THE SOLUTION
In my humble opinion and that of Maestro Julian Bream
The final phrase splits into four voices.

At the final phrase, Mr. Bream and I believe each of the two voices goes divisi. That means the ladies split up and sing two different parts and the gentlemen also split up into two parts.

Notice the sustained quarter-notes (crochets) in the divisi soprano voice and the sustained half-notes (minims) in the divisi bass voice:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


This results in a glorious four-voice texture for the climax of the piece and then resolves back to two voices at the end:

Bourrée (J.S. Bach) Final phrase sung in four voices.



How to Play the Final Phrase as Four Voices on the Guitar

How do we accomplish this on the guitar? With one of my FABULOUS FINGERINGS of course!



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


Notice that the bass notes are notated as eighth-notes (quavers) and quarter-notes (crochets). So, where are the sustained quarter-notes (crochets) in the soprano? And where are the sustained half-notes (minims) in the bass? The answer is, in order to produce the four voices, you must hold the notes as follows. Otherwise, you will not hear four voices.



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


When executed correctly, this is the resulting 4-voice texture you hear from the guitar:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


Watch me demonstrate my Fabulous Fingering:




Julian Bream does a slightly different interpretation:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


His fingering results in the bass line sounding as quarter notes (crochets) followed by quarter (crotchet) rests instead of half-notes (minims) as mine does, but the soprano maintains the sustained quarter-note (crochets) line.

Again, the notes in the soprano and bass voices are notated as quarter-notes (crochets) and eighth-notes (quavers). As with my fingering, you must hold the notes as follows. Otherwise, you will not hear four voices:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


When executed correctly, this is the resulting 4-voice texture you hear from the guitar:



Bourree final phrase in 4 voices


Watch me demonstrate Maestro Bream's Fabulous Fingering:




Either my way or Maestro Bream's way, these two FABULOUS FINGERINGS will save the day!