Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt


The great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia once described the guitar as a miniature orchestra. Segovia maintained that one of the great strengths of the guitar was its wide range of tone color. He believed this set it apart from other instruments. This technique tip will teach you how to produce an incredible variety of tone colors to bring out the best in your guitar playing.

In Part 1, I explained and demonstrated the seven parameters you can learn to use to change the color of a plucked note.

Here, in Part 2, I will explain additional special tools for changing tone color and how to make left-hand fingering choices to effectively color motifs, sections, and even entire pieces.

Coming up in Part 3 (the conclusion) I will explain the big topic of how to choose tone colors. Additional goodies include Fernando Sor's techniques for imitating the horn and trumpet, and how to "orchestrate" your guitar pieces.

All this is explained in detail with 15 musical examples and 23 beautifully produced videos.

Questions or comments?

Contact Me

Do you have a question?
Comment?
Suggestion for the website?

I would love to hear from you.


pdf icon

The PDF Version

The PDF of this article contains embedded videos. You can save the entire article plus the videos to your computer. However, the videos will not play well unless you save the PDF to your computer first. After downloading and saving the file, open the file you just saved and the videos will play smoothly. The file is 700 MB so it could take a few hours to download.

Download Tone Color, Part 2.pdf

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

TONE COLOR, Part 2

By Douglas Niedt

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



Special Tools

In some situations, right arm and wrist movements can be added to whatever finger movements you have chosen to use to further alter the attack and quality of the sound.

Arm and hand “slice” gestures

Sometimes, players use what Charles Duncan in The Art of Classical Guitar Playing describes as:

“a slight propulsive gesture of the hand or forearm. When exaggerated, the result is a slice across the strings. With less propulsion, it is felt more as an emphasis of the nails to the right or left. Emphasis (or slice) to the right takes the hand momentarily away from the line of the forearm (somewhat as if screwing the cap onto a large jar, although the movement is tiny by comparison. It focuses the tone for maximum clarity by increasing the resistance of the nails. Emphasis to the left is akin to the motion of flicking lint off one’s coat and takes a small rotary movement of the forearm. The single-edge, line-of-force nail contact minimizes resistance to create a thick, mellow tone.”

Of the two directions, the slice to the left produces a fuller, sweeter, darker sonority. But as Duncan points out, you don’t necessarily want sweet all the time. The natural complement to that sweetness is the piquant or spicy, brighter sound which adds variety.

Video #9. Watch me demonstrate.

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.

Pushing the arm down towards the floor or pulling out/up with the arm and wrist

These two techniques are best done in slower passages.

1. Pushing downward: At the same time you pluck a string or chord, push down slightly toward the floor with the arm and wrist. In effect, you are taking power away from the fingers. You are pushing down with the arm as you are pulling up with the fingers. This softens the articulation and adds a certain hazy quality to the sonority.

2. Pulling out/up: Pull the arm and/or wrist outward and upward at the same time you pluck the strings. This produces a harsh, aggressive attack and brighter tone quality.

Video #10. Watch me demonstrate these lesser-known techniques.

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.

Each String Has Its Own Tone Color

Another characteristic that sets the guitar apart from many other instruments, is that most notes can be played on more than one string. Each string has its own unique color due to its thickness and the material the string is made of. The tone quality of both the open strings and the notes fretted within the first four frets is brighter than when the same notes are fretted from the fifth fret on up:


Example #1

Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Plus, there is a large difference in tone color between the first three treble strings and the metal-wound bass strings.


Example #2

Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Video #11. Watch me demonstrate the tone colors of different strings.

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.

We can exploit the tonal characteristics of the strings by choosing fingerings that produce a desired color:


Example #3

Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Video #12. Watch me play this excerpt.

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.

We can play a repeated motif or even an entire section on different strings for contrast:


Example #4

Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Video #13. Watch this great example of a dramatic change of color on the repeat of a section of music.

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, a short motif is repeated immediately, inviting a change of tone color:


Example #5 Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Video #14. Watch me play this section of Leyenda, changing the tone color on the repeat of the motif.

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.

In the next example, the entire theme is repeated. The first statement of the theme can be fingered with the melody on the first string. Then, the repeat is fingered with the melody on the second string, producing a very beautiful contrast.


Example #6

Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Video #15. Watch me demonstrate how a change of fingering on a repeated theme can produce a very pleasing contrast.

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.

When fingering a piece, always ask yourself what sound you are after. Then, find the different areas on the fretboard where a passage can be played. Playing a passage on different strings can greatly change its mood. For example, the first eight measures of the coda of Leyenda could be fingered in two very different ways:


Example #7

Ex46 Sor Op 31 No 1 Right Hand Damp m13-14


Video #16. Watch me play it both ways.

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.

The contrasting tone colors of the strings can also lead to problems. Players of other instruments sometimes ask guitarists, “When you play that melody, the tone color changes. Why don’t you play the notes on one string so it sounds more even?” Or, “Those open strings in the middle of that melody sound out-of-place.” Artistic players are very careful how they finger melodic passages to minimize switching from one string to another in the same phrase.

Coming up in Part 3, I will explain the big topic of how to choose tone colors. Additional goodies include Fernando Sor's techniques for imitating the horn and trumpet, and how to "orchestrate" your guitar pieces.

All this is explained in detail with 15 musical examples and 23 beautifully produced videos.

pdf icon

The PDF Version

The PDF of this article contains embedded videos. You can save the entire article plus the videos to your computer. However, the videos will not play well unless you save the PDF to your computer first. After downloading and saving the file, open the file you just saved and the videos will play smoothly. The file is 700 MB so it could take a few hours to download.

Download Tone Color, Part 2.pdf

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