Technique Tuesdays - 25th June - Leo Brouwer Etude 1

Welcome to the first instalment of Technique Tuesdays, a series focusing on classical guitar technique. I'm planning on focusing on various sets of etudes for the coming weeks, unless viewers and readers have other suggestions or requests for topics to be covered, and I'll be addressing various techniques as they arise in each etude.

The first set of etudes we'll be looking at is Leo Brouwer's Etudes Simples, a set of twenty moderate to advanced studies. Each study addresses a combination of technical and musical challenges in a very musical way, using a more modern harmonic language than students might be used to, especially if they've worked on the standards, such as Carcassi or Aguado. I find they're a great way of introducing students to more 20th century sounds and of fostering an interest in the classical guitar with electric guitar students. 

I'd just like to add that due to these etudes not being in the public domain I can't post any examples from the score but everyone should have a copy of these studies or at least have access to them. You can purchase a copy of them here.

So without further ado, here's the video:

As in the video, I'll be breaking the etude down to what I believe are the main technical and musical challenges:

Technical Challenges

  • Bringing Out the Bass Melody With the Thumb

The main focus of this etude is to work on bringing out a low bass melody over a higher accompaniment voice, something many students struggle with. The most invaluable thing you can do to address this challenge,  and when working on any piece really, is to make sure you know the melody. You can do this in two steps: first, sing the melody out loud, second, play the melody on its own. This will ensure that your ear knows what is melody and what is accompaniment. For an added challenge you can also play the accompaniment and sing the melody, either out loud or in your head.

To allow yourself a stronger and more present thumb stroke you can lift your wrist higher than you would in a "standard" playing position, giving the thumb a more powerful angle of attack and, in turn, making your finger strokes weaker in comparison. This is a technique I use all the time in my playing when I need to bring out a bass part over the upper parts. It does the job of balancing the parts without you having to worry too much about the different attack in your fingers. You can further support this effect by using an unplanted, "swiping" stroke with and m, which gives a thinner sound than a regular free stoke would.

Musical Challenges

  • Dynamic Contrasts

Each phrase in the piece has very clear dynamic markings. Repeated phrases, such as the first two sets of phrases, feature an echo idea, where it is first played with a loud dynamic, followed by a soft dynamic in the repetition. You must pay special attention to these markings as they're the life of the study. Always remember that studies are also music - NEVER play them just as technical exercises! 

  • Phrase Markings

Another often overlooked feature of this study is Brouwer's use of phrase markings (you'll no doubt get used to me complaining about the lack of phrase markings in guitar music) to show where he wants the dynamics to change. Looking at the score you can see that the first phrase ends on the low E, rather than the B that you might instinctually play. This means that the mf dynamic must be maintained to that E and that the pp must wait until the D is played in the melody. This is harder than it might sound so I recommend taking your time to work through this, a useful tool for these things is to record yourself playing - you'll be surprised at what you might miss!

 

That's all for this week folks, please leave comments below, feel free to ask questions and leave feedback.

Happy practicing!