Andy Saphir tunes his ses­sion radar into the warm sound of acous­tic ny­lon string bal­lad.

Guitar Techniques - - Guitar Techniques -

this month I’ve de­cided to write not just a solo but a ‘con­densed song’. I’ve imag­ined a sce­nario where I need to play for a moody bal­lad. I don’t just have to come up with a solo; this time the pro­ducer has asked me to ac­com­pany the whole thing. We’ve heard the demo, which has been played on piano, but he wants a sparser vibe, and gui­tar based one at that. So it’s up to me to come up with all the ap­pro­pri­ate parts. I’m in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion here of be­ing in my ‘make be­lieve’ sit­u­a­tion where all my ideas are met with ap­proval!

Now the first thing that oc­curs to me is a gen­tle, fin­ger­style ap­proach and I’ve de­cided to opt for a ny­lon-string gui­tar. The rea­son for this is it’s a dif­fer­ent sound to the more widely used steel-string, and there­fore brings a fresh qual­ity com­pared to the other songs on our imag­i­nary al­bum. Also, the mel­low tim­bre of ny­lon strings can lend a re­ally emo­tive sound when paired with a bal­lad style song in a mi­nor key. Ny­lon strings also make me feel like go­ing for a ‘pseudo clas­si­cal’ kind of ap­proach, which means play­ing with a style that the gen­eral pub­lic (this is not for clas­si­cal buffs, re­mem­ber) would per­ceive as ‘clas­si­cal’ gui­tar mu­sic. These ap­proaches could be mu­si­cal and tech­ni­cal, and in­clude the use of fin­ger­pick­ing to cre­ate a melody; the style of vi­brato, the ‘spread­ing’ of cer­tain block chords with the pick­ing hand; cer­tain fin­ger­pick­ing pat­terns and chord voic­ings, and the gen­eral use of dy­nam­ics in the pick­ing hand.

Al­though hav­ing a good grasp of fin­ger­style would be ben­e­fi­cial to play­ing this tune, you don’t need to be a trained clas­si­cal gui­tarist; I’m def­i­nitely not, but as a gui­tarist who en­joys play­ing fin­ger­style I do ‘mess around’ with play­ing clas­si­cal pieces on a ny­lon-string gui­tar, so I am fa­mil­iar with the in­stru­ment and used to the feel of it.

If you’ve never played ny­lon-string be­fore, it’s worth get­ting your hands on one so you can ex­plore the sound tex­tures that it of­fers. In ad­di­tion, lis­ten to record­ings of both the clas­si­cal reper­toire, and also pop­u­lar artists that em­ploy ny­lon-string gui­tar in their record­ings - for in­stance, St­ing and his fan­tas­tic gui­tarist Do­minic Miller. Lis­ten­ing is a pre­req­ui­site in or­der to ab­sorb idio­syn­cra­sies

Al­though hav­ing a good grasp of fin­ger­style would be ben­e­fi­cial to play­ing this tune, you don’t need to be a trained clas­si­cal gui­tarist.

adopted by the play­ers in any style of mu­sic - es­pe­cially if you’ve been hired to play a song in that par­tic­u­lar style.

Our tune is in the key of A mi­nor and con­sists of an un­ac­com­pa­nied ‘chord melody’ style in­tro of 11 bars. Here it’s im­per­a­tive to hold down the fret­ted shapes as much as pos­si­ble, in or­der to let all the notes ring - just as you would with most fin­ger­style pieces. An eight-bar ‘verse’ sec­tion fol­lows, and this is the ac­com­pa­ni­ment to the ‘imag­i­nary vo­cal’ at this point. This is also where the drums and bass en­ter the song to pro­vide a fuller sound and a rhyth­mic propul­sion to aid the gui­tar part. The fi­nal 11 bars is our gui­tar solo and this fea­tures var­i­ous mu­si­cal and tech­ni­cal ap­proaches that set out to (hope­fully) cap­ture the emo­tion that the ny­lon-string gui­tar can deliver.

Do­minic Miller: long­time St­ing six-stringer

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