Guitar Techniques - - TALK BACK -

In your Feb­ru­ary 2017 is­sue Matt Cham­bers asks, apro­pos the Mixoly­dian mode in A, which has (b7th), F# and C# but G nat­u­ral “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the key sig­na­ture of D Ma­jor, as A Mixoly­dian is the fifth scale de­gree of D Ma­jor?” Ja­son Sid­well replies, “…Gui­tar Tech­niques… de­cided to uni­ver­sally con­form to tra­di­tional mu­sic con­ven­tions (founded in clas­si­cal mu­sic) in that all key sig­na­tures would be Ma­jor or (Nat­u­ral) Mi­nor keys.”

Whereas that de­ci­sion adopted by Gui­tar Tech­niques is a per­fectly rea­son­able strat­egy and en­tirely de­fen­si­ble, it is by no means uni­ver­sal in clas­si­cal mu­sic. At least two pieces in my cur­rent reper­toire use key sig­na­tures that re­flect the modal na­ture of the mu­sic.

A ‘clas­si­cal’ (Span­ish Na­tion­al­ist School) piece in my reper­toire is Madroños by Fred­erico Moreno Tor­roba. This has a tonal cen­tre that is clearly E. The key sig­na­ture hav­ing no sharps or flats is of C Ma­jor. This in­di­cates to me that I should ex­pect Phry­gian (fla­menco like) sounds. Of course, things are rarely quite that sim­ple. Madroños can be thought of as in the Phry­gian Dom­i­nant mode (fifth mode of, in this case, A Har­monic Mi­nor, and even more fla­menco) given that it opens and closes with an E Ma­jor chord. This might sug­gest a key sig­na­ture of G#, but that would be too eas­ily con­fused with F# and is best avoided, as with tunes us­ing the Har­monic Mi­nor. Madroños, in fact, shifts through a va­ri­ety of keys and modes, thus mak­ing lots of ac­ci­den­tals nec­es­sary. Fla­menco of­ten does like­wise.

I have also learned an ar­range­ment of The Blar­ney Pil­grim by Clive Car­roll. Its tonal cen­tre is D (trans­posed by capo) but al­though it uses F#, all the Cs are nat­u­ral. Clive uses the G Ma­jor key sig­na­ture of a sin­gle sharp, F#. This in­di­cates that we can ex­pect to hear Mixoly­dian sounds. Duck Baker in his ar­range­ment does the same.

Two caveats: Blues is of­ten a de­li­cious mix of Ma­jor, Mixoly­dian, Mi­nor and Pen­ta­tonic sounds. It is ar­guably best to use the mag­a­zine’s con­ven­tion with Blues, ac­ci­den­tals in­di­cat­ing ‘blue notes’ to the ear. Se­condly, it is best to stick to the reg­u­lar 15 key sig­na­tures, one nat­u­ral and seven each of sharp and flat, build­ing for­wards or back­wards around the cy­cle of 5ths. As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, a key sig­na­ture of a ran­dom sharp (eg G#) or flat could be con­fus­ing.

To con­clude, al­though there is noth­ing wrong with GT’s pol­icy on this is­sue, it is not a uni­ver­sally adopted con­ven­tion in mu­sic. So, if Mr Cham­bers prefers to use key sig­na­tures that re­flect the modal­ity of a piece, he is in good com­pany. Brian Arthur, Northum­ber­land Good point, Brian. Mu­sic, while be­ing a very pre­cise art on the one hand, can be mul­ti­plic­i­tous and con­fus­ing on the other. Af­ter years of re­fin­ing how GT does things, we have ar­rived at a set of stan­dards that seem to work well across all the var­i­ous styles we cover – as you point out, from blues to clas­si­cal. One size won’t al­ways fit per­fectly 100% of the time, but in a sin­gle pub­li­ca­tion it’s nec­es­sary (and prob­a­bly best) to come up with a stance on all th­ese po­ten­tially con­flict­ing is­sues and stick to it. We re­alise that cer­tain sce­nar­ios might be well served by other ap­proaches, but over­all (and notwith­stand­ing the va­garies of mu­sic), we are happy with things the way they are. We would, of course, never dic­tate how oth­ers do things, and un­der­stand that we are likely to en­counter dif­fer­ent ap­proaches here and there.

Depuytren’s, where fin­gers can con­tract into a claw - it’s not good for guitarists!

Ja­son Sid­well: GT’s mu­sic ed­i­tor and a fine gui­tarist in a host of styles

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