Finding the Right Music Literature for Your Guitar Program 

By NAfME Member Christopher J. Perez
Director of Guitar Studies – Freedom High School, Orlando, Florida

“The approach to what you do, results in what you get . . .”
Freddie Gruber (1927-2011)—Drummer and Master Teacher

Today there are more publishing houses releasing a wide variety of solo and ensemble guitar literature that now rivals what is found in band and orchestra. In this blog I will share different ideas about developing and adding to your Guitar Music Library.

Ensemble Types

Many different ensemble types exist in the world of guitar. There is a lot of music for Duo, Trio, Quartet, and Quintet guitar ensembles. Several times a year, I program music that require students to use acoustic bass guitars and Requintos. In doing so, the sonority, timbral and tonal range of the ensemble is greatly expanded.

  • Ensembles (Duo – Trio – Quartet – Quintet – etc., Guitar Orchestra, Niibori Orchestra)
    • Traditional parts of 2, 3 or 4.
    • Can be divided by ability. Easier music has the melody in the 1st part; sometimes in the 2nd part.
      • Guitar Orchestras typically use divided Requinto Guitar parts and Bass Guitar parts. Requinto voicing uses strings tuned at A-d-g-c-e-a.
      • Requinto parts are transposed (add one #-sharp to the staff); they are read and played as normal. Bass parts are in treble or bass clef depending on the composer/arranger and use standard E tuning.
      • Niibori Orchestras typically use divided Alto Guitar parts and also use Bass and Contra Bass parts. Alto guitar voicing is tuned a 5th higher than traditional tuning using B-e-a-d-f#-b. The Bass is 4th below at B E A D F# B and Contra Bass, an octave below standard Prime tuning. With this orchestration, parts are in treble or bass clef depending on the composer/arranger.
three acoustic guitars on stands in classroom

Using a variety of guitar voices in performance including traditional, requinto, and bass guitar
help greatly expand the sonority, timbral and tonal range of an ensemble. Photo courtesy of Christopher Perez

Bass or Not to Bass—That Is the Question!

With a larger guitar ensemble (orchestra) try to use Bass or Contra Bass Guitars if possible. Traditional 6 string acoustic bass guitars are very expensive. The Dean, and Ibanez acoustic bass models in full and parlor sizes are good alternatives, much less expensive (around $200-$400) and may be used to cover lower voices and bass parts easily.

  • Voicing use:
    • Lower voices are a foundation of any ensemble. For any music ensemble there is system use to create the “Pyramid of Sound”.
    • Typical Quartet FHS part distribution for a 25 to 28-member ensemble:
      • 1st – 5; 2nd – 6/7; 3rd – 6/7; 4th – 6; Bass – 2.
    • Quintet Guitar Orchestra part distribution for a 30- to 37-member ensemble:
      • Requinto – 4 to 8; 1st – 6; 2nd – 6; 3rd – 7; 4th – 7; Bass – 3.

Grading Guitar Music

Many states have a Solo/Ensemble and Concert Music List for Band, Chorus and Orchestra. There are two states that have a Music List that include Guitar: Texas and Virginia.

Grade listings are a guide; most guitar music is sensibly graded. I have noticed a common form of grading guitar as outlined here:

  • Grading System – Current grading for guitar music is listed from Grade I (beginner) to Grade 8 (accomplished professional)
    • Grade I-II (Beginner level) – Limited playing range; limited use of accidentals, using frets from open to 3; use of simple melodic lines and rhythmic passages; homophonic parts.
    • Grade III-IV (Intermediate level) – Moderate expanded playing range up to 8th fret; use of accidentals; use of special effects, ie. harmonics, rasgueado, pizzicato, tambour, ponticello, tasto; more complicated rhythmic passages; more independent music lines and polyphonic parts.
    • Grade V-VI (Advanced level) – More complicated melodic lines and voicings; musical lines independent of one another; difficult rhythmic passages; free use of time and key signatures; longer compositions.
    • Grade VII-VIII (Professional level) – Very difficult melodic lines; uncommon finger voicing and position changes; extended musical lines independent of one another; very difficult rhythmic passages.
three photos of guitar students and guitar ensemble on stage

There are thousands of excellent guitar arrangements from all musical time periods
available today for solo guitar to full guitar orchestras. Photo courtesy of Christopher Perez

Guitar Music Publishing Houses

There are many publishing houses that sell quality music for your guitar classes and ensembles. Below is a quick go to list for teachers to view and purchase guitar music. Many solo collections and guitar ensemble arrangements were purchased here for my Freedom High School Guitar Music Library.

Free Quality Guitar Music

Here are a few well visited websites that offer free arrangements of guitar music. There are arranged well and professionally engraved. I consider these sites as a true gift to the worldwide guitar community.

CODA

The full webinar, “Finding the Right Music Literature for Your Guitar Program,” is available through NAfME Academy. There you will see a full listing of many different guitar publishers and listings of what Freedom High School purchased for our growing guitar music library.

This article was updated April 18, 2024.

About the author:

Christopher Perez PortraitNAfME Member Christopher Perez is the Director of Guitar Studies at Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida and a graduate of Western Illinois University. Selected as a Quarterfinalist for the 2017 GRAMMY Foundation Music Teacher of the Year Award, he remains very active as a teacher, presenter, adjudicator, clinician, and musician. Mr. Perez is a member of NAfME (National Association for Music Education) and Guitar Council Chair (2020-2024), FMEA (Florida Music Education Association) serving on the Secondary Music Committee, GFA (Guitar Foundation of America), and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

Mr. Perez continually serves on several local and state music assessment writing teams. His music is published with Drop6 Media, Inc., Sheet Music Direct and has several arrangements on the FBA State Music List. He is a percussionist with the Southern Winds Symphonic Band and with Walt Disney World’s “ENCORE! Performing Arts”. Mr. Perez has presented guitar pedagogy sessions at numerous MEA Conferences all over the United States and his Guitar Ensembles continually perform on local, state, national and international stages. Under his direction, the FHS Guitar Ensembles performed in concert at FMEA All-State Music Conference in Tampa, Florida, the Stetson University Guitar Day, the Florida Guitar Festival at Florida State University, the Miami International GuitART Festival at Florida International University and in concert at the 2013, 2017 and 2021 Long Island Guitar Festival in New York.

He may be contacted at Christopher.Perez@ocps.net. To learn more about the Freedom High School Guitar Program please visit www.fhsguitar.net.

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