Finding the Right Music Literature for Your Guitar Program
By NAfME Member Christopher J. Perez
Director – Freedom High School Guitar Program, Orlando, FL
“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.
Many different ensemble types exist in the world of guitar. There is a lot of music for Duo, Trio, Quartet, and Quintet guitar ensembles. With my guitar program, I will program music several times a year 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
- Guitar Orchestras typically use divided Requinto Guitar parts and Bass Guitar 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 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.
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 can 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 the “Pyramid of Sound” system.
- Typical Quartet FHS part distribution for a 25- to 28-member ensemble:
- 1st – 5; 2nd – 6/7; 3rd – 6/7; 4th – 6 w/ 3 Bass.
- 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 of Guitar Music
There are many states that have a Music Solo/Ensemble and Concert List for Band, Chorus, and Orchestra. For example, Texas has a State Music List that includes Guitar. 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; use of simple melodic lines and rhythmic passages; homophonic parts.
- Grade III-IV (Intermediate level) – Moderate expanded playing range; use of special effects, i.e., 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 voicing’s and position changes; extended musical lines independent of one another; very difficult rhythmic passages.
Grade listings are a guide, and most guitar music is sensibly graded.
Free Quality Guitar Music
To help you get started, there are four well-visited websites that offer free arrangements of guitar music. These are arranged well and professionally engraved, making them easy to print and read. I consider these sites as a true gift to the worldwide guitar community.
- Andrew Forrest is a composer, performer and retired teacher from the United Kingdom. He has a top-notch site that offers scores and parts to well over 300 well-arranged and quality notated music works. A great range of music was composed or transcribed for guitars and other instruments. It encompasses a wide range of styles and levels including solos to guitar ensembles for schools, amateur groups, and for more advanced performers.
- Derek Hasted is from the United Kingdom and directs the Hampshire Guitar Orchestra. Derek offers 20 free works for Guitar Ensembles from duet to quartet. More are available from the website for purchase. I have used several of his holiday tunes for many performances.
- Jürg Hochweber lives in Sweden and is a composer of Guitar Works. He offers over 100 free downloads of graded solos from beginner to advanced level for non-commercial use and for teaching.
- Eythor Thorlaksson and his son, Sveinn Eythorsson, are from Iceland. There is a catalog on their site that gives a full listing of the 8 Methods, 17 Studies, 9 Collections, 131 Solos, 32 Duos, 35 Trios, and 17 Quartets. They have a very comprehensive offering of music from beginner to advanced players and ensembles.
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. Subscribe today!
About the Author:
NAfME 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, composer/arranger and musician. Mr. Perez is a member of NAfME (National Association for Music Education) and serves on the Guitar Council as the Southern Division Representative, FMEA (Florida Music Education Association) serving on the FMEA Guitar/General 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. 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! Cast Performing Arts”. Mr. Perez has presented sessions at NAfME, FMEA and OCPS Music Conferences and his Guitar Ensembles continually perform on local, state, national and international stages. Under his direction, the FHS Guitar Ensembles performed several times as a demonstration music ensemble and in concert at FMEA All-State Music Conference in Tampa, Florida, at the Stetson University Guitar Day in DeLand, Florida and in concert at the 2013 & 2017 Long Island Guitar Festival in New York.
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