> Guitar Technique Hector Quine [RDB]: Book Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Guitar Technique: Intermediate to Advanced by Hector Quine. Oxford University Press (£12.95)
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The guitar has a long and chequered musical history, and it is often forgotten that what we now call the "classical" guitar was, in fact, a nineteenth century development. Its present dimensions and construction a relatively large body, machine tuning heads and six nylon strings played with the fingers were not established until the twentieth. This is the instrument to which I refer throughout this review.

From the 1950s onwards most instructional tutors were aimed at supplying elementary information (not always reliable) and practice material (not always appropriate) to cater for the instrument’s spreading popularity. At first the guitar tended to be regarded as little more than a suitable instrument for casual players. Competent teachers were scarce and, despite an extensive repertoire, the quantity and quality of guitar music accessible to amateurs was, for the most part, insignificant. Indeed the guitar was not regarded as a "serious" instrument by some conservatories and music schools. In 1960 the Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music by Willi Apel and Ralph T. Daniel simply states that the twentieth century guitar "has been used chiefly to furnish accompaniment to folk, Western and hillbilly music. It is also used in the rhythm sections of dance bands". Until Quine’s book appeared in 1991 as part of an Oxford series on the playing techniques of various instruments it could fairly be said that, together with his influential primary tutor An Introduction to the Guitar (Oxford. 1971), no instructional material of comparable clarity and authority existed for the guitar. To appreciate the changes that restored the instrument’s musical status in the second half of the twentieth century a short reference into an earlier renaissance in the 1800s is useful.

In 1830, when the guitar was once again fashionable in Europe, the eminent player Fernando Sor wrote what was probably the first comprehensive Method. Sor, and other guitar virtuosi such as Giuliani, Carcassi and Carulli composed a quantity of studies and short pieces suited to amateur guitarists. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, public interest in the guitar was once again declining. Nevertheless, due mainly to the immense influence of Segovia, Bream and other eminent recitalists, something of a guitar revival took place in the 60s and 70s. Talented young players emerged, the instrument took its place in the concert hall and on records, and acquired a considerable amateur following.

The guitar is not an easy instrument to play well. While it is difficult to make it sound really unpleasant, the theoretical aspects of a serviceable playing technique are not easily explained. Remarkable though it now seems a substantial part of its nineteenth century repertoire long continued to serve the needs of twentieth-century students. Quine’s achievement is therefore all the more remarkable. Clearly, precisely and without ambiguity he explains not only the objectives, but also the pitfalls, of learning the guitar, analysing such basic but essential aspects of technical development as how to hold the instrument, playing posture and the correct right- and left-hand actions of the fingers that allow them to function efficiently. One of the most important pieces of advice in this book is not to attempt to progress too quickly, The foundations laid by playing single notes in various positions, scales and arpeggios ensure that more ambitious exercises are gradually brought within the student’s reach, for until a sound technical base has been established it becomes increasingly difficult to progress from elementary, let alone to intermediate and advanced stages one reason why there will always be more average strummers and than accomplished players. As Quine puts it in his Preface, "Technique is essentially control of tone, volume, rhythm and tempo, legato and staccato, dynamics and registration, phrasing and articulation, always consciously directed by musical intelligence" a tall order, not easily met by the "suck it and see" approach often adopted by many beginners.

A graded programme of practice is usually employed in teaching instruments such as the violin and piano butperhaps because of its seductive sound and compliant nature the guitar does not always receive such careful attention from its admirers or, it must be said, some of its would-be teachers. Guitar players come in all shapes and sizes, and a didactic textbook cannot suit everyone; but it is infinitely preferable to a disorganised approach. Here, we have a viable alternative to one-to-one instruction from an experienced teacher. There is no easy route to becoming a proficient player. Quine does not promise mastery, or even extraordinary musical competence: his patient and detailed guidance is rooted in a long and distinguished career that helped guide and encourage a whole new generation of players. The chapter on practising is of considerable value to players of all grades. The subtitle "intermediate to advanced" need not be taken too literally. That the student can read musical notation, and has some basic general musical knowledge, is quite reasonably taken for granted. Beyond that, the sooner a guitarist comes to grips with Quine’s text the better his or her chance is of progressing securely from elementary to more advanced stages. Quine’s instructions are directly related to the actual sounds produced: it is not a matter of why we want to play the guitar but how we play it. In recent years the guitar has not maintained the widespread popularity it enjoyed among amateurs in the 60s and 70s. It is, however, firmly established on the international musical scene, and impossible to imagine that it could ever again retire into the shadows. Quine is optimistic. "The quality of musicianship and technical skill among many of our younger players has never been higher" he told me.

One of the causes for the instrument’s periods away from the limelight may be that its repertoire, though large, can be divided into two broad categories: pieces that do not make exceptional demands on purely technical skills and more challenging works that are mainly the preserve of experienced professional players. The former, though sometimes pleasing, rarely contain much musical depth, and can often be classified as "salon" music, or what the Germans call Hausmusik. I happen to think that much of this repertoire is well suited to the instrument and deserves to be treated with respect. What is more, "easy" studies and pieces, especially those by Sor, help reinforce a secure technical foundation. More advanced students will find a set of studies in contemporary idiom by Stephen Dodgson, edited by Hector Quine, (discussed in Appendix I) a challenging route to a more adventurous approach.

Segovia (1893-1987) encouraged a number of composers to write specially for the guitar and, though contemporary composers have tended to fight shy of the instrument, its twentieth century repertoire is impressive. Villa-Lobos, Tansman, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rodrigo, Ponce, Walton and Britten prepared the ground for the next generation of composers to explore opportunities for writing original solo, chamber and concerto works, and transcriptions for the guitar. The select list of repertoire Quine gives in an appendix is an interesting blend of history and modernity, from Bach to Webern, Arnold, Takemitsu, Hoddinott, Henze, Berkeley, Dodgson, R.R. Bennett, all of whom illustrate the expansion of the twentieth century repertoire in new directions. A substantial appendix by Stephen Dodgson, Writing for the guitar, provides insights into specific problems of composing for the guitar, and is also of interest to players.

Roy D. Brewer

 


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