Study no.8 in Opus 6 in C major is a wonderful piece that really tests the refinement of our right hand. Balancing voices and creating long legato lines are two of the hardest musical techniques to master on the guitar, which makes this little study quite challenging.
To start off let’s acknowledge that this piece is written in a vocal style. The difference between a vocal style and an instrumental style could be summed up by saying; a vocal style can be sung and imitates the sung voice and an instrumental style can only be performed on an instrument which offers more agility and speed. This piece is written in the style of a chorale, and is quite reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s famous chorale pieces. One of Sor’s great attributes as a composer is that he really takes care of the voice leading in his works. More often that not, the voice leading can get thrown out the window on the guitar because it is quite difficult to maintain a musical line, let alone several at the same time. Because of the six strings and the way the guitar is tuned, there are passages that may be easily realized on a piano that are simply impossible on the guitar, a melody with accompanying thirds for example. Often the compromise on the guitar would be to drop notes out, or move them into different octave (Bach arrangements are a perfect example of this). So keeping all this in mind, we can appreciate Sor even more for his voice leading prowess.
Seeing that this piece is in a vocal style, the best thing to do would be to sing the parts! Singing lines in music is a wonderful way to solve legato, voice leading, and melodic issues before we even touch the instrument. It gets separate voices in our ear without the busy left and right hands obfuscating the musical material. The study has two complete voices, the melody and bass, and an incomplete voice that lives between the two.
- Play through the melody and bass separately making sure to play the rests, and listen for phrasing.
- Play through the inner voice. This is not as clear as the outer two because it sometimes overlaps with other voices, and sometimes drops out all together!
If I were to say that this study was about one thing in particular, it would be suspensions. Have a look at the image below and see that there are four clear groups of suspensions, and each type of suspension is different.
- The first couple are 4-3 suspensions written out on the downbeat
- The second set are 4-3 again but written out with appoggiaturas
- The third set have tied quarter noes providing rhythmic syncopation
- The fourth and final couple are cadential
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The key thing to remember about playing suspensions is that they are dissonances that resolve. The first note, the note that is suspended, does not belong with the harmony surrounding it. Only when the suspension is resolved is the harmony consonant. The dissonance should be played with a louder dynamic that then relaxes onto a softer consonance. I often hear the mistake of playing the two notes at the same dynamic, or the second note louder because the consonant chord can be often easier for the fingers.
- The first set has the suspensions in the inner voice, so the challenge here is to bring out that voice clearly with your i finger. The technique of balancing voices with your left hand is challenging and should be practiced separately.
- The second set is a little easier to control because it is in the top voice, however, the interesting aspect is the written appoggiaturas. The appoggiatura is a ‘leaning’ note, in that the first note ‘leans’ into the next. It is not played with a quick slur, but rather has the time value of half the written note. In this case the written note is a quarter note, so the two notes have a value of one eighth each.
- The third set has a beautiful line of syncopated suspensions with a sequence running beneath it. A wonderful culmination of the material that makes up the work, the most exciting moment in the piece. The challenge here is to make sure the tied notes receive their full rhythmic value.
- The final set marks the cadence of the piece, and it is a double suspension. We have the appoggiatura in the melody and the syncopated suspension in the bass that goes on to resolve with yet another appoggiatura. You will need to take care of both of these suspensions at the same time. Keep in mind the correct rhythm needed for the two eighth note appoggiaturas…
The sequences make the counterpart to the suspensions in this piece, and they offer the challenge of coherence and phrasing. Each part of the sequence needs to have its own shaping, which relates to the whole sequence chain. And, the whole sequence chain needs to be phrased as a group. Often there are conversational interactions that you will want to bring out from the voices, the second and fourth groups of sequences are particularly fun. Like the suspensions, each chain of sequences are differentiated. Some are ascending by step, some descending, some by leap. I’ll leave it up to you to discover the individual traits. Make sure to give each one a shape and direction, and be ‘singing’ with your playing all the while!