Sometime during my second year of undergrad, I played Carcassi’s Op. 60 No. 1. At that point in my learning, I did not realize the importance of studying the foundational works of the greats of the past. The 19th century holds such a vast amount of music that one could master the guitar by studying these works exclusively.
After returning to it a number of times throughout my playing, I am always finding something new that I did not find previously. In working to play it at a high level, three distinct problems need addressing. The first focuses on the misunderstanding that most casual learners of the guitar see as staccato notes. The second, and more subjective relates to fingering. The third delves into the independence of finger movement when playing the arpeggio section.
Staccato Notes In Op. 60 No. 1
In the 19th century, scale passages were commonly played with slurs as common practice. This causes great misunderstanding when looking at an older manuscript or edition of a piece of music. The beginning of the piece has the indication of “staccato” and there are staccato markings over many of the scalar passages. The problem arises when a student of the guitar puts on 20th-century glasses to view 19th-century writing practices.
The use of the staccato indication in this piece indicates that the scalar passages should not use the common practice of the slur. They do not indicate that the piece should be played staccato throughout. The piece does not have any indicated staccato markings that should be adhered. The piece should be played fluidly and as legato as possible without slurring any of the notes (every note should be played by the right hand).
Carcassi’s Right Hand Finger Choices
The interesting thing about Carcassi’s Op. 60 is that it follows Op. 59. Now that may not sound like an astonishing idea. However, Carcassi, like his contemporaries, laid out a method and then wrote the following collection applying the principles set out in the method. Therefore, the piece itself does not contain right-hand fingerings.
In order to understand the purpose of this piece according to Carcassi a look into Op. 59 is required. In it, the following exercise appears (Example 1). Notice the exclusive use of the thumb (+) on the lower three strings. This idea is continuous throughout the entirety of his method. Therefore, when playing the scalar passages the thumb was used much more frequently than we find in modern interpretations of the piece.
Independence of Finger Movement in the Arpeggio Section
The arpeggio section of this piece is deceptively difficult to create smooth transitions. Many times the piece has a very legato feel by a player and then the arpeggio section hits and it sounds very broken.
The challenge as Carcassi wrote it is in the leaps up and down the fingerboard. The challenge from the player’s perspective is to move the hand before necessary and to place it in order of right-hand execution. Though the shifts may not be completely seamless in sound, they will come fairly close with proper left-hand movement.
Though all of the ways of improving the movement will differ depending on the player, these few will be of the type to look for in this small passage. The initial place to look is in measure 29 where it all begins (Example 2). After playing the C on string 5, the finger releases after the C on string 2 plays allowing it to begin the movement to string 4 and the G on fret V. Then, the rest of the fingers follow the movement one at a time as the right hand executes the arpeggio. This idea continues through each of the chords. Lead with the elbow after the finger releases to begin the movement to the next chord.
In measure 31, finger 1 releases immediately after playing the C on string 2 in order to begin the movement to string 4 for the F♯. Then, the rest of the fingers land one at a time according to the order of the right-hand arpeggio. This idea really sets this section apart in learning it as a study. It allows the student to really focus on the execution of the left hand in the independence of movement before the chord releases and the idea of following the order of the right hand for smooth execution.
Though this is not strictly independence of movement, another small factor might aid in this section. The use of a preparatory hinge bar in measures 32 allows for the laying down of finger 1 to play the G on string 1 before laying the full bar down to reach the G on string 4.
The addressing of these issues applies as much to this piece as in many other pieces. The challenge with the guitar many times is knowing what to look for when assessing a specific challenge in a specific piece. Obviously, any player could have any number of challenges to focus on in Op. 60 No.1 and not just the ones mentioned here. These represent the issues most commonly seen in the learning of this wonderful study.
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