Role and Function of Musical Analysis in Guitar Teaching
Published: 1993 Author: Angel Gilardino
I APOLOGISE to the readers for any references of a personal nature in the introductory comments. These are not intended to be autobiographical but to provide background information on the processes that developed a methodology for teaching which I call ‘the art of musical interpretation applied to guitar repertoire’.
I began teaching the guitar, in an official capacity at a public institution, in 1971. I had previous experience in cello studies, composition, and as both guitar student and recitalist. These activities had started in 1954. But in 1968 I stopped giving concerts in order to undertake a detailed investigation into guitar technique. I realised, despite the presence of guitarists who performed with undoubted mechanical ease, that well-defined principles of guitar technique did not exist, or at least had never been written down.
This investigation lasted two years and led to the establishment of a system of principles on which guitar technique might be based, a system now associated with my own teaching. In 1971, believing in the validity of these principles and wishing to try them out, I began teaching at the Viotti Academy in Vercelli, a prestigious musical institution particularly in the field of singing and pianoforte. I continued the experiment for a decade, enjoying a teaching workload which also allowed some concert activity and the editing of music with Edizioni Musicali Bèrben.
During these ten years I was concerned primarily with guitar technique in a mechanical sense. The problems to overcome were not just a matter of finding out the validity of principles that I had worked out. It was also a question of how to apply the principles to every individual instrumentalist.
From here my investigations developed in various directions. Quite soon I found myself working in a number of interdisciplinary areas. When the problems of a ‘methodology of application’ had been largely solved, both theoretically and in daily practice, I devoted myself to another field of study, that of musical interpretation based on the analysis of scores. In 1981, in conjunction with important personal factors and a decision to dedicate myself to composing for guitar, I resolved to give up public recitals and work full time as a guitar teacher.
In the following years I taught students on the graduate and performance courses of the State Conservatoire (where I taught from 1981) and was involved with the corsi de perfezionamento, that specific, delicate phase in a guitarist’s education between the end of years of study in the Conservatoire and the beginning of professional activity. I have been working in this area for almost ten years with a workload exhausting yet compatible with compositional and editorial activities, although certainly not conducive to concert activity. However in my present research, experience as a recitalist is indispensable. But my work is now different from that of the player as it is directed towards a didactic aim.
In this research I began using elements of musical analysis to be developed into a single methodology. I know that some are sceptical of this kind of thing and prefer to emphasise the so-called musical ‘instinct’. They would rather limit teaching to the initial stages of the guitarist’s education and rely on the spontaneous manifestation of the pupil’s natural musicality. (This position finds many adherents among virtuoso players who evidently do not receive sufficient applause in their recitals!)
In reality, if the problems of musical interpretation are faced in a serious way, and not just superficially, we soon realise that the initial stages in the formation of a student are accessible to a large number of teachers whereas the attainment of a high level of interpretation precludes the great majority of guitarists, including, one might add, a number of celebrities!
Obviously musical ‘instinct’ is helpful in the early stages but it is certainly insufficient in later phases of development where the support of precise knowledge is necessary. That precise knowledge is a matter of musical analysis which is the teacher’s responsibility.
Traditional scholastic analysis of a passage of music is still an indispensable procedure. But it is not enough by itself in the foundation of a responsible process of reading and assimilation of the text. On the other hand more advanced methods of musical analysis, which go well beyond the formal breaking down of the text, though very worthwhile, risk becoming merely aesthetic exercises. This is because such methods (at least with reference to the usual practices among guitarists) do not develop the essential relationships between analytic study and practical conclusions in the act of performance.
The researcher’s work finds itself caught between two opposing forces, that of analytic study and practical performance. Both concepts need to be mastered if one’s own commitment is not to be frustrated.
I believe that it is very interesting and useful to examine the text in the light of a particular methodology. This (once the processes of the formation of a passage of music are understood) makes it far easier to put into practice immediately, conclusions derived from detailed assessment of the text. It is a curious fact that while real analysis of the text is up to the teacher, practical insights which emerge from such analysis reveal themselves with surprising spontaneity. These insights become at once accessible to the pupil who can then usually decide, in terms appropriate to the guitar, what should be done. But it is the analysis, not the pupil’s musical instinct, nor the teacher’s instinct, nor the combined instincts of both pupil and teacher, which places the student beyond misunderstanding and error.
Certainly a clear, careful dismemberment of the entire form of the piece step by step (movements, sections, phrases, half phrases, cadences, etc) is a good way of analysing the text correctly. But it obviously needs ingenuity if this is the way you intend to approach solutions to interpretative problems. (If it were enough just to have the ability to divide the piece up and indicate points of articulation between various phrases, we could ignore the blatant errors present on the recordings of some of the ‘great’ guitarists!)
Analytic research begins just where the old formal analysis ends (as with harmonic analysis, the problem does not change much!). It is now essential, in my opinion, to proceed systematically by associating every analytic observation to insights defined in terms of the guitar.
If, for example, a passage of music was conceived in the imagination of a composer who does not play the guitar, or, even more to the point, under the absolute digital control of the guitarist-composer, the analysis should concern itself with discovering and indicating the various ‘structural moments’ of the composition, the ‘guide signs’, the cardinal points which are the foundation of essential, fundamental features of the composition and its related fingerings. Once these cardinal points are fixed and firm, it is possible to progress to an awareness of all the movements of energy that connect them to the non-structural aspects so that each movement is assigned a clear energetic function of tension and release. This approach to analytic research finds its immediate insights defined in terms of the guitar’s intensity and quality of timbre. From this analytic research springs the so-called ‘fingering’, which is in itself a conclusion of the reading of the text, not just the initial stage.
Moving away from the centre, analysis proceeds to the evaluation of relationships between compositional unity (whether or not formed by structural elements), distinguishing and considering logical interactions. This includes development of concepts of rhythm which examine not only the time factor, but also multidimensional aspects of the structure looked at from within the unity characteristic of the piece.
In the development of this process of analysis, we find ourselves moving towards an ‘awareness of connections’ which controls the life of the musical organism. As we examine the smallest elements that make up the primary structure we also assess the widest and deepest implications of the piece. In this analysis it is of a lesser significance whether the passage of music comes from a sonata, a theme with variations or a study. Such aspects refer only to its period of creation, its musical toponym, but suddenly all becomes clear. For this process defines the concepts of form not as they appear in the design of the external perimeters of a composition, but as its internal geography, as relationships within all – the ‘phenomena’ of the piece, not static but dynamic and moving. The outstanding benefit that the interpreter derives from this analysis can be properly defined as ‘a sense of form’ at the very place where an ‘instinctive’ reading of the text makes itself null and void by ignoring ‘internal relationships’ within the formal structure and denying that these varied moments of the composition are indeed a vital part of the overall design.
It is necessary to mention the great significance of the analytic process in developing an awareness of the composition, in regard to the learning of the piece, its historical reality, and its persistence in the mind. Quite definitely it avoids the process of memorising through mere digital repetition. Instead the learning of the composition becomes identified with the act of analysis. To analyse means to define in every detail one’s own interpretation of a passage and at the same time to remember those details. Those pieces that have not been analysed in this way have to be studied and re-studied over and over again but analysis ‘fixes’ every fact in the memory unforgettably and it will not be necessary to learn them again.
The scope of this article has compelled me to attempt a compressed synthesis of a methodological procedure of which I am, as far as purely musical aspects are concerned, a debtor to eminent studies of musical analysis. But in aspects relating to the guitar, I am the inventor. To invent something gives pleasure in itself to the person who invents, and pleasure to others who believe that the invention is useful. The good inventor also knows that his own ‘machine’ will in the fullness of time be improved upon and the precious prototype will eventually be regarded as an antiquated and comical implement!
Something else I forgot to mention. Every teacher of guitar who works with advanced students must also study composition! (By saying this I am sure I will have dealt my popularity a permanent blow!)
– Translated by Giovanni Guido & Graham Wade
Copyright © 1993 by Angelo Gilardino