American Fingerstyle Guitar

Extracted from the CD insert of:
"Guitar Fingerstyle - a Narada Collection"

The guitar has become an undeniable American icon, finding its way into every corner of American culture.  Just as the modern classical guitar was refined in the inspired hands of the Spanish, the modern acoustic steel-string guitar is a distinctly American contribution.  Indeed, many of the great innovations of the past century were wrought in the shops of C.F. Martin, Orville Gibson and many others.  The instrument continues to be molded and refined, in response to the demands of today's master players as they push the limits of what their instruments can do.

Perhaps no single approach to playing the instrument has pushed those limits more than fingerstyle -- a technique that uses, to great advantage, the fingers of the right hand to individually pluck the strings, rather than a flatpick to strum or pick them.  It is here that the greatest potential of the guitar is realized.  Melody, independently moving bass lines and inner voices combine to create a complete, almost "orchestral" sound.

In the disciplined hands of the fingerstylist, the guitar takes on many attributes of the piano -- but can be held in the player's lap!  What other instrument can boast such portable polyphony?  Fingerstyle guitarists are unique among musicians in their ability to simultaneously and independently express every musical thought with all the dynamics of a symphony (strong words but try to get a vibrato on a piano).

It's no surprise then, that the guitar figures so prominently in the history of American music.  It was through guitar -- and fingerstyle guitar in particular -- that blues, ragtime, country, gospel, jazz, and other forms melded with regional music traditions extending from the Mississippi Delta to the Memphis barrelhouses to the back porches of Muhlenburg County, KY.  Scratchy 78 sides cut in the '20s and '30s testify to these roots of American fingerstyle music.  In the forties, struggling guitarists would listen to their radios, mesmerized by Chet Atkins' magical sounds, concluding that there must be at least two guitarists playing.  There weren't.

Today, the genre has proliferated and flourished as at no other time in history.  In the inexhaustible quest to discover new sounds and make new and daring musical statements, players slap, tap and pop their strings.  Rapping the body of the guitar, they extract percussive accents as though it were a drum.   They reach over and fret notes with the right hand.  Their ventures into the realm of altered tunings effectively extend the harmonic range of the instrument, creating deep, resonating basses, new and wonderful chord voices, and sonic textures never before realized.  Combined now with the spirits of South American, African, Middle Eastern, Oriental and European music, the resulting contemporary American fingerstyle repertoire is exciting, challenging, inspiring, stirring.

John Schroeter

 

"Guitar Fingerstyle - a Narada Collection"

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