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The Nature of the Guitar

It can not be denied that the piano and the guitar are entirely different instruments: their physical disparities are obvious. Why then, do we tend to approach understanding and playing these instruments in the same way? There are, of course, certain similarities: the piano and guitar can both produce single notes (as can most any instrument, including saxophones and flutes), and these instruments are separated from their cousins by their polyphony - their ability to produce harmony. The nature of the piano lies in the way that it is set up; one must play in a left-right (horizontal) linear fashion. The nature of the guitar also lies in its setup - one can play either left and right (linearly, but not polyphonically), or up and down (vertically, polyphonically or monophonically). Even the types of harmony that these instruments produce are different; the piano lends itself to tertiary harmony and the guitar (because it is tuned primarily in fourths) to quartal harmony. Although similar chord voicings can be played on both they are seldom dualistically idiomatic, and therefore require uncomfortable stretches and awkward fingerings.

There are numbers inherent in music. For example, an octave consists of 12 semi-tones. 12 can be factored several ways:
  1. 12 and 1 = 1 discrete chromatic (12 tone) scale
  2. 6 and 2 = 2 discrete whole tone (6 tone) scales
  3. 4 and 3 = 3 discrete diminished (4 tone) arpeggios
  4. 3 and 4 = 4 discrete augmented (3 tone) arpeggios
There are also patterns inherent to the guitar which take advantage of these "musical numbers". These fingerings lend themselves to the guitar particularly well:
  1. Chromatic patterns (12 and 1)
    there is one chromatic scale, and it can be easily played horizontally or vertically
  2. Diminished patterns (4 and 3)
    chords there are 3 diminished chords, and they consist of harmonic augmented quartal intervals and are easily executed vertically
    scales consist of repeating 4 note patterns contained within a diminished 5th, and are easily executed in a horizontal fashion
    arpeggios consist of augmented fourth intervals (enharmonically speaking) and are easily executed in a combination of vertical and horizontal movement
  3. Whole tone patterns
    diminished 5ths are easily executed vertically
    scales consist of consecutive whole steps and are easily executed in a combination of horizontal and vertical motion
    Arpeggios/chords consist of consecutive major thirds and are easily executed vertically.
The focus is this: would it not make more sense for guitar players to focus on playing that which is easiest to execute technically? Why do we seek to emulate keyboard and horn players when their physical layout is so fundamentally different?

Jeremy Cotton is the guitar faculty at the Dallas School of Music; the doctor says he's all better, now