Method: Mastering Sor Through Segovia

From the Winter 2016 issue of Classical Guitar | BY RHAYN JOOSTE

Andrés Segovia’s celebrated book of 20 studies by Fernando Sor can be found on the majority of classical guitarists’ shelves; with it, Segovia forever linked Sor (1778–1839) to the 20th century. But how many of us have actually played all of them, especially the last two? And what about their derivation? Where and when were they first composed? This lesson is going to take a closer look at Segovia’s Study No. 19, which is actually Sor’s Study No. 13 from Op. 29. Its publication in 1827 marks the beginning of Sor’s greatest period of creativity and also his last. We will delve into maintaining barre chords, right-hand tone options, left-hand stretching, and finger independence.

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In 1827, Beethoven was laid to rest, Mendelssohn premiered A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Spanish guitar maestro Fernando Sor returned to permanently live in Paris, where he published, among many other pieces, his second book of studies (Op. 29). It is easy to speculate that these had been with him prior to this moment and collated (and possibly written) during his circuitous journey the year before from a three-year stay in Russia. Sor’s second book was not composed to please patrons or to supply the ever-growing 19th century appetite for “easy” music; these were studies for guitarists and serious students who wanted to learn and improve their technique. Study No. 13, which inaugurates Op. 29, is no exception—it is a wonderfully colorful musical exercise which utilizes barre chords to support a melody in the unusual key, for guitar at least, of Bb.


Even though Op. 29 is a continuation of Sor’s first book of studies (Op. 6), it does not have the same cohesion of keys or range of technical development. Op. 29 does have challenging extended studies that place importance on broadening technique in a musical context. In No. 13, the right hand is a set of variants on a standard arpeggio figure (Bar 1 Micro Study 1). The challenge Sor presents us with is this: to clearly separate the melody from the bass and accompaniment. This can be accomplished with right-hand control—imagine a volume dial on each finger. Conversely, for this musical period, experimenting with finger tone, attack, and even angle is more pertinent. You could use a rest stroke, however that will cut off accompaniment notes. It would be more effective to alter the RH angle, with your wrist dropped and knuckles perpendicular to the strings, like Segovia. This gives a brighter tone to the melody, separating it from the accompaniment. Alternatively, it is also worth exploring using the backside of the a and m nails. However, this requires you to file your nails at a different angle and some patience to get the tone solid. The bass line should feel independent of the other voices, and again, experiment with tone, attack, and angle to achieve this.

The time signature is 2/4, however Sor has doubled up the rhythmic rate by using sextuplets, with eighth-note bass notes, and as such the sentiment is for a faster tempo. Pushing the original tempo Andante Lento a little breathes life into the melody and gives No. 13 a two-to-the-bar feel.

Micro Study 1 presents the five main arpeggio variations Sor utilized in this piece in a simple harmonic structure. Once internalized, they will help maintain your RH when Sor changes direction. A second aim is to experiment with tone changes. Choose either the bass or melody and concentrate on lifting the tone of those notes. We’re keeping the initial chord basic so that the focus is on the RH fingers. Once you have a grasp on the patterns and tone, then play

A major into Bb major with each repeat. This will help build up LH strength alongside RH control.

Note that the RH utilizes all of the fingers, not just the i and m fingers. We are, after all, modern guitarists trying to eke out technical prowess. Limiting the RH to three fingers for the sake of pure performance practice will curtail development.




No. 13 is in binary form (A B), with Sor recapitulating the opening material exactly half-way through at bar 29. The focus for the left hand is maintaining a series of shifting chords, the majority of which are barres—for 58 bars! Yup, there is no letup or hiding within this piece—it will train your barre technique like nothing else and also highlight any issues you have with it (see the Winter 2015 issue of CG for more barre guidance). Micro Study 2 is a great exercise for barre, and graduates by working each chord shape down the fretboard individually into using the first finger fully. Two key bits of LH advice: First, if you have not already played through these suggestions (Op. 31 No.7; Op. 35 No. 22; Op. 35 No. 20) which are in ascending order of difficulty, do so. Tackling these prior to No. 13 will help build up stamina; they also comprise a three-voice guitar texture and thus provide extra melody and tone practice. A second bit of advice is to play the first 20 bars only, until you develop the endurance for playing the rest of No. 13. Sor originally placed a repeat at bar 20 for the first section. Although no longer in modern editions, it is borne out in the music, as this is the only resting spot in the entire piece. So why not use it?



Playing any repertoire from the 19th-century requires you keep in mind that the guitar fretboard was slightly more compact (630 mm) compared to a modern guitar (650 mm), so there are going to be some challenging stretches. These stretches aren’t impossible; they just require some extra work on LH separation. Micro Study 3 has two stretching ideas that could fit nicely in a well-rounded warmup routine. Work these slowly—as in yoga-slow—one finger at a time, down the fretboard. There will probably be a fret you approach which you will not be able to stretch beyond—that is your wall; work towards breaking it each day. Bar 51 gets its own mini Micro study 3a—as this D7 shape is no longer used as a chord voicing, practice it carefully and slowly.




A few bars in Study No. 13 need extra consideration. In bar 2, finger 1 stretches backwards for a first-fret F. One approach is to place the fingers in order of use: 3, 4, 2, then 1. A transition in bar 17 to 18 is accomplished by also utilizing LH fingers individually. Isolate and practice any other bars that require this level of clarity. As a general rule, when undertaking any Sor piece, keep in mind that he advocated employing LH fingers only when necessary. This is a great habit to get into, and Micro Study 4 is a template, based on Sor’s harmony, for achieving this.



This study is a wonderful snapshot of the musical language of Sor’s time. In modern terminology, we are at the crossroads of the Classical period’s conclusion and the dawn of the Romantic. Therefore, it is worthwhile to go through and identify the chord types and their use. Sor exploits this late-Classical/early-Romantic syntax to take the melody on a journey, consequently there are lots of passing modulations and extra chromatic notes. Sor was a contemporary of Schubert and Berlioz, and as such, use of the diminished chord on its own (bar 53) or as a dominant substitute (bar 37), and unprepared sevenths in the melody (bar 2) are commonplace.


Study No. 13 ends with slurs on string 4. Depending on which edition you use, Segovia excised two of them in his; try and keep the melody down and free from these accompaniment figures.


Op. 29 by Fernando Sor is an underutilized resource for most guitarists, probably due to its well-deserved reputation for being challenging. Indeed, in all probability he used these exercises for himself. They provide a wealth of information on technique and musicality, if one is daring enough to play through the dots. His early studies will help you improve your tone and, more important, extend your technique and understanding of 19th century repertoire. 



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