(A note from Classical Guitar magazine editor Blair Jackson: The September issue of our sister publication Acoustic Guitar contains a Special Focus section called ‘The Guitar in Spain,’ which, among other stories, includes this “lesson” featuring Michael Chapdelaine’s arrangements of two of Tárrega’s best-known pieces. Although aimed somewhat at steel-stringed players, it should be relevant to you nylon-string folks, too! And please, don’t be horrified by the inclusion of the TAB notation in addition to the conventional notation. That’s how the steel-string world rolls, and if it will get more people trying to play this music, that’s a good thing!)
Romantic-era Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909) is generally regarded as one of the fathers of classical guitar, and a study of his oeuvre is essential for any serious classical player. But Tárrega’s work can be also be practiced by steel-string guitarists, as demonstrated by these two short and approachable pieces arranged by the iconoclastic classical and steel-string virtuoso Michael Chapdelaine.
Both “Adelita”and“Lágrima”have the sort of melody-and-accompaniment texture that is common to solo guitar literature of all genres. But the melodies should be played with apoyando,or rest strokes, as opposed to the free strokes that most steel-string fingerstylists use. In playing a rest stroke, your picking finger should come to rest on the adjacent lower-pitched string as you complete the stroke. This will give the melody a firm, robust tone.
Chapdelaine advises not to simply play the melody louder than the accompaniment, but to play the melody how you feel it, both in terms of volume and expressiveness, while rendering the accompaniment part more quietly. “The difference of this approach is massive in connecting and communicating with the listener—and the universe,” Chapdelaine says.
As for the fretting hand, follow the suggested fingerings throughout both pieces. Never use a barre unless otherwise indicated, as in bars 3, 10, 12, and 13 of “Adelita,” for optimal tonal clarity. And, rather than sliding your fingers on the wound strings when you shift positions, lift them off of the strings, perpendicular to the fretboard. That way, you’ll avoid a “wretched squeak,” as Chapdelaine puts it, referring to the transient sounds heard often in folk styles but considered poor form in classical playing.
Chapdelaine also recommends using your instrument’s entire dynamic range—playing as loudly as you can without the guitar buzzing, and as quietly as is audible—to create a dramatic arch as the melody rises and falls within each piece. And, most important, he suggests being connected to the emotional content of the pieces. For instance, “Lágrima means teardrop. You must look deep inside, play through your heart, find out what your tears feel like, and then play that feeling,” he says. “Make someone cry.”