Global Guitar

Welcome to Fingerstyle Monthly. With this edition we’re going to examine the different approaches to playing fingerstyle guitar.

Fingerstyle guitar is a worldwide phenomenon. There’s just something about the guitar that makes it fit in with every culture’s native music. How did the guitar become so widely spread in the first place?

The spread of the guitar is tied to invasion and, in some cases, warfare. Let’s look at the guitar’s history and evolution.

The first ancestors of the guitar are thought to be small stringed instruments introduced into Spain by Arab invaders around the 8th century. The guitar in Spain was a smaller instrument than today’s guitar. It had pairs of strings, not the 6 strings of the modern guitar.

Beginning in the 1500’s, the guitar began to spread into the rest of Europe. It was mainly spread by traveling musicians. By the early 1800’s the guitar had changed into an instrument that we would recognize today.

The guitar of the past had some things in common with today’s guitar. It was light, portable and easy to play in a basic way. It was the perfect instrument for soldiers and sailors to travel with. This helped spread the guitar through the European colonization of the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Now the guitar is found all over the world. In each area it’s played a little differently.

Same Instrument, Different Approaches

People are playing different types of music, but the fingerstyle approach breaks down into one of two ways. It’s either a classical guitar approach or a chordal approach.

The classical guitar approach tends to focus on melody notes and bass lines. There are 2 or 3 notes happening at the same time, but usually not a lot of big chords being played.

The chordal approach is based on the melody being played as the highest pitched note in a guitar chord. It’s a style that came out of the plectrum banjo and guitar styles found in early 20th century jazz.

The fingerstyle guitar’s use in different cultures seems to be most firmly based in the classical approach. An example of this is found in some of the guitar music in Latin America.

Augustin Barrios, who lived from 1885-1944, was a famed guitarist and composer who was influenced by the folk music of his native Paraguay. He was also influenced by European composers and guitarists. Many of his compositions show the mixing of the two styles.

Another example from Latin America is Luiz Bonfa. As one of the fathers of Bossa Nova in the 1950’s, he introduced a more chordally based playing style.

Bonfa was trained as a classical guitarist and played beautifully in that style. He was also influenced by the traditional music of Brazil and American jazz.

So we have two players who made a big impact on the fingerstyle guitar world. They both added their own unique ingredients to make music flavored by where they lived.

Guitar in the High Desert

I recently had the good fortune to make a trip to northern New Mexico. While I was walking through an arts fair in a park in Taos, I heard some beautiful guitar music. I found a booth set up by the Santa Fe based guitar duo of Sol Y Luna

Talk about the guitar in different cultures. Tito, a Bolivian native, is partnered with Petra, a Czech, by way of Canada. Interesting people and great players. They told me that they’re working on a new release. I’m looking forward to hearing it.

Contact Me

The world of fingerstyle guitar is big and keeps growing. It’s impossible to cover all of the bases. If you see or hear something that you think would benefit other players, let me know.

Use the Contact Me page at to get in touch. I’ll follow up and put anything that I find appropriate on the site.

I hope you have enjoyed this newsletter. If you think your friends might be interested in taking a look, please feel free to forward this to them.

See you next month!

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