The Nail Glissando Technique
Approaching the idiomatic of oriental music through the application of the “nail glissando technique” on the classical guitar
by Darío Moreira
The left-hand nail glissando is a derivation and adaptation of an ancient pulsation technique (in force today), which consists of stepping on the string with the left-hand nails; achieving a melismatic expressiveness close to the human voice. The oldest bowed string instrument using this technique is the Byzantine lyre, which has been expanding since the 10th century throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.
Currently this instrument has diversified with different forms and names: the Cretan lira, the Calabrian lira, the Bulgarian gadulka, or the Turkish kamanché. In addition, in India, this technique is used in instruments such as the bowed string sarangi, and the plucked string, sarod.
The technique of right hand called “dedillo” used on the Renaissance vihuela was not accepted or adapted for the classical guitar, although it has survived to the present day, as a natural way of playing on instruments of the lute family all over the world.
Despite the fact that the East-West encounter has been bearing fruit culturally over the centuries, the nail glissando technique, as the dedillo technique, did not find an adaptation and development in the classical guitar and predecessor instruments.
However, the glissando produced with the fingertips has a great reception in the classical music of the Romantic era, for its expressive quality of pathetic and passionate feelings. That is why composers such as Paganini and their successors: Sarasate, Quiroga, etc. make use of, and develop this and other techniques in the violin (the son of the Byzantine lyra) that, together with the other instruments of the family, they have a fretless fingerboard, which facilitates the portamento of sounds, the left hand pizzicato, the slurs, trills, ornamentation notes, etc.; making them ideal instruments to develop melodic virtuosity.
Regarding guitar technique, the influence that the master violinist Niccolò Paganini had on composer-guitarists stands out. I literally add here the conclusion reached by maestro Ricardo Barceló, where he states in his article, written for the Roseta magazine of the Spanish Guitar Association:
…The classical-romantic guitar underwent an evolutionary leap in the last quarter of the 19th century, transforming itself into the contemporary guitar. However, the main characteristics received from bowed instruments still persist in the style of the current guitar, just as, in a way, Paganini's guitar inspiration lives on in the violin today.
“From the violin to the guitar. Influences on technique, writing, organology and expression” (Ricardo Barcelo)
In the classical-romantic period, the violin was taken as a melodic and expressive model, and the piano as a reference orchestral instrument. This is why Don Francisco de Tárrega and his contemporaries, as well as his closest predecessors and his students, will take as a model these instruments, that were very popular at the time, to try to dignify the guitar and bring it to the large auditoriums.
Thanks to the didactic contributions, in the first place of the guitarist composers, who live the transition from the Baroque to the Classical-Romantic, among others, Juan Antonio de Vargas y Guzmán, Francisco Rodríguez "el Murciano", continuing with Dionisio Aguado, Fernando Sor, Mauro Giuliani, etc. up to Julián Arcas and Francisco de Tárrega; the technical bases that will support the instrument are created, expanding and diversifying the repertoire for guitar.
...we can find ourselves in front of a series of guitar effects that occurred in Tárrega's time and that were none other than the imitation of sobbing and imitation of crying; even, in some situations, the imitation of the drunk...
“Dragging or glissando in the works of Tárrega”
Adrián Rius- Espinos. Interpretar a Francisco Tárrega (artepulsado.com)
Within the world of classical guitar, already in the early 60s of the 20th century, there had been encounters between East and West, under the guidance of musicians such as Julian Bream, who approached the culture of India at first, led by a concern and spiritual search, and found himself with a music that captivated and fascinated him, and that he defined as the most natural way of making music. He confirmed, in a recording for the BBC, his interest, his versatility as a musician, and his special vocation for improvisation, in a meeting with the sarod master Ali Akbar Khan and the tabla master Ustad Alla Rakha.
A musical and friendship relationship maintained over time was that of Yehudi Menuhin with Ravi Shankar. Both met in the 1950s, and as a result of this friendship record collaborations arose (West meets East 1966) and concerts together, where the cultural encounter took place naturally, in an approach that was born of mutual admiration, of curiosity for knowing the musical traditions that each one carried.
Yehudi Menuhin and Ravi Shankar
In 1977, the guitarist composer Carlo Domeniconi created the first official classical guitar course at the National Conservatory of Istanbul University. In addition of being a continuator of the legacy of the classical guitarist composer paradigm, which is nourished by popular music, and by the different currents of academic music and jazz; he is also a forerunner, expanding the repertoire for classical guitar, with compositions inspired by the musical languages of India and Turkey.
In this historical follow-up, it is interesting to observe how the organological diversification of the guitar gave birth to the fretless guitar in the 70s in Turkey, the gateway to the East, by the hand of the traditional musician, classical guitarist and jazz, Erkan Ogur. The fretless fingerboard, as a differentiating organological characteristic, generates a better adaptation of the instrument to interpret the classical music of the Middle East. More recently, the design devised in 2008 by guitarist Tolgahan Cogulu, expands its possibilities with the adjustable microtonal guitar; based on research into microtonalism, and on historical prototypes of microtonal guitars, dating back to the mid-19th century.
A pioneer of fretless guitars, Erkan Oğur
The research on microtonalism of the 19th century led to the construction of the first microtonal prototype guitars that, which were developed over a long historical period, by pioneering researchers and luthiers: Louis Panormo (enharmonic guitar-1832), René Lacote (guitar with adjustable tuning-1845), Paul Kochendorfer (microtonal guitar-1912), Julian Carrillo and Alois Hába (first half of the 20th century-guitars that divide the 8th into 12 equal parts) Augusto Novaro (guitars with three different divisions of the 8th-1927) and Walter J. Vogt (creator of adjustable frets-1985); until reaching the present moment, where musical horizons and possibilities are broadened, drawing a bridge between East and West, thanks also to contemporary composers creating new repertoires for the instrument, and to the support of institutions such as the Turkish State Conservatory of Music at Istanbul University.
Personal experience – Finding the nail glissando
This historical legacy is the basis of my development as a composer-guitarist. From my beginnings, I always had the need to explore new forms of expression on the guitar, influenced by styles and instruments that I listened to in my youth, such as the music of India, by the teacher Ravi Shankar, who was a pioneer in bringing traditional classical music from India to the West. That is why, at first, I felt attracted to the sitar, the tabla and the bansuri, instruments that carry a complex musical tradition, where the ability to improvise ornate melodies is developed, rooted in a great variety of rhythmic sequence.
In the early 2000s, I was recording an improvisation when, by mistake, I stepped on the string with my nail, resulting in a sound with a different shade of color than the conventional glissando, which I found quite interesting. On the fly, I then decided to continue playing and exploring that sound. That beginning would later lead to an investigation, adaptation and systematization of the nail glissando to the classical guitar.
In a first stage, there is an encounter with the technique of stepping on the nail, which is totally fortuitous, I approach this technique naturally, from intuition. I continue to explore individually, since I still have no references, on which to base my experience.
In a second stage, I become aware of the value of this technique and its expressive potential. Thanks to the idea of creating, with a fine sandpaper, a groove on each nail of the left hand, with which to hook the finger to the string (as if it were a train wheel on a track); I can slide along the fingerboard with only one finger by exerting, with the weight of the hand, a slight pressure on the string. This has resulted in a greater sense of security, freedom and fluidity in the longitudinal movement, resulting in ease of melodic improvisation and ornamentation on one string.
In a third stage, I begin to investigate the origins of the nail glissando through the internet, finding, in the first place, this practice in the sarod of India; although I did not find a conventional way of use, but rather, it could vary according to the interpreter. Later, I was able to verify its effectiveness on the different bowed instruments descendants of the Byzantine lyre, that is played in a conventional way, with a technique that consists of exert lateral pressure on the strings with the nail.
In a final stage, I begin to systematize the findings, which generally come from improvisations, as thematic material to inspire me to develop a work for guitar. I imagine the possibility of creating it within the framework of a Mediterranean sound, and I call it “ORIRI Creative Guitar Concert”.
The sound concept developed in ORIRI is a synthesis of the instrument's own idiomatic resources, and other technical resources, created and expanded, coming from related instruments from diverse cultures.
From Almería, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, I am going to meet the instruments of the Mediterranean basin, which are historically documented with an antiquity of more than 1000 years. These are from the harp family, and from the lute in all its variants, both bowed and plucked strings
Instrument of the lute family, by the Egyptian musician Har-Mose (1490 B.C.), directly related to the gembri, the tidinit and the n'goni, traditional West African instruments
I can't say which comes first, my interest in the instrument, or in different musical cultures, but what is quite evident is that the instrument serves as a vehicle to approach specific languages of certain cultures. In ORIRI (my first album for solo guitar) the gaze is turned towards the historical origins of the lute and guitar family, and other related stringed instruments, to create a personal sound and an aesthetic, that is situated in today's contemporary music.
Regarding this fact, there are converging thoughts between the work “ORIRI Creative Guitar Concert” and “Frondoso Misterio”, concerto for cello and orchestra by maestro Luis de Pablo. For example, that the vibrato is part of the work; it is not considered decorative as an ornament, but rather becomes an inseparable part of the sound concept.
In ORIRI, the use of nail glissando, as glissando and vibrato, in different variants, is used intentionally and consciously, being a fundamental element that builds and defines the sound of the whole work. In addition, this is developed in a wide spectrum of color and textures, when combined with other techniques such as: “dedillo”, percussion on wood, tapping, conventional techniques and different uses of harmony.
In “Frondoso Misterio” Luís de Pablo makes use of the harmonics with imprecise tuning in high notes, in combination with medium and low notes with precise tuning, that result in a novel writing and timbral texture. He says, about his work, that it is like inventing a new instrument.
In “Sentir Saharaui”, a piece included in the work ORIRI, I create a way to play harmonics with the right hand, with a technique that I call "anchored ring", which allows me to maintain a melody with high-pitched harmonics in binary rhythm, and at the same time, to add a percussive bass in ternary rhythm with the left hand (polyrhythm characteristic of Saharawi Haul music).
The master Luís de Pablo, in a video presentation of his work "Frondoso Misterio", reveals his musical ideas, inspirations and fascination for the kamanché, instrument of Turkey. He speaks of this bowed string instrument as a generator of emotive truth, due to its connection with the human voice, with its natural impure inflections, where the purity of sound and musical expressiveness prevails. He defines it in his work with the term "parlando molto tenero" and it is in contrast to the classical sound concept, where the purity of sound is pursued; searching, after hours and hours of rehearsal, for the classical canon of perfection.
A woman playing kamancheh, Qazar Iran, 1800-1825
Finally, I would like to propose some hypotheses about the nail glissando technique, which is common practice, as I said before, in instruments descended from the Byzantine lyre, and which I have adapted to the classical guitar, creating a groove on the edge of the nail, to engage and step on the string.
Does it really expand the timbre-expressive resources of the guitar?
In classical, acoustic, electric guitar, etc., the use of the conventional glissando has spread to all genres and styles of music, where its success and effectiveness have been experienced and proven. This fact represents a good starting point for its development. Then, if spaces are opened for the experimentation of new techniques, the color palette of the guitar would be enriched with different and complementary results.
Has this technique also been adopted, in the guitar played in India, when improvising ragas?
Since there is a traditional instrument such as the sarod, which has a fretless fingerboard, and is played by pressing the strings with the body of the fingernail, it would be natural to adapt this technique to the guitar, in the context of Indian classical music.
I have found no evidence to confirm this fact; however, in the hansa veena (a modern derivation of the guitar with added sympathetic strings, similar to the steel guitar of United States), the bottleneck slide technique is used, with a result similar to the nail glissando technique.
Is it really an easily adapted technique for the classical guitarist?
From my own experience, it is an easily adapted technique not only for the classical guitarist, but also for the guitarist in general who plays different styles, such as blues, jazz, country, folk, etc. I have even experimented with the nail glissando on steel strings, with satisfactory results. It must be taken into account, that the groove that is made on the edge of the nail of the left hand, is not greater than 1 mm, so it is convenient to have short nails, so as not to produce noise, and to combine satisfactorily with the conventional left-hand plucking techniques.
Could enhance the oriental idiomatic expressiveness, in microtonal and fretless instruments?
I have not had the opportunity to verify this technique in micro-tonal or fretless instruments, but judging by the application of the pressure of the nail on the strings of the Indian sarod instrument, I can affirm, that the fact of having a solid pressure point as it is the groove of the nail, it defines in a precise way the nodal point that we want to play on a fretless fingerboard. On the other hand, we would increase the expressive richness, by being able to practice light portamento that join several notes very easily, in microtonal and fretless instruments.
In conclusion, I would like to leave here a personal reflection: that the function of contemporary musical art could be the representation of ritual, linking us to nature through the umbilical cord of memory that identifies us as a species.
(The text and its editing is published under the author's responsibility)
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Τεχνική επιμέλεια σελίδας Κώστας Γρηγορέας
(Το περιεχόμενο του κειμένου, το φωτογραφικό, βιντεογραφικό ή ηχητικό υλικό καθώς και η επιμέλεια του άρθρου είναι ευθύνη του συγγραφέα)
|Το TaR, εκπληρώνοντας το όραμα του ιδρυτή του Νότη Μαυρουδή (1945-2023), συνεχίζει να λειτουργεί ως μία ελεύθερη και αυστηρά μη κερδοσκοπική μουσική διαδικτυακή κοινότητα, που βασίζεται αποκλειστικά στην εθελοντική εργασία και στην εγκυρότητα των συνεργατών του.
Δεν απασχολεί επαγγελματίες δημοσιογράφους, διορθωτές κλπ, άρα δεν έχει την υποδομή και τους πόρους ώστε να ελέγχει την ακρίβεια των πληροφοριών και την πνευματική ιδιοκτησία του υλικού που παρατίθεται (κειμένου, εικόνων, βίντεο, ηχογραφήσεων κλπ). Βασίζεται αποκλειστικά στην καλή πίστη του αρθρογράφου, ο οποίος είναι ο υπεύθυνος για τις απόψεις του και για το υλικό που επιλέγει, από το προσωπικό του αρχείο. Οποιοσδήποτε θεωρεί ότι θίγεται από την χρήση πληροφοριών και υλικού παρακαλείται να το δηλώσει άμεσα ώστε να γίνει άμεση διόρθωση (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Το TaR έχει ως στόχο να στηρίξει την ποιοτική μουσική δημιουργία κι όχι να θίξει με οποιονδήποτε τρόπο τους δημιουργούς και το έργο τους.
Επίσης, η πληροφόρηση που το TaR παρέχει μέσω των ενημερωτικών στηλών του για συναυλίες, εκδόσεις, σεμινάρια, διαγωνισμούς, φεστιβάλ κλπ εξαρτάται αποκλειστικά από τα Δελτία Τύπου που στέλνουν οι ενδιαφερόμενοι καλλιτέχνες ή διοργανωτές, τα οποία το TaR δημοσιεύει πάντα "καλή τη πίστει". Το TaR δεν φέρει ευθύνη για πιθανές ανακρίβειες και βασίζεται στην βοήθεια των αναγνωστών ώστε να διορθώνονται τα όποια προβλήματα.
Διαχειριστής: Κώστας Γρηγορέας
Ιδρυτής: Νότης Μαυρουδής