This interesting book is published by Schott as part of their exploration of ‘World Music’ for the guitar. Vicki and Jonny are masters of a range of folk instruments and are not bespoke classical guitar players, but their formal musical credentials are very impressive, so this gives the book some gravitas.
This is an introduction to various folk tunes from around the world. It’s an unusual collection including English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Scandinavian and both Western and Eastern European folk tunes. Some “local” ones were new to me and that’s always the pleasure in an anthology: The freshness of surprise.
There are slips, jigs, polkas, reels, and even a ‘pillow dance’. There is some ‘klezmer’ music, some tunes in cut time, and some unusual phrase lengths (4+6), although nothing in an eccentric metre. I played through quite a few modal tunes as well, and as an opportunity to hear this sort of tonality, this book hits the mark. The authors urge the player to listen to the enclosed CD to better understand the idiom, and furthermore to experiment with their own personal interpretations of the melodies.
That request sort of gets at the heart of the matter – folk music is an aural tradition passed on normally in sessions and gatherings where tunes are repeated again and again. There is certainly a value to be had with notating them, but I was pleased they acknowledge the importance of listening to how they play it and the role of the ear in developing these tunes.
The tunes have simple static bass harmonies under-pinning them and this gives the tune a tonal relevance. It also sometimes imparts a difficulty which belies the simplicity of the tune. They choose the key of G quite a lot and when it comes to finding a dominant chord, they notate an F# on string 6 whilst still playing a tune above. Young fingers may find this hard.
As an exploration of the guitar this book perhaps misses a trick – dropping string 6 down a tone would have allowed for a fundamental note and easier playing. There might even have been an argument for suggesting someone else plays the bass line, so that the player can really focus on the tune. Vicki and Jonny selected keys which mostly sit in 1st position guitar playing, but it does mean the tessitura is sometimes a bit baritone – that’s inevitable if we ask the young player to do it all!
I accept that tablature is a much used medium and here it is directly underneath the notation. The debate still goes on about whether or not this is good practice. I would personally prefer to see the tab away from the notes, thereby encouraging our reading students to keep reading. But it is a small quibble.
As usual, the Schott presentation is lovely and everything is readable and easy on the eye. As an introduction to folk melody on the guitar, this is a very worthy effort and for students who express an interest in exploring this rich repertoire, this would be a fine introduction.