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The New Frontier, Part Eight:

Performing Music of the World's Cultures

Why learn music from other cultures especially music from some non-western cultures?


by Donald Miller

The music of the world’s cultures provides an opportunity for the guitarist to appreciate and expand his or her awareness of the great variety and uniqueness of musical styles from various cultures. It is my hope that the few examples and selections chosen here will further stimulate your interest to hear and perform more music of the world’s cultures.

Some cultures prefer instrumental music, others are attracted to dance music, and still other cultures prefer vocal music. World music will have many functions. Some music will be used for dances, religious rites and rituals, different ceremonies, and to accompany work (work songs), to name a few.

For our first selection, let’s look at "Arirang", a lullaby from the Miller Ensemble Series, Music From Around the World. This work is a Korean Folk Song which was originally sung by a mother to comfort her child.

Some interesting features of this piece are:
1. Not one accidental (sharp or flat) is used in the entire composition.
2. Common to Asian music, the work is based on a pentatonic (five-note) scale.
Note the absence of the note f in example 1 below.

Example 1.

The melody occurs in the 1st and 3rd guitar parts (in unison) to measure 17. Notice there is no f in the original melody in keeping with the feature of the pentatonic scale. (See example 2 below.)

Example 2.

Listen to an Example



3. Imitation (one part imitates another part as seen in a canon or a round).
Notice in example 3 below, from measure 41 to the end of the piece, a canon occurs between guitar 1 and guitar 3 beginning with guitar 1 at measure 41.

Example 3.


Suggested warm-up for this piece: play the pentatonic scale in unison first.

Unison (2 times on each note)


Then perform this as a round (this warm-up may be played in 3 or 4 parts if desired)

In addition to so called non-western scales (pentatonic), another technique from other world cultures is one part holding a long drone note (usually in the lowest part) while the other parts above move in imitation much like a canon or round in western music.

Example 4.

Listen to an Example


In example 4 above, this technique is beautifully illustrated in Juan Gutierrez de Padilla’s "Si Al Nacer 0 Minino (My Little One)" from the Miller Ensemble Series, Music of the Hispanic World. Padilla is one of the outstanding composers from the Mexican Baroque.

Originally, "Si Al Nacer 0 Minino" was scored for two violins and continuo. The long drone note (also called pedal point) in the lower part sustains the pitch with bowing for strings but will not work for guitar because the guitar is a non-sustaining instrument unlike the strings. To maintain a drone effect, a rhythmic part was assigned to the low G in character with the piece.

Another interesting feature of this piece is its musical form. This would be a great piece to introduce beginning students to musical forms. The work clearly is written in Three-Part Ternary or A B A form. The first and last sections are identical music (A) with the middle section (B) contrasting with the opening and closing A sections.

In closing this series of articles, it becomes apparent there is a vast amount of music available in the guitar ensemble repertoire. From an historical approach beginning with the Renaissance to the twenty-first century to include a world approach of non-western cultures, today's guitarist can be well informed through the study of this repertoire. It has been my pleasure working with you in this series of articles for Guitar Sessions®. Play Well!

Don Miller




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