Allen Wu ’17
My first encounter with fingerstyle guitar was when I accidentally clicked on a video cover of Canon in D (Johann Pachelbel) by guitarist Trace Bundy. I have seen other covers of this song before–mostly the interpretations are through strumming and a finger picking–but nothing fancy. However, Trace Bundy’s cover is like magic—the guitar is not only one instrument, but it is also a percussion and a bass; and the finger picking is replaced with finger tapping by harmonics. The video opened a whole new world to me: the fingerstyle guitar.
By definition, fingerstyle is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking (picking individual notes with a single plectrum called a flat-pick). However, the techniques are only the tools; it is the arrangement of the song and the emotion that is conveyed by performers that strike the audience’s heart.
One of my favorite fingerstyle guitarists is Pierre Bensusan, a French-Algerian who lives in Paris. Pierre loves to explore different genres of music in order to create his own style. Although for a long time his tunes included Celtic and jazz influences, in his recent album, Vividly, he experimented with folk, creating an amazing tune called “Veilleuse.”
In this rousing tune, instead of applying multiple, fancy fingerpicking techniques, Pierre simply uses a melody that lingers throughout the tune, along with a couple simple harmonics.
Another example of a simple but powerful melody is his l’Alchimiste, which means “The Alchemist” in French. Pierre wrote this tune after reading Paulo Coelho’s amazing novel, The Alchemist. He tries convey the elements that make up the journey of the young shepherd, Santiago.
The medley consists of a simple C major chorus: “Do Mi Do.” However, with a lot of the secondary chords responding to the main chord, l’Alchimiste becomes an intricate piece.
Last but not least, Wu Wei is another well known tune by Pierre (and also my favorite tune by Pierre). The name Wu Wei comes from Chinese Taoism which means “something without egotistical effort.” Its melody resembles how water flows on the stones of the creek–the spontaneous sound. Pierre embraces this image and incorporates it into his tune Wu Wei. Although its name might mean “effortless,” playing this tune has the opposite. In fact, Wu Wei has been considered one of Pierre’s most difficult songs to perform because of the challenging technique and emotional aspect. The links below offer a comparison of Pierre’s performances of this song. The first one was recorded in Santa Monica, in 1993—the first performed tune in front of an audience. The second was recorded last year on the Mendocino Coast. Although the techniques might seem unchanged, the emotion of Pierre is much richer in the more recent recording—with emotion that evolved from years of performing and from enriching life experience.