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On Writing Étude V

I wanted to write a little bit more than I usually do about composing my 5th étude for my monthly newsletter.  Usually each étude I write is accompanied by a few notes about the piece and advice on how to play it but for this etude I thought the story behind it might interest some people.


Matthew Kaplan - Etude V
Download PDF • 228KB

Over the past few months I’ve been into listening to way more jazz music than I usually do.  Way more.  I’ve been on a kick with Miles Davis records especially.  I love jazz and I actually started learning it before I started learning classical guitar so it always brings a bit of nostalgia to my listening experience as well.  I wish I had time to practice it more but that’s a different conversation! 

So in my prolonged jazz stupor that has been the past few months I stumbled across an interview between Rick Beato and the incredible jazz guitarist Julian Lage.  If you don’t know him, check him out.  The video is literally called, “Why Every Guitarist LOVES Julian Lage” and has amassed almost 700k views since being released in the summer of 2023.  I have a lot of respect for Julian and to see him interviewed by Rick Beato - well, you just can’t beat it! Rick has quite the line-up of artists that he interviews and it is very much worth your time to check out his YouTube channel!

The conversation is fascinating and I would encourage you all to check it out as they talk about Julian's career as a musician, nerd about about gear, discuss theories about how to play the guitar and more.

One thing that had struck me funny while I was listening to it was their conversation about a chord Julian played on a his new record Missing Voices that really stood out to Rick.  It was a combination of the gear being used but also just a perfect chord voicing as well for the moment.  That chord was an Fmaj #9 # 11 ( F A C G# B).  It’s an odd sound, but quite beautiful.  Even Julian says in the interview he’s not quite sure why it congeals the way it does!  Hey sometimes if it works, it works.

The chord had jumped out for Rick - a master musician, producer, and educator…so I was curious, why hadn’t it jumped out for me?  So for fun, I listened to the track which I’ve heard before and saw if I could pick it out.  I could and I couldn’t.  I say I could because I could hear it and I couldn’t because it didn’t stand out the way I imaged it would.  It’s likely due to many reasons and pondering on it would likely bring about lengthly philosophical debates about aesthetics.  Not going there for now (I’ll keep the  philosophy talk to my last post).

But I did realize, it probably didn’t jump out at me because I’ve played that chord so many times.  I don’t mean to say the chord isn’t unique, standout, original, etc. and I play it all the time - I literally mean I’ve been playing it SO many times over the past few weeks!

Why?  Because the chord appears in the 3rd movement Leo Brouwer’s Tres Danzas Concertantes (albeit spelled with an Ab instead of the G#) :

m47 - 49 Tres Danzas Concertantes III. Toccata by Leo Brouwer

It’s a fleeting chord and I think only makes two appearances in this Toccata but it what’s crazy is that when you listen to this piece, this moment with this voicing sticks out too.  Or at least it does for me.  This chord initially comes right after a big climax in the music and keeps the drive of the toccata exciting while mellowing out the mood slightly.  I’m practicing this piece right now for an upcoming concert with Matadora on April 20th and I try to make this part of the piece a pretty big deal. More on that soon!

With the étude I tried to write a piece based on that chord.  Rather than create just one moment, I tried to create a small atmospheric piece and explore what the chord could potentially offer.  Julian had played around in the interview with that F voicing and the voicing of an Amaj7 chord (keeping the G# in the top voice) so I started there and tried to keep that chromatic mediant relationship going throughout most of the piece.  I explain more about it in the PDF so I hope you download it and try it out for yourself!

I hope you enjoyed this post.  There’s not really a big takeaway from this other than it was a fun chord to work with and Julian Lage is such a monster musician.  However, I do get a lot of students that ask about the creative process for interpreting or composing music so I thought this short story would be a small window into what got me to sit down and write.  Sometimes we just need a little inspiration to get started and this was it for me.

Thanks for your time!  


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