Chilean Guitar, Part One…

emily_pinkerton_5I’ll be writing some blog posts in the coming year about how I use Latin American folk rhythyms in my songwriting, and there’s no better place to begin than with one of my greatest musical influences, Violeta Parra of Chile.


She lived from 1917 to 1967, and dedicated her life to the preservation of traditional music.  Dragging large reel to reel recorders up and down the length of Chile, she created an archive of songs that she felt were in danger of disappearing forever from the countryside.  Through her radio work and performance, she brough these sounds and the experiences of rural Chileans to listeners in the city.  She also drew on her first hand experience of poverty–what she lived as a child and what she witnessed in her travels–to write original songs that critiqued social and economic injustice.


We’ll start with a song called “Floreció el Copihue Rojo” (The Red Copihue Flower Has Bloomed), recorded in 1957.  This is a traditional “cueca,” a song and dance style that has a variety of strums, all in variations on 6/8 meter. The link above takes you to Violeta’s original recording where she plays the guitar in an open G tuning that lets her play melody and harmony over the percussive strumming pattern.


From low to high, the tuning is D  G  D  G  B  D.  If you’re a blues and folk guitarist in the U.S., you might recognize this as the “Spanish” tuning.  I’ve also heared it called by a similar name  (“La Españolita”) in Chile.  Banjo players might recognize this as their standard tuning as well. The beauty of the tuning is that you can play your main chord (the tonic or the I), with all the strings open!


Violeta’s strumming pattern looks like this (where the X=stopping the strings with your nails slightly curved in to your palm):


X  down-up down  X down X


Here is a video where you can get an idea of what the stops and the left hand movements looks like.  I play a variation on the basic pattern:


Up down-up down X down down


And just for fun, here’s what it sounds like on banjo.


Take a listen to these tracks, and I’ll break down the chord and melody patterns in the next post!


Abrazos para todos,