Robert Robertsson, Guitar and Lute (Gitarr och Luta) issue No 3, 1998

Jonas Mollberg “Me And My Guitar”
It is not very often that you have a reason for saying, “This is something new, fresh, and exciting.” But now I have to say it after I have read Jonas Mollberg’s new book “Me and My Guitar”. An excerpt from the book was included in the last issue of this magazine. The book contains 18 compositions composed by Jonas Mollberg himself for solo guitar where a conscious use of playing on open strings is a prominent feature. The book is written in English which indicates a wish to reach a larger number of readers. In order to get to know Jonas Mollberg’s own thoughts of the book I go to the introduction. The book evolved out of his needs as a music teacher and his aim is to bridge the gap between pop – and rock music and the traditional guitar repertoire which is probably to be interpreted as the classical repertoire. Besides the pieces are mainly composed for young people and they often have the character of etudes. The book is almost totally free from text and the contents consist of clear and distinct note pictures and tablature. I have not used the book in my own teaching and I cannot say whether it will bridge the gap between different kinds of music. Instead I intend to use another way of looking at things. But let us start with the contents.The links to the most distinguished guitar composers are evident at the end of the book. In one piece the right hand is taken from Napoleon Costes’s Etude in A major. In another it is very similar to Villa Lobos´s Etude No 1 and in a third piece it is similar to a Sor etude. The titles underline the links: Blues for Napoleon, Blues for Heitor, Fernando. The music itself is not very classical. I think Jonas Mollberg has managed to write new and exciting music within the popular music. Titles from other compositions like “Hard Rocks”, Polska Från Berg”, and “Things You Remember” (a personal favourite) also underline the links. According to the introduction the pieces are “easy to play”. This may be argued. I rather think the book contains a steep progress from easy to difficult. In this case I think it is good because everybody can open the book and find a piece to play, a good exercise for the right hand, its co-ordination with the left hand, and at the same time be able to play good music.

I have long been fascinated by the play with open strings. It is one way to free the magic that is in the guitar. I like to use it when I accompany someone or play baroque music. Material in this genre has been lacking. This lack of material made me do a small piece of work on chord playing with open strings at the Teachers’ Training College. When I saw Jonas Mollberg’s work I could not help saying, At last. When I speak about open strings it is the treble strings I think of. How one or more are there as inverted organ points and get different harmonious functions as the musical flow goes on. A harp like sound of a passage is another possibility. If you are successful you can manage to combine what is technically simple with what is refined music. The open basses rather explain why some keys are more idiomatic for the guitar. A flat is not very common if I may say so. Another piece of news in Jonas Mollberg’s book is the fact that there is tablature and a diskette with MIDI-files. I am no supporter of much use of tablature but I have no objection to Jonas Mollberg’s argument that “it is better to learn a piece with the help of tablature than not learning it at all”. What is really new is to make use of the computer and I want to expand a little about that

Some points to ponder on:

  • To link the interest in computers both with young and old people and music
  • To give people an opportunity to listen to music, even if it is only computer quality
  • To make it possible to change speed continuously without changing pitch or key and so play at a nice speed. For those of us who learnt our pieces with the help of a tape recorder this is great progress. We had to struggle with tricky passages by playing the tape at half speed and in this way lower the pitch one octave and slow down the speed. This is a technical piece of progress.
  • To get rid of the trouble with replays, ones and twos, and coda signs if you just have a computer programme that takes care of the writing of notes so that you can get the notes from the beginning to the end on a piece of paper

This is a thought well worth pondering where what you lose in paper and space is won back in clearness. These three elements together, the notes, tablature, and MIDI-files form a unity which makes it easy to understand and learn this new and exciting material.

Finally, I want to make a few marginal remarks. I have changed some fingerings of the left hand, in some cases because I think they are better, in others because they suit me. The fingerings of the right hand are mostly intact. I sometimes find the musical notation too simple. The difficult balance between having too much and too little text I think Frederick M. Noad has manages very well in his books. Hopefully the book will soon be found in most music shops.

I look forward to the next book.