Climbing the K2

One of the most enduring and fundamental sets in the classical violin pedagogy is the classic folio of 42 etudes by 18th century violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, who to this day is considered one of the founding pillars of French Romantic-era violin. Kreutzer was a contemporary of Beethoven, and the latter’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 was dedicated to Kreutzer.

Of the 42 etudes, the signature piece is Etude #2. Centuries after it was written, it remains an essential part of the instructional canon for classical violinists. The opening phrases of Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption are based on #2’s opening melodic phrase.

Since many violin exercises fall very well on the guitar neck, this is an ideal piece to take a look at. While just 25 bars long, the “K2” goes through a variety of cool techniques and melodic ideas, and is sure to provide challenges along the way, even for experienced players.

The first eight bars of the piece are shown below:

The guitar sounds one octave lower than written in standard notation, so pieces transcribed from other instruments should typically be transposed an octave up. However, leaving the piece in the lower octave, as we’ve done in the excerpt above, provides an opportunity to work in areas of the neck that may not frequently get much melodic attention. Note also how, with strict down-up alternate picking, the string changes take a bit of practice to internalize, as there are frequently odd numbers of notes per string, and the changes often occur on a downbeat.

The melody is pretty simple and straightforward, an intervallic line based on the C major scale, working down and back up the neck through the key diatonically. The first two bars the melody repeats through C, then shifts to Am (relative minor) for the next two bars. Bars 5-8 ascend the pattern diatonically using this intervallically displaced triad pattern. (We’ll explain the concept of displaced intervals in more detail in a future post. For now, “displaced” simply means that instead of a straight up-and-down scale, the notes are moved around for more melodic possibilities.) The triads ascend: F-G-Am-B diminished. These triad patterns should be simple to replicate on any pair of adjacent strings, just about anywhere on the neck.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the next eight bars of the piece. Till then, keep climbing!

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