It’s time for another installment in our ongoing series, “Better Know a Kreutzer Etude.” The etude we’ll be looking at today is #12, a deceptively simple piece that serves as a fantastic crash course in triadic arpeggios. (If you’re not familiar with triads, or just need a refresher, please refer to our PDF cheat sheet.)
This piece is 32 bars long, somewhat longer than the other Kreutzer etudes we’ve covered, but still very manageable. Compositionally, the #12 consists of sequenced, arpeggiated triads, spread over two bars and spanning as much as 3 octaves each. Let’s take a look at the first four bars and see how that lays on the fretboard:
Right away you can see where maintaining strict alternate picking will be something of a challenge. Let’s take a quick look at the music itself first, and then we’ll show some picking options for consideration.
The piece is in the key of Aminor, and starts off with an A minor triad (A-C-E) played in an ascending sequence that spans three full octaves. The very first 4-note grouping simply ascends, A-C-E-A’. Each successive 4-note grouping, however, goes up to the next step in the triad sequnce, then down and and back up. So the second 4-note group goes C’-E-A’-C’, the next one goes E’-A’-C’-E’, and so on. This is a common scale sequencing device, and is certainly a valuable one to apply to triads and arpeggios.
The vibrato shown on the sustained notes ending bars 2 and 4 is not in the original score. But anyone who has checked out the scores for the Kreutzer studies knows that many of the pieces have an abundance of suggested variations, such as different bowing and fingering techniques. It’s important to learn these piece as written, but it’s just as crucial to find ways to make them your own at some point, to infuse them with your style and personality.
So each successive 2-bar figure features one of these extended triad sequences; bars 3-4 feature a D minor triad (D-F-A) that also spans three full octaves. Notice how the shapes along the 1-2-3 (E’-B-G) strings are the same for A minor and D minor, just at different locations. This piece will take several posts to break down and tab, and at the end of the final post in the series, there will be a PDF link for the entire tab, as well as a handy cheat sheet showing all the shapes for triads and inversions along the various adjacent string trios (E’-B-G; B-G-D; G-D-A; D-A-E). For now, as we go along, keep an eye out for how these shapes lay on the fretboard for each type of triad (major, minor, diminished, augmented).
Going back to the picking situation: while again it is definitely challenging to play these types of arpeggios with strict down-up alternate picking, unless you’re experienced with sweep or economy picking, it is recommended that you stick with alternate picking at least long enough to learn and internalize the arpeggio shapes. Since alternate picking is basically the “default” method for efficient playing, it’s one less thing to have to think about while learning what can be fairly complicated patterns and shapes.
Once you have those shapes dialed in, though, here are a couple of more efficient ways to play that first extended A minor arpeggio sequence:
Both of these are essentially sweep picking variations; this piece is a classic example of the type of music for which sweep picking was developed in the first place. The first variation attempts to make efficient use of the picking hand’s “return” motion (i.e., coming back up to set for the next down-picked shape), by using an upstroke at the “turnaround” point. The second variation uses legato (hammer-on) for any note on a string beyond the first note, and then nothing but downstrokes.
Try both variations, see what feels comfortable to you. As always with sweep picking, make sure every note sounds smooth and even, not dynamically louder or softer than the others. Don’t “choke” a note too soon, let it have its full duration before going to the next note. You may find that some combination of the two variations works best for you.
Let’s wrap up this post by checking out the next 4 bars, which consist of a G major arpeggio, followed by a C major:
Again, pay attention to how the shapes for major and minor triads tend to fall along these string trios. Learning the shapes, and how to work them anywhere on the fretboard, will help your navigational and improvisational skills enormously. It’s time well spent.
To recap the first 8 bars of the Kreutzer #12: Am-Dm-G-C. In music theory terms, this is the start of a cycle (or circle) of fourths (intervallically). We’ve mentioned the circles of 5ths and 4ths before, and there will be a cheat sheet explaining the concept in more detail on the Resources page in the near future. It’s yet another very powerful tool to have at your disposal.
So practice these shapes, try a few different picking styles, play them descending as well as ascending if you’re feeling ambitious, and we’ll continue working through the #12 later in the week.