For the last few days I’ve been spending all my time watching youtube videos of an amazing nylon string player, Estas Tonne:
There certainly seems to be a flamenco influence here, but I think his style is more suited to a modern popular audience than many flamenco players, primarily due to his playing being focused on the natural minor scale rather than the phrygian dominant.
What I find so great about this player is the sound scapes he can create with a single acoustic guitar and how well he can use some relatively simple harmonic ideas to carry a performance for so long.
He has got me picking up my classical guitar again to try to bring some of his influence into my playing and as such, have been trying to dissect his style from the videos I’ve been watching. Here are some of the main points I’ve noticed:
Harmonically, a lot here is back to the basics. Much of his work is in either Em or Am, thus often putting open bass strings at his disposal to add depth during melodic runs.
He heavily sticks to the chords: i, iv, V7, VI, VII. (e.g. Em. Am, B7, C, D) These chords are all formed from the natural minor scale with the exception of the V7 and it is common to make the V chord a dominant in a minor key, to allow a dominant tonic resolution between V7 – i.
A lot of his note choice for either adding tension to a chord or for melodic runs is straight from the natural minor scale (e.g. E Aeolian).
I see a lot of his left hand work as quite achievable for an accomplished player. A lot of his melodic runs are given depth by having open string bass notes at his disposal (or say treble open string notes from Em). Additionally, when he uses extra tones to add tension to a standard chord voicing these tones are often easily accessible from the chord voicing.
So with the above basics, how can his playing sound so mesmerising? I think this comes down to two main points: his feel for the music and the amazing versatility of his right hand techniques.
In terms of feel for the music, this really comes through with things like his ability to swell the timing, pause at the right points (say when he hits a 9th against a tonic base) and effortlessly transition between these timings to a constant dance like rhythm. In terms of his timing swells, pauses and movements to constant beats he does all this effortlessly without ever losing the continuity of the music. Other aspects here are things like his lead nuance such as the well placed slides between notes.
And then there is his right hand technique. It seems fairly heavily influenced by flamenco technique but I suspect it is actually quite a unique style. Some aspects he transitions between are arpeggios, rest strokes, multiple finger strums and an ability to intermix bass notes or lead notes virtually anywhere with this. He also uses his left hand technique to range in dynamics from sparse quite arpeggios all the way up to wild fast strumming and, as with his timing swells, he also has the ability to transition between these left hand dynamics at will without losing any continuity of his music.
So this is what I’ve managed to figure out from his style so far. I’m sure what I’ve presented here is really a gross simplification of all the nuance he has put into his style, but I do think that a basic analysis like this is also helpful when trying to incorporate a players style as an influence in your own playing.
I hope this was interesting and here are his links to his music:by