Here’s a Finnish folk tune I played with my now usual thumbpick & fingerpicks style. I’m utilizing a certain level of polyphony by keeping a bass line going, as well as some accompanying interval embellishments in the phrase endings. If you would like to learn playing it, please download the TAB, which is available at the bottom of the article. The song, titled “Kylä Vuotti Uutta Kuuta” (“The Village Waited For The New Moon”) was made popular by the folk band Värttinä from Finland, they had a very tasteful take on it. Compared to their version, mine is reharmonized, while of course keeping the melody. I also added an intro, in 4/4. Why is it important that I mention the time signature specifically for the intro, you may ask. It’s because it’s got an odd rhythmic structure. Bars of time signatures 4/4 and 5/4 keep changing back and forth all the way through the song. If you look up sheet music of this folk tune on the internet, you can also find versions that go with three 2/4 bars, each ending with one 3/4 bar. The two interpretations are basically the same. I chose the above mentioned way to write it out, because that’s the way I heard the rhythm of the song in my head. I play the song in the key of D major.
Sus 2 chord in the 4/4 intro
I start out the intro with an arpeggiated sus 2 chord. The important thing to play attention to is the relatively big jump right after the chordal beginning at the 3rd fret to the 7th fret. Watch the supporting bass notes, because it’s easy to cause some fret buzz in them if you are not careful enough with the stretch and grip strength of your fretting fingers. Especially the ring finger needs to be planted stably to get the bass note on the 8th fret right. Another interesting thing regarding the introduction is the crosspicking of the thumb. It goes from the bass notes to play the intro melody on the thinner strings with the other picking fingers, before coming back for another bass note. You can see Renaissance lute players using such technique. I didn’t pick this up from some classical or early music technique, I simply feel comfortable playing this way, versus the alternating index-, middle- and ring fingers, or as classical guitarists would call ’em, IMA.
Runo song – unusual time signature, melodic subtlety
After the intro, the song settles into a relaxed, laid back feel. Notice though that I deliberately didn’t get too loose and jazzy with it, because I tried to maintain the folk feel. This particular feel is a characteristic of old style Finno-Ugric music. Another characteristic of the old style folk song is the odd time signature (or sometimes even no decipherable time signature at all), as I mentioned already. This old folk music style is called runolaulu or runo song in Finland. Many of these kind of songs most probably come from prehistoric times. Hence the melody of such tune usually use very few different notes, basically a chosen few. Why is that, you may ask? Those people must have been able to sing more complex melodies than these, right? Well, my theory is that many of these songs were actually born on bone flutes. If you have seen Paleolithic flutes, they only had just a few finger holes. Another aspect of this topic is that even though people were surely capable of singing more complex melodies, they were assumed to be incredibly sensitive, and maybe just a few sparsely placed melody notes already caused them the desired emotional stimulation.
Regarding subtlety, it’s not only in the melody line in my particular version, but also in the bass line. It means that you’re supposed to walk those bass notes with an even spaced nature, trying to express a kind of held back elegance, if you will.
What is clearly my addition is the double stops occurring after the phrase endings in each 5/4 time bars. With these I tried to highlight the harmonic context of the tune. It happens on top of the two moving voices in both the bass and the melody, which is clearly a feature of counterpoint.
Descending intervals, two improvised choruses
One of the more challenging parts of this arrangement is the descending bass line in bar 10. With each bass note, a 10th interval (basically a 3rd an octave higher) is moving down as well. While the beginning of this movement is not hard to play, you really have to pay attention to the end part of it. That is where the phrase ending “chime”, the double stop needs to be played on the top two strings. Ideally, both of these strings will ring out just enough to form a chord with the still sustaining bass note.
After playing the song first time, I play two choruses of improvisation. Here, it’s important to make sure you express the actual chords of the song in the solo, even though you can let it loose a bit in the 2nd chorus, especially near the end. It’s also important to follow the weird timing of the tune during soloing, so you don’t end up playing a different time signature while you’re blowing over the chords, before returning to the main theme. A good way to practice it is to either play just small variations to the original melody at first, or try to construct rhythmic phrases in your mind that fits the time structure of the tune. When you have some of such rhythmic phrases worked out, you can then place your improvised melodic content over them.
After the two rounds of improvisation, the song returns to the main melody, and ends with a sus chord, to give it an open feel.