Tarrega, Francisco – Gran Vals

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Tarrega Classical Guitar Pieces

Francisco Tarrega (1852 - 1909) was a Spanish guitarist and composer. He was a leader in the development of modern guitar technique and teaching. 

As a composer, his music is and was popular all over the world.  Tarrega wrote the charming Gran Vals in 1902. 

What is a "Vals"? 

A “Vals” is the Spanish term for a “Waltz.” The style was popular at the time. Waltzes are based on a dance in 3/4 time ("boom-chuck-chuck"). 

Many composers wrote music in the “Waltz” style.  These include Frederic Chopin, Enrique Granados, and Richard Strauss.

What is the musical form of Gran Vals?

This piece follows an ABA form. This means the beginning of the piece has a unique melodic theme (A). The middle of the piece has a different musical idea (B). Then the first musical idea repeats (A).

What are the challenges in playing Gran Vals? 

The piece is a joy to play, but it does have challenges. First, we find bar chords.  Next, we need to perform some tricky movements and shifts on the fretboard. And certain sections are high on the guitar neck. This can be tough for anyone unfamiliar with the higher positions of the guitar.

What guitar techniques can we expect in Gran Vals? 

Guitar techniques used in Gran Vals are typical for the era. We find slides, harmonics, and slurs (hammer-ons and pull-offs). These make the piece fun to practice and play.

We also find special musical instructions in the piece. These expressive suggestions help make the piece sound more “Spanish.”

Players often create their own interpretation of this piece.  The expressive style lends itself to experimentation.  Listening to different recordings, we can note the differences. 

Gran Vals in popular culture:

Gran Vals is easy to recognize.  Nokia famously used a sample as a ringtone. 

Gran Vals has also appeared on many recordings. Guitarists David Russell, Manuel Barrueco, and Pepe Romero have all recorded it. 

This piece is often played as an encore at concerts. It’s a light way to end a guitar concert. Audiences love the piece.  And we may hear a few laughs after the famous phrase from the ringtone.

If you enjoy the Gran Vals, you may want to listen to other pieces by Tarrega. Recuerdos de la Alhambra, Capricho Arabe, Lagrima, and Adelita are staples of his work.

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Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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