In 1981, when Michael Hedges first recorded “Breakfast in the Field,” two-handed tapping was generally seen as an electric guitar approach used to dazzling effect by players like Eddie Van Halen. But on this meditative composition, inspired by early summer morning visits to a meadow in his hometown of Enid, Oklahoma, Hedges used both hands to fret notes on the steel-string guitar in unprecedented ways.
“Breakfast in the Field” is played in an unorthodox tuning—lowest note to highest, C G D D A E—in which both the lower and upper three strings are arranged in perfect fifths and strings 4 and 3 are in unison. To access this tuning from standard, lower string 6 a major third, strings 5 and 2 a major second, and string 3 a perfect fourth.
An obvious advantage of the tuning is that it allows for the sort of quintal harmony (chords made of stacked fifths) that would be difficult or impossible to play in standard—a language explored by composers like Béla Bartók and Aaron Copland, and seldom heard to this extent in fingerstyle guitar repertoire.
Though the chords are all complex, they are all fretted with just one or two fingers, thanks to the tuning. Stacks of fifths on the top three strings, juxtaposed with those on the bottom three, result in a range of extended harmonies, like Cmaj9#11 (C E G B D F#) and Dm11 (D F A C E G).
The piece involves a bit of a dance between the left and right hands, in the service of legato moves not available with conventional fretting. For instance, the natural harmonics in bar 4 are produced with the picking hand’s index finger. At the same time, the fretting hand’s first finger, which is used to bar all six strings in the previous measure, pulls downward across the strings to sound those harmonics on beat 1, along with the open first and sixth strings.
A handful of YouTube videos show Hedges playing “Breakfast in the Field” in concert, and these should be a helpful supplement to the transcription, as you can see exactly how he is pulling off the extended techniques. Keep in mind that the notation conveys Hedges’ studio version from his Windham Hill album of the same name, but the composition is far from static. Be sure to check out the different versions to get a sense of the improvisational possibilities within the composition and the tuning.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 56.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.