Many guitarists write music with their instruments in hand, letting their fingers suggest new melodies and figures. But for Buck Curran, an American fingerstylist and composer based in Italy, the compositional process usually begins abstractly. “Everything seems to come visually as musical threads or complete melodies in my mind,” Curran says. “I hear the music in my head first—usually on walks around town or in nature, or while driving—and then I’m quite anxious to grab my guitar and find out where to best play the notes on the fretboard.”

That’s how Curran arrived at “Song for Liam,” the lead track from his latest album, Morning Haikus, Afternoon Ragas (ESP-Disk’/Obsolete Recordings), a meditation on fatherhood and the passage of time. Curran says that “Song for Liam” emerged from memories of his firstborn son, who is now 20. “Liam used to run around the back yard of our house in Maine like a wild young colt. For me, those memories are still so vivid that they often feel like something I’m presently experiencing. So, as I heard the music that became ‘Song for Liam,’ I imagined the melodies in lilting, galloping rhythms. The bittersweet feeling of remembering those moments is what is most important for setting the mood of the composition.”

To transfer “Song for Liam” from his mind to the guitar—namely, a Yamaha F310, a modest instrument whose heavy overtone content appeals to him—Curran chose DADGAD tuning, with a capo at the third fret, exploiting the open strings for both melodic and textural effect. Though he didn’t compose the piece with a specific set of chord changes in mind, the sum of the melody notes, inner voices, and bass line made for rich, haunting harmonies like Bbmaj13 (sounds as Dmaj13 due to the capo) and F6/9 (Ab6/9)—complex chords that in DADGAD tuning require only one or two fretting fingers.


That’s not necessarily to say that the piece is easy on the fretting hand—throughout, delicate ornamentations require a bit of finesse and control. If these details seem forbidding, try omitting them at first. Take things slowly and count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 as per the 6/8 time signature (that’s six eighth notes per bar). In bar 1, omit the 32nd note that comes after beat 2, playing just an E (sounds as G) on beat 1 and a D (F) on beat 3. Do the same for each other measure having this rhythm—bars 3, 5, 11, 13, 15, 31, 33, and 35. Once you can confidently play the piece without the embellishments, you’ll be ready to add them.

Another aspect of “Song for Liam” that might require some extra attention is the subtle use of bends in bars 42, 44, 46, 49. Play each bend with your third finger, reinforced by your second and first, nudging the second string toward the ceiling, such that its pitch is raised by a half step. Then, after you’ve bent the note (in all but bar 49), slide down to grab the third-fret note with your first finger, taking care to make sure that the notes sound smoothly connected.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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