Ralph Towner Revisits the Oregon Classic “Guitarra Picante” on Solo Guitar

Originally released in 1991 and re-released on this year's ‘At First Light,’ this challenging tune features nearly three dozen different chords.
ralph towner playing guitar

Many of the songs published in AG are built from just a handful of chords, but glance through this transcription of Ralph Towner’s “Guitarra Picante” and you’ll find a whopping nearly three dozen different chord symbols. 

Towner first recorded the composition with his band Oregon on the 1991 album Always, Never, and Forever, and AG published the notation that same year. (See the January/February 1991 issue.) On his most recent album, At First Light, Towner revisits “Guitarra Picante” in a solo guitar setting, and this transcription is based on that new recording. 


While steel-string guitarists tend to roll chords of four or more notes, Towner, who primarily plays the nylon-string, uses a classical fingerstyle technique to sound all the voices simultaneously. “This effect mimics the attack of a horn section as well as gives a pianistic sound to the delivery,” he wrote in the performance notes to AG’s earlier transcription. 

“Guitarra Picante” features a bunch of five-note chords, requiring the highest voice to be picked with the pinky, a bit louder than the lower members. “A good gauge or test of the quality of tone produced by your little finger is to match it with the tone of your other fingers, Towner wrote. “Try to develop each finger so its sound equals the others.”


On the new recording, Towner plays through the form once, shown here in full, then improvises on it through several passes. The unusual chords provide many interesting melodic possibilities. For instance, over the B7 alt seen in measures 8 and 23–34, Towner wrote that using “an eight-tone scale beginning on any natural note, including all the notes of the C major scale plus a G#, suits the chord rather well.” 

Ralph Towner performs a solo guitar version of “Guitarra Picante” at the Porgy & Bess Jazz Music Club in Vienna, Austria.

In learning “Guitarra Picante,” whether getting the chords under your fingers or improvising over the changes, be sure to compare the new recording to the original Oregon version, as the solo guitar arrangement really shows the composition in a new light.

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 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 58.

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 343

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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