On her latest outing, When You’re Ready, Molly Tuttle’s guitar plays a secondary role to the songs, but her six-string is front and center on “Super Moon,” a bright, dropped-D instrumental from her previous release, 2017’s Rise. Tuttle’s great facility and her inventiveness within the bluegrass tradition are readily apparent on this flatpicking tour de force.
The inspiration to compose “Super Moon” struck Tuttle several winters ago, when she was touring in Sweden with the old-time string band the Goodbye Girls, whose repertoire includes pieces from both the North American and Swedish folk traditions. “I think playing so many of those different fiddle tunes inspired this song, which doesn’t really sound like any one specific genre,” Tuttle says.
When she returned to the United States, Tuttle recorded “Super Moon” live in the studio with drummer Jano Rix; cellist Nathaniel Smith and flutist Anh Phung later added supporting parts. This process allowed a good amount of room for improvisation. “I had a general roadmap, but once I got in the studio with Jano, we just played off of each other,” says Tuttle. “We had never played the tune together before recording it, and I think that spontaneous energy comes through.”
Though “Super Moon” might look complicated in notation, its structure is fairly simple, with three main 16-bar (accounting for repeats) themes: one based on an A7 chord (first heard in bars 1–10), another that moves to D (bars 11–18), followed by one that returns to A7 (bars 19–34). After that, Tuttle explores her improvised variations.
Your first order of business is to get these themes under your fingers before exploring your own. As always, taking things slowly at first is the best way to learn to play the piece at tempo. (A tip for that: Go to the video on AG’s YouTube page of Tuttle playing the tune and click on the Settings icon at the bottom of the screen, where you’ll find a tool for adjusting the playback speed to as little as quarter speed without affecting the pitch, making it easier for you to play along.)
Among the many cool moments of Tuttle’s variations are the jazz-informed block chords that suddenly appear in bars 61–65—a product of the guitarist’s training at the Berklee College of Music, where she became acquainted with music theory and jazz harmony. “I am not a jazz player and don’t really have much vocabulary in that world,” she says, modestly, “but I do understand overall music concepts that jazz players use and that I use in my playing as well.”
Another detail to note: In bar 12 and elsewhere, there are natural harmonics at the fourth fret of the G string, which produce a high B, a subtle but brilliant textural effect. These notes weren’t necessarily intentional; they were produced when Tuttle fretted the F# on string 4 with her first finger, in the process partially muting string 3: a serendipitous discovery. Tuttle says, “They were kind of happy accidents that I ended up really liking and accentuating.”
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 January/February 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 72.