World Premiere: Learn to Play a New Waltz by Eric Skye

Like millions of Americans, Eric Skye, the virtuoso jazz and roots guitarist, is currently under a shelter-in-place order—and making the best of it. He’s been hunkered down at his home, in Portland, Oregon, cooking and playing guitar with his wife and children, and contemplating on what is happening in the world. Skye has channeled this new reality and its unclear outcome into a stark and haunting new composition for solo guitar, which he filmed in his kitchen, using his Santa Cruz 00 signature model, AKG C414 XLS and C451 B microphones, and an Apogee Element 46 preamp/interface.

“I think it’s trying to give voice to the poignant feel of this moment,” he says. “As a father of three young people, there’s a certain feeling of powerlessness and uncertainty in the background, and yet I have to be reassuring in the face of it. It’s my job to be a trusted fulcrum to the people I care about. Instrumental music is a good outlet and source of strength for complex feelings like that. The piece is untitled because I believe we have no idea yet what the real story of this time will be.”


This waltz with no name is situated loosely in the key of E minor, with the bII chord (F6) adding a bit of tension throughout. Skye makes excellent use of sixth-based dyads, like seen in all of the up-stemmed notes on the first system and elsewhere, which lend a poignant flavor. As it happens, when he composed the piece, Skye had been practicing a lot of open triads on guitar, and these voicings are featured prominently here. Almost every chord features at least one open string alongside fretted notes, lending a ringing quality that is essential to the tune.

The composition is at once approachable and sophisticated. While it’s not too demanding of the fretting fingers, some picking-hand nuance is required to play it with expression. Start it in a somewhat subdued manner, so that you can dig in when the melody first appears, in measure 9, without being overly loud. Skye says, “Imagine this is a band that you’re mixing on a conventional recording console, and those melody notes—picked with the ring finger—need to be pushed out front, as if they’re being sung. I always tell students you that if don’t get that melody out front it just sounds like guitar playing—but when you do, it becomes music.”

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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