“Incomparable” for Flatpicked Guitar

For this solo guitar arrangement, we climb into the Wayback Machine to rework a tune called “Incomparable.” Written centuries ago, this melody has survived the passage of time, even though the name of its author has vanished into history. Originally, our musical ancestors played “Incomparable” fingerstyle on lute or Spanish guitar, but here we’ve arranged it for flatpicked steel-string. To heighten the intrigue, we’ve borrowed crosspicking techniques from the modern bluegrass world. Crosspicking is a scheme originally devised by Renaissance lute players to allow open strings to ring against fretted melody notes and thus create a more fluid, rippling sound. Often called cascades or harp tones, these sustaining strings typically set up beautifully dissonant groups of close intervals that chime like bells. It makes the melody tricky to pluck—sometimes lower tones within a line jump to higher strings, which can feel counterintuitive at first—but the musical rewards make the practice wor
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Our arrangement is divided into A and B sections. The map works like this: Play the A section with its first and second endings, then the B section with its first and second endings. As you complete the B section’s second ending, the “D.C. al Coda” instructs you to return to the beginning and play through the A section until you again reach its second ending. There, you’re directed by the Coda sign to skip the second ending and hop to the final section (the concluding two bars, marked Coda). With its shower of harp tones, this is the grand finale.

You’ll notice that there are crucial spots in the A section and ending that call for a hybrid picking technique: Pluck the fifth string with your flatpick and the first string with your middle or ring finger. (I recommend the latter, though either finger will work.) Dig into the harmonics with your flatpick, and throughout the tune strive for maximum sustain, so at any given moment you can hear several strings interacting. With practice, you’ll be able to get delicious major and minor seconds churning in your guitar.