Contemporary Steel-String Fingerstyle Guitar
: Developing New Vocabulary and Improvisational Approaches

  • Gary Lutton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis aims to develop new vocabulary and improvisational approaches for contemporary steel-string fingerstyle guitar. This is carried out via a practice-based investigation supported by a theoretical framework of research on the cognitive processes of improvisation and the concept of ‘flow’.
A synthesis of various psychological and pedagogical concepts from the literature is used to formulate new practice methodologies termed ‘teleological’ and ‘autotelic’ practice, respectively. Teleological practice includes a step-by-step approach to generating vocabulary and developing improvisational skills. This involves the conception and practice of etudes, improvisational models, musical dice games as well as mapping Konnakol phrases to percussive guitar techniques. Due to the nature of autotelic practice, the framework is laid out but not explicitly demonstrated. Instead it is expressed through four solo guitar improvisations and a post-hoc review.
New developments in vocabulary are subsequently demonstrated through transcribed audio/video examples and analysed using an original analytical approach termed ‘aspect analysis’. Key developments include the expansion of harmonic vocabulary in DADGAD, the application of the harp harmonic technique to a range of harmonic contexts, the assimilation of linear approaches in DADGAD using fingerstyle technique, the mapping of Konnakol phrases to percussive guitar techniques and the structuring of solo improvisations using various ‘stylistic models’.
Date of AwardMar 2020
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.
SupervisorFrank Lyons (Supervisor) & Adam Melvin (Supervisor)


  • Improvisation
  • Cognition
  • Flow

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